Government is planning a review of its draft energy and climate change policies early this year in light of ambitious new targets established at a world summit in Paris last month.
The Paris climate deal established a rare international consensus that more urgent action is needed and includes a commitment from 195 countries to contain plant-warming carbon emissions.
The agreement attempts to offer protection to small low-lying islands, like the Cayman Islands, by establishing plans to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
Though the Cayman Islands, as a British Overseas Territory, was not a signatory to the Paris agreement, Environment Minister Wayne Panton said it would be a “guiding framework” for the islands.
The Cayman Renewable Energy Association has welcomed the policy review, describing it as “long overdue.” Cayman’s current targets for renewable energy are the lowest in the world, the association says.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said she hopes the Paris deal will encourage the country to make the issues a higher priority.
“To date, actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change have not been a focus of national policy.
This will need to change if we are to make any meaningful progress on the issues surrounding climate change,” she said.
A draft climate change policy from 2011 highlighted coastal erosion, loss of coral reefs and increasing energy costs among the most immediate likely threats that climate change poses to the Cayman Islands. The draft policy also suggested more intense storms could impact the insurability of homes and businesses.
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. Panton said both are being reviewed.
“The Paris treaty will impact our efforts to refine the local framework and enable more avenues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
“Policies relating to energy security and climate change are intimately linked as they both seek to reduce our current reliance on carbon-based energy production, and for the Cayman Islands, one is as essential as the other,” Minister Panton said.
James Whittaker, chairman of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, said a review of both policies was badly needed.
Data complied by the lobby group shows that of the countries that have set renewable energy targets for between 2020 and 2040, Cayman’s is the lowest at 13.5 percent. Mr. Whittaker believes that 100 percent renewable energy is an achievable target within that time frame.
He cited the undermining of the Consumer Owned Renewable Energy, or CORE, program through reductions to the price paid to residents and businesses for their solar-generated electricity as one example of a lack of commitment to renewables.
He said the Caribbean Utilities Company and the Electricity Regulatory Authority have also overplayed the technical issues surrounding utility-scale renewables.
“Even without adding battery storage, we could reliably integrate more than 13.5 percent renewable energy on our grid today,” Mr. Whittaker said. “When you add in battery storage technologies, we can get much higher levels of renewable energy and, when coupled with energy efficiency measures, this will allow Cayman to achieve 100 percent renewable over the next 15 years reliably and cost effectively, but CUC and the ERA aren’t telling the people of the Cayman Islands what are the true realities of renewable energy.”
Lisa-Ann Hurlston, chairwoman of the National Conservation Council’s climate change subcommittee, commenting on the Paris agreement, said compatible national energy and climate change policies would help Cayman address its own contribution and prepare for the effects of climate change.
She said new policies would need to take into account the impact of population growth and future development.
“This strategic approach would help to define the kind of country we wish to inhabit and economic activities we engage in over the coming decades,” she said. “Hopefully this will manifest as a truly low-carbon climate-resilient development path that will clearly meet national expectations and positively contribute toward meeting obligations to our fellow global citizens.”
James Whittaker, of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, and James Whittaker, the writer of this article, are not related.