Currently taking place in Paris, France, until 11 December 2015 is the 21st UN Framework Conference on Climate Change. This conference is crucial, because it aims to reach a legally binding agreement on climate change – with the aim of limiting global warming to a minimum level – for the first time in 20 years of negotiations.

Among the 50,000 participants at the conference is a delegation from the Overseas Countries & Territories Association (OCTA), of which St Helena is a Member. OCTA presented at the conference and below is St Helena’s contribution to OCTA on the implications of climate change on a small Island in the South Atlantic:

‘Nowhere are the threats and opportunities of climate change more apparent than in isolated island nations. St Helena situated in the middle of the South Atlantic between Angola and Brazil, with a mail ship that calls every three weeks, is about as isolated as it gets. A tiny island, with a population of about 4500, also has a tiny economy. A portion  of this economy, however, is diminished each year through diesel imports for power generation.

 ‘This is changing fast though. Renewable energy output has increased in the last two years from 9% to 35% and plans are afoot to take this figure to 50%, with a second phase of the recent solar farm. A roadmap is also being finalised to take the power supply to 95% renewable by 2020 as the preferred date. A combination of wind, solar and either pumped hydro or battery storage will provide this energy supply, and additional measures will need to be put in place to assure grid stability. Along the way, subsidies to the power and water utility might be redirected to other key  spending priorities. The decreased reliance on fuel imports will entail significant money remaining on Island and being re-circulated in the local economy bringing economic benefits that are 3 to 4 times greater than the financial savings being made. This can become a driver for further investment to green the economy as St Helena moves away from its isolation and embraces eco-tourism after the new Airport opens for business next year.

‘Of course it’s not all about the economy. The tiny Island is home to over 30% of the endemic biodiversity of the UK and its Overseas Territories, and its rich heritage dating back to early trade with the East Indies and later ‘home’ to Napoleon and liberated slaves. It is therefore a unique location whose key assets are its natural and historic environment. Environmental protection must therefore be at the heart of all decisions and development on St Helena.

‘Climate change of course presents huge challenges. Jamestown nestles in a deep valley between crumbling volcanic cliffs and increased extreme weather events will increase the frequency of rockfall. Poor stormwater infrastructure is already causing flooding and erosion problems and these will get worse. Farmers struggling to feed the Island despite long dry periods and invasive species, will face even greater challenges.

‘In parallel with plans for a renewable energy system, a programme is being drawn up to address some of these challenges through a combination of traditional hard infrastructure works, and more innovative green infrastructure investment. Could, for example, expansion of the threatened endemic cloud forest not only sink more carbon into soils and critically endangered biodiversity, but also create more cloud and hold more water in its organic-rich soils to steadily feed the watercourses that supply the Island?

‘Could holistic thinking in small island nations demonstrate to world leaders that creating an economy that builds rather than destroys natural and human capital is not just essential – it’s achievable?’

SHG

7 December 2015

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