SIDS High-Level Dialogue: Accelerating Energy Transition in Small Island Developing States to Stimulate Post-Pandemic Recovery

On Monday, 01 June 2020 from 23:00 to 00:30 GST (15:00 – 16:30 EDT, 01 June 2020; 08:00-09:30 TOT, 02 June 2020), IRENA and AOSIS organised a virtual Ministerial Dialogue bringing together Governments, development partners and regional and multilateral institutions to consider actions needed to advance a transformation of the energy systems in SIDS, taking into account the latest developments and national experiences in the face of COVID-19.

With a view to realising the ambitious renewable energy targets envisioned by SIDS that will strengthen SIDS resilience, and stimulating economic recovery and sustainable development in the post pandemic period, the discussion offered a platform for SIDS governments and development partners to reflect on effective means for reinforcing action towards accelerating energy transformation and ensuring energy security of SIDS, while aligning the pandemic response with the sustainable development and climate objectives. Special emphasis was given to renewable energy solutions in the sectors that have been severely affected by the pandemic, such as, health, water, agrifood, tourism, fisheries, transport. The discussion also incorporated the outcomes of the PAF, the progress of the Ambitious SIDS Climate Action Summit Package, which is being operationalised through the SIDS LHI.

Open to ministers and high-level officials from the SIDS governments, representatives of the regional and subregional organisations, development partners, international organisations, international financial institutions and other stakeholders, this virtual High-Level Dialogue included a panel discussion, with dedicated time for participants’ comments, questions and answers.

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Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have demonstrated their firm commitment for transitioning towards renewable energy, as reflected in their first round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. This was reaffirmed in the SIDS Energy Transition Initiative, presented as part of the SIDS Ambition Package to the UN Secretary General Climate Action Summit in September 2019.

This year, COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a “new normal”, in which trade disruptions and travel restrictions have severely affected the economies of SIDS. Extreme effects of climate change, meanwhile, remain increasingly evident with the recent cyclone in the Pacific, the impending hurricane season for the Caribbean and ongoing vulnerabilities faced by island states in Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Seas (AIS) region, providing a stark reminder to SIDS of the need to keep working together to overcome these challenges. Despite these challenges, SIDS remain committed to submitting new and updated revised NDCs which complement strengthening their resilience and adapting to present circumstances that will contribute to rebuilding their economies and support sustainable livelihoods. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) aims to support SIDS in these efforts.

Within the framework of the Climate Promise Initiative, IRENA together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other development partners is supporting a number of SIDS that are currently in the process of reviewing their energy commitments in new and updated NDCs.Through the SIDS Lighthouses Initiative, IRENA aims to support SIDS in their NDC implementation and foster dialogue between SIDS and development partners to accelerate island energy transitions. Furthermore, IRENA aims to facilitate dialogue on energy security to stimulate current and post-pandemic recovery in SIDS.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) recently concluded the Placencia Ambition Forum (PAF), which echoed the need for immediate, enhanced action to overcome the challenges in energy transition, which would also strengthen SIDS resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change as well as crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced action would entail SIDS establishing more ambitious NDCs, which can only be realised through co-ordinated implementation efforts and financial support by development partners. Funding challenges for the SIDS energy transition, such as inadequate fiscal resources to cope with the large upfront capital investments required, barriers to accessing international funds, and inability to secure large-scale investments have been further exacerbated by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, SIDS with the support of partners needs to explore the feasibility of innovative financing options, including blending schemes to drive biofuel development, concessional financing for all renewables, and de-risking instruments to make projects more commercially viable over time.

Reforms and further analysis are needed to overcome legal and regulatory barriers and facilitate large-scale deployment of renewables in SIDS, while at the same time strengthening national ownership in such investments. To facilitate the SIDS energy transition, capacity constraints also need to be addressed for renewable energy projects. Limited land space and storage capacity are common problems for SIDS, given their limited resources. Internet and mobile connectivity must also be adequate to monitor renewable energy projects and ensure their sustainability. Finally, assessments must be conducted on the longterm benefits and feasibility of renewable energy solutions, specifically as a component of stimulus packages as a response to COVID-19.

In this context, the adoption of more ambitious NDCs and long-term emission reduction strategies in line with the Paris Agreement must be considered in tandem with the pandemic response element. The infrastructure and technology deployed in SIDS must be climate-proof, ensuring resilience and sustainability to confront the negative impacts of climate change. Finally, and equally importantly, renewable energy must be treated as a key means to foster sustainable development and access to health, water, communications technologies, gender equality, decent employment, and economic diversification by providing impetus to new industries.