The Cayman Islands must set more aggressive targets on increasing renewable energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the light of the Paris agreement on climate change, green energy advocates have said.
The Paris climate deal, hailed as an historic feat of international diplomacy, established a commitment from 195 countries to contain planet-warming carbon emissions.
Cayman, as a British territory, was not involved in the talks and is not a direct signatory to the agreement, which set a goal of reducing global temperature rises to less than 2C. The final submissions to the agreement are not enforceable and carry no consequences.
However. James Whittaker, president of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, said the Paris accord represents a “paradigm shift” in the international approach to climate change and suggested Cayman would have to get on board.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said the National Conservation Council is also pushing for clearer and more ambitious targets.
A draft national energy policy, published in 2013, sets a goal that 13.5 percent of electricity sold should be generated from renewable sources by 2030. It also targets a 19 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a “business as usual scenario.”
Mr. Whittaker said the Paris agreement, referred to as COP 21, represents an international consensus that far more radical action is needed. He said Cayman’s targets on renewable energy are among the least ambitious of any country.
While Cayman’s net contribution to climate change is negligible, the territory is among the highest producers of carbon emissions per capita in the world, according to Mr. Austin.
Mr. Whittaker, added, “I believe COP 21 sets ambitious climate change benchmarks globally and it clearly suggests that Cayman must take a more aggressive approach to adopting renewable energy and reducing our carbon emissions. This is something CREA have been telling the government for some time now. That said, it still doesn’t appear the decision-makers in government are yet paying attention to the critical issues of renewable energy and carbon reduction.”
He added, “I am cautiously optimistic that the government will finally wake up and realize that this paradigm shift is happening all over the world for a reason and will start to ensure it happens in Cayman soon.”
Mr. Austin said the Cayman Islands could request to be included in commitments coming out of the agreement.
“At the moment, the U.K. does not push out those climate agreements to its territories, but this could potentially change with Cayman’s recent request to the U.K. government to include Cayman in its second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020).
“The National Conservation Council is currently working on a climate change policy and would like to see clearer, more ambitious targets, in line with what the U.K. has signed up to.”
He said the Paris summit represents a significant milestone in gaining an international consensus that something needs to be done to curb the amounts of CO2 going into the atmosphere and limit the consequences of global warming.
Mr. Austin said the ambitious targets set in Paris were driven, in part, by small-island states concerned about the consequences of climate change.
In 2009, the Maldives, one of the flattest countries on Earth, held a Cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear as a stunt to generate publicity for the consequences of not acting on the issue.
Cayman’s position is less grave, but Mr. Austin warns that with the majority of Cayman’s population and major infrastructure located a short distance from the coastline, increasing storm intensity and flood risk present a potentially significant challenge.
He said the impact of climate change is already evident on coral reefs around Cayman.
Mr. Whittaker said Cayman’s size should not stop it from doing its part.
“While our aggregate emissions are small compared to large economies, we emit a lot of carbon per capita on this little island. I believe it’s a hypocritical and shortsighted position to just let the rest of the world handle it when we are expecting others to do things we are not willing to do ourselves.
“We need to show leadership here, regionally and globally. If we expect the world to change we have to be part of that change.”
***Editor’s Note: James Whittaker, president of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, and James Whittaker, the Compass journalist and writer of this story, are not the same person and are not related.***