By Jewel Fraser
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Tuesday February 26, 2019 (IPS) – The Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator launched last year June with the backing of Virgin’s Richard Branson has given itself five years to help the region become climate resilient.
Its CEO Racquel Moses, who was appointed in January of this year, told IPS the climate smart accelerator sees itself as an enabler in paving the path towards climate resilience for the region. “The horizon for the climate smart accelerator is just five years. We are meant to be a catalyst to get things started. Governments will have the ability to take things forward after that,” she said.
Their primary agenda during that five-year period will be to launch five major, “transformational” projects that will move the region forward towards becoming a climate smart zone, she said.
The idea for the accelerator was floated following the devastating 2017 hurricane season which saw two Category Five hurricanes that severely damaged a number of islands, including Necker Island owned by Richard Branson, and left scores dead.
In the wake of that devastation, an interim team comprising management of Branson’s charitable foundation, Virgin Unite, and Inter-American Development Bank staff members got together and hammered out the idea to make the Caribbean a climate smart zone, said Neil Parsan, public sector lead for the climate smart accelerator. They defined a climate smart Caribbean as one that “modernizes digital, physical and social infrastructure to integrate essential activities that are climate adaptive, mitigative and secure a low-carbon future for the region,” he said.
Despite the Caribbean being responsible for less than five per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, its growth in emissions between 1990 and 2011 was three times the global average, according to a 2017 USAID report. So 28 governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have eagerly aligned themselves with the accelerator’s objective of making the region a climate smart zone, as have major institutions including the World Bank, the Organisation of American States, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the Caribbean Community, Parsan said.
Moses said the accelerator was “working in tandem” with regional governments to coordinate activities related to climate change. “I have been surprised at how aggressively regional governments have been working on the issue of climate change. We are further along with some governments than with others,” she said. But generally, “they have been quite excited to get involved.”
The five transformational projects she is seeking to have completed over the next five years would also be carried out with governmental support, she said. To qualify as one of the five, a project has to be low carbon, make use of renewable energy, have an impact on a large number of people, be scalable across several countries in the region, create climate-related jobs, and have the potential to be exported outside of the region, she added.
Parsan said dozens of projects are currently under consideration, but the challenge for the Accelerator’s team was “being able to identify mature, bankable, investable, impactful projects that align themselves to the strategic goals of the accelerator.” Though most of the projects under consideration meet some of the criteria, all do not meet every single criterion.
Once the five major projects that the accelerator will be working on are identified, the team will need to source funding to help them get up and running. “We are actually working at putting together teams that can address this funding,” Moses said. She noted that Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley had expressed the desire to see a regional climate investment fund created that would bankroll climate change projects while giving investors a better return on their investments than the current market rate.
The accelerator’s team had met with managers of global funds “to find out legally how they work, and how to get multiple funders, multiple countries, multiple companies working together.” Though she declined to specify what types of projects are currently under consideration, for reasons of confidentiality, Moses said all projects identified must move the region forward to achieving its climate smart goals, including having a low carbon footprint.
At the same time, in the light of the region’s relatively small contribution to GHG emissions, the accelerator is also hoping to facilitate the region’s export of climate professionals whose expertise would have been developed while working on climate-related jobs in the Caribbean. Moses said the accelerator also wants to help provide grants for smaller, climate-related projects and will be announcing awards soon for some of these.
Momentum is continuing to build around the accelerator, Parsan said. “There is definitely an uptick and daily I am taking calls. A lot of interest comes from the Caribbean, which is great, a lot of young entrepreneurs. We also have a lot of U.S. companies expressing interest.” He said about 50 per cent of the companies reaching out to the Accelerator are outside of the Caribbean, including some multinational companies. Among these Is AirBnB which was mentioned in the announcement of the launch as providing free housing to relief workers during natural disasters.
Energy companies also are reaching out to the accelerator. “They say they are perceived as being part of the problem. They ask, how can we be part of the solution?” Parsan said.
And though Moses does not believe being female helped her to get the top job, the accelerator is also concerned about issues of gender parity in the execution of its projects, she said.
Also on her wish list as CEO of the accelerator is seeing the Caribbean play its part in reducing carbon emissions by becoming more energy efficient, and doing more to protect its marine environment.
But mostly, “the thing that keeps me up at night is ensuring we are working fast enough…to make sure everything we do benefits the region,” she told IPS.