Thursday, December 17, 2009

Prof Chen's and Ambassador Hill's Jamaica-Copenhagen Letter

Distinguished Ambassador Anthony Hill (centre) after his Induction into the St George's College Hall of Fame with colleagues Noel Hall and Keith Lyn
Professor Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Anthony Chen receiving his Jamaica 50 Living Legacy Award from Prof Denise Eldemire Shearer, Chairman of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons

The authors: Anthony Hill is a retired Jamaican Ambassador.

A Anthony Chen is Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus, UWI.

Jamaica Observer | Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Science and its technology tools have made lifestyles generally the most comfortable since the dawn of contemporary history. Applied to energy transformation these technologies have been central to raising hundreds of millions out of poverty and improved living standards across the board.

Over the past 20 years science now demonstrates with a very high degree of confidence that modern man's lifestyles are now a decisive factor altering the naturally equilibrating forces in the earth's system. The greenhouse gases, emitted by an excess of carbon dioxide (CO2) mainly, now saturate the atmosphere and are bringing the system to a major tipping point.

Make no bones about it: the greenhouse gases emitted by releasing energy from the fossil fuels of oil and gas, the pressure on the declining soil and water resources, the demand for food, minerals and fossil fuels, the pollution of the atmosphere are well beyond the equilibrium-carrying capacity of the earth. In Jamaica we face a myriad of threats ranging from sea level rise and droughts (which we are now experiencing) to increased incidence of diseases (See, for example, These threats will increase in proportion to the increase in global warming which in turn depends on the increase in quantity of greenhouse gases emitted by man-made activity. The greatest harm will come to the poor and underprivileged who are less able to adapt to these threats. Globally, the greatest threat is the irreversible melting of the polar ice caps and Greenland due to what is termed "a positive feedback" where the melting feeds on itself.

It is to reduce these threats that the world began meeting in Copenhagen last week. The main areas for discussion include:
* Targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions, in particular by developed countries
* Financial support for mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in developing countries
* A carbon-trading scheme aimed at ending the destruction of the world's forests (a sink for CO2) by 2030.
At the time of writing, the governments of the major greenhouse gas emitters meeting in Copenhagen are still not ready to take bold action, despite the high confidence of the scientific findings. It is clear that there will be no agreement of a legally binding nature, but a political best endeavour declaration. The Kyoto Protocol and its commitments will suffice, up to 2012.

The mature course of action for those countries faced with the heavy burden of adaptation to the hazards, with and without agreement in Copenhagen, is the sensible disposition of policy to our island circumstances. It will be necessary to devise an all-encompassing set of programmes, which lay the bases for individual, community and national activities. We consider this using the terminology widely adopted, namely the "low-carbon economy".

The transition to a low-carbon economy will not be easy. In the short and medium term the volume of greenhouse gases must increase in Jamaica, and perhaps rapidly so if the economy is to move to a new self-sustaining phase to meet its growing demand for goods and services.

This reliance on and increased use of fossil fuel energy sources make sense only in the context of built-in measures to use them efficiently and simultaneously increasing the share of renewable energy sources and technologies across all sectors of the society.

This requires phasing out as rapidly as possible several of the more technologically inefficient heavy fuel oil power generating plants with high heat rates and considerable polluting emissions of CO2. The replacement by technically and economically feasible renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro power, will set Jamaica on track to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The new breed of wind turbines reaching to higher heights and with increased energy output is a proven technology. This must now be applied to the Wigton Wind Farm if it is to overcome its early disappointment, as well as to other suitable wind sites. Further, legislation must be put in place for more equitable power purchase agreement.

The base year for the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions must be set, say 2010, overall and by sector. The basis for this exercise is to be found in Jamaica's "Final Report - Jamaica's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, which "presents Jamaica's greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory of anthropogenic emissions and removals of greenhouse gases (GHGs) not controlled by the Montreal Protocol.

This inventory should be refined and constitute an integral part of the National Development Plan Vision 2030. Targets set leading up to 2030 and 2050 will be an important measure for the efficient use of energy in producing goods and services and the rollout of renewable energy technologies.

The sectors in which the low-carbon strategy will make the most impact includes power generation across the national grid and its consumption by major industrial users, water utilities, communications and transportation firms, including airlines and ships within territorial space, distribution outlets, buildings, including hotels, hospitals and prisons and individual lifestyles.

The financial services sector, and importantly insurance must be a major and integral participant, underwriting, asset management and claims management of both private assets, and increasingly "public goods".

Major government-initiated or supported "investments", or both, through incentive measures and tax breaks, without integrating the low-carbon dynamic, is self-defeating and ultimately cannot be considered "visionary". Climate change with its immense uncertainties and risks "threaten human health, disrupt economic activity, damage natural ecosystems irreversibly, and even (in worst-case scenarios) lead to mass migration, food shortage, and other global humanitarian crises".

The governance structures as presently functioning, while admirably underpinning democratic pluralism, have shown themselves less than optimum to the task of delivering balanced growth, development and social harmony.

The challenges and risks posed by climate change offer the country a real opportunity to decentralise and devolve power from central government, redistribute bureaucratic expertise to local governments and communities and importantly to deconcentrate private capital.

The call for a "Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business" is possible only when there is a restored sense of solidarity and self-governing institutions at the local and community levels where climate change strikes first and hardest.

The ongoing turmoil of economic uncertainty notwithstanding, the Jamaican society stands to lose much, much more should it fail to be guided by the basic principle of survival, namely precaution.

Consider a Jamaica in 2050, without the results of fundamental changes to present governance institutions, principles, policies, programmes and lifestyles: less arable land with eroded coastal zones and denuded hillsides, less clean air with more pollution, less potable water with more floods and waste, a less healthy population, less to share but more, many more people angling to get their share.

Jimmy Cliff 's The Harder they come, the Harder they Fall will be ringing in our ears.

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