Getting an entire small country to embrace renewable energy not only requires the populace to change its way of thinking, it also requires political will.
That was the message of Seychelles Ambassador to the United Nations Ronald Jumeau when he spoke at the Caribbean Transitional Energy Conference, which took place Sept. 13 and 14 at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.
Seychelles, an island nation of 96,000 people located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, has good reason to embrace environmentalism: Rising sea levels could submerge much of its landmass over the next few decades.
Jumeau said a key method in establishing a mindset of environmentalism was by introducing it to children as early as daycare and preschool, he said.
“When we wanted to get something done, we went after the kids, not the parents,” he said. A group called the “Eco-Warriors” was established for children and young adults and has proved to be quite formidable. When Seychelles banned single-use plastics — including plastic bags, plastic cutlery, plates, bowls and trays — in 2016, a group of business people pressured the government for more time before the ban went into effect. The government was going to acquiesce to the pressure, but the Eco-Warriors started a social media campaign urging for no delay in the ban. The campaign was so effective in shaping public sentiment that the government backed down from delaying the ban, Jumeau said.
Although the Seychelles government wavered a bit when it came to the single-use plastic ban, it has been resolute in its renewable energy initiatives. Jumeau said the government’s commitment to renewable energy was made easier because its utilities are publicly owned.
“We almost privatised our public utilities company,” he said. “We pulled back and haven’t regretted it.”
Jumeau said the Seychelles government launched a nationwide campaign for residents to produce solar electricity and feed it to the grid.
“We passed a law that allowed anyone to produce electricity as long as it was not from fossil fuels,” he said, adding that the law even allowed hotels to produce their own electricity and water. The government also built a 6-megawatt wind farm and a 5-megawatt solar farm on an artificial island, Jumeau said.
To encourage more private citizens to produce renewable energy, the Seychelles government also has a programme that allows people to borrow — with the government guaranteeing half the loan — the equivalent of between US$7,000 and US$8,000 to produce electricity. The government also lifted the value-added tax on all energy- and water-saving equipment and sponsored a programme that allowed residents to trade up to five new or used incandescent light bulbs for five new LED light bulbs.
“Government is not just a regulator, it’s an enabler,” he said. “These are subsidies aimed at shifting an entire population. The subsidies are designed to launch people in the way you want them to go, because if you leave it to them to do it on their own, they won’t do it.”
The conference included a “fireside chat” with American actor, producer and director Adrian Grenier, an avid environmentalist and a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme.
Grenier focuses on the oceans in his environmental advocacy, and he believes climate change and pollution are threatening the health of the Earth’s oceans. He said that not only do the world’s oceans have the ability to sequester carbon, but they also produce half of the planet’s oxygen, something threatened by climate change.
“If the ocean becomes de-oxygenated, that’s a problem for us.”
Ocean pollution isn’t a problem only for governments, Grenier said, noting that private citizens around the world can act, too. The celebrity is spearheading a campaign, called “Stop Sucking,” to eliminate single-use plastic straws, one source of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, and to use paper straws instead.
“Plastic is cheaper … but what’s the cost of cleaning up the oceans?” he said.
One suggestion Grenier had for the Cayman Islands was for a diving tourism initiative that invited visitors to join underwater clean-ups, something he had done in the past and found “bags and bags of garbage.”
“This way tourists are not just spectators drinking cocktails by the bar, they’re doing something good,” he said. “When they go home, it’s something they’ll tell their friends about, I assure you.”
Cayman’s Renewable Future
The conference was organised by James Whittaker, owner/founder of the GreenTech group of companies and president of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, better known as CREA. Delegates included representatives from public, private and non-profit sectors.
Whittaker said CREA was largely in agreement with the way forward as outlined in the government’s National Energy Policy. That policy aims to have the Cayman Islands produce 70 per cent of its total electricity generation from renewable sources by the year 2037.
Although Whittaker said “the devil is in the details” of the National Energy Policy, he believes the various stakeholders can work together to attain its goals.
“From CREA’s perspective, the key to Cayman’s renewable energy future can be summed up in one word: alignment,” he said.
It is important to set up a renewable energy framework where everyone wins, Whittaker said, noting that government, the private sector and non-profit organisations have worked together before to establish the Cayman Islands as a centre of excellence in the tourism industry, and in the financial services industry.
“There is absolutely no reason we can’t be a centre of excellence for renewable energy as well.”