By: Tony Best
If ‘Liz’ Thompson, an executive coordinator of last month’s United Nations Rio +20 conference in Brazil, should get her way Caribbean nations would move swiftly to “maximize” the benefits that can flow from the global earth summit.
“Large sums of money were pledged in Rio to help developing countries deal with sustainable development issues, including climate change,” was the way Thompson, an Assistant UN Secretary-General, put it to Carib News. “We have a mature renewable energy sector in the form of the solar water heating industry and we have a comprehensive energy policy that dates back to 2007. We also have an excellent energy infrastructure. We must now that countries which are behind us don’t actually surpass us by taking advantage of the opportunities that will emerge from Rio+20.”
By “we” Thompson was referring to Caribbean countries, especially those in the English-speaking region.
“There’s money to be had from the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, and all the other funds that have been committed to the sustainable energy for all initiative,” she explained.
In addition, many Caribbean states have green economies, said Thompson.
With the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, for instance, pledging relatively large sums for the world’s poorer states, Thompson wants the Caribbean to build on its solid “policy platform” whose plans were in step with international energy directions.
She thinks more Caribbean states should consider joining IRENA and other international bodies to which they don’t currently belong and which, like the island-nations themselves are committed to the green economy, sustainable development and energy for all.
Next the region must get its story told to the international community about its achievements.
That’s why she thinks it would have been good if many of them had mounted exhibitions to display their products and talk about their policies during the Rio summit,” Thompson, a former Minister of the Environment who has advised some Eastern Caribbean countries on their policies and strategies to protect and boost the environment.
“We could have showcased, for instance, the solar water heating sector by displaying a solar water heating chattel house to show off what we have done,” she said. “There were thousands of international investors there interested in projects in which they could invest. We now have to make sure we don’t drop the ball on some of these things.”
Then, there is the planning for the next Small Island Developing States Conference, SIDS, set for 2014.
“The Caribbean should begin to make preparations for that meeting,” she insisted. “It’s very important that we do.”
Thompson was quick to explain that the Rio “outcome document” which took months of painstaking negotiations to complete and which was approved in Brazil covered a wide spectrum of areas of relevance to the Caribbean. It contained vital initiatives that would help spur economic and social development and they ranged from sustainable energy, benefits to small and medium size enterprises, sustainable tourism and oceans to development financing, grant funds and small island developing states.
“These are areas of special interest to us,” the former minister insisted. “We are well positioned because we have the policy platform which coincides with the international thrust and was in fact ahead of the steps which are now being taken. What we must ensure is that we maximize those opportunities by positioning ourselves to get the funding and realize the benefits. It is not necessarily by attending a meeting or taking a team to a meeting. You have to see what are the opportunities and how best to take advantage of them.”
With the private sector and the international NGO community already planning a determined initiative to get the word out about sustainable development, using national councils and commissions to exchange information about best practices, collect national data on the environment and an international scientific panel on the drawing boards to help guide the formulation of policy and identify the national tipping points, Caribbean countries can’t afford to be left behind, she says.
“In the Caribbean I have been talking for a long time about the need for a carrying capacity study for tourism. That is a critical issue to which we must now give serious thought,” the UN official argued. “We must consider the carrying capacity of the eco-system and consider how you green the various components of your tourism product and services, such as the hotels and others involved in the delivery of them.”
Looking back on the June 20-22 conference, she said that the Caribbean played vital roles in its outcome. For instance, Barbados’ Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, was a member of the high level sustainable development panel set up Secretary-General. Antigua’s Ambassador John Ash, who is to become the next UN General Assembly President was a member of the conference Bureau that guided the deliberations in Rio. In addition, she served as one of two conference executive coordinators.
“It was certainly unprecedented involvement” for the Caribbean, Thompson said.