Aruba’s government, led by Prime Minister Mike Eman, announced this afternoon at the Rio+20 Conference that the country is partnering with the Carbon War Room (CWR) to transition to an energy portfolio of 100 percent renewables. CWR, one of Richard Branson’s many sustainability initiatives, will also work with the New America Foundation to design and implement a strategy that could transform Aruba into the first country entirely free of fossil fuels.
For Aruba and its 107,000 citizens, such a bold proposal is an opportunity to improve their standard of living, already relatively high for the Caribbean and Latin America. But despite its overall success, Aruba has endured periods of high deficit spending and inflation, and the volatile energy prices can undercut Aruba’s economy at any moment. Once an oil producer, Aruba now produces 20 percent of its energy via solar and wind power, but must import the rest of its energy. The partnership with CWR, if possible, could become a model of how countries can succeed on their quest for energy independence.
According to CWR, Aruba’s sustainable growth model will include the following action areas:
Agriculture: Like many Caribbean nations, Aruba imports almost 100 percent of its food, adding drastically to its carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels. The CWR plan would research the viability of reviving Aruba’s once-marginal farming sector without causing water shortages. Currently Aruba desalinates 100 percent of its water, and hence this sector would have to overcome another hurdle.
Energy efficiency: As part of an urban renewal plan, the current government would develop strategies to weatherize homes, retrofit commercial buildings and research the potential for smart grid technologies. Could Jeju Island in Korea be a model for Aruba?
Expand renewables: Since all of Aruba’s petroleum is imported, its high price on Aruba actually makes the expansion of solar and wind a cost-effective solution. Other Caribbean islands have found success through harvesting the most effective means of clean energy sources. Aruba’s abundant sun is one key towards weaning the island away from fossil fuels.
Sustainable Tourism: The Americans, Europeans and Venezuelans who flock to Aruba’s all-inclusive resorts and white sandy beaches have been both a boom, and a painful bane for the island. CWR and Aruba’s government will tackle the tough balance of developing more eco-friendly tourism while maintaining Aruba’s destination as a friendly destination for visitors. The challenge is huge: the point of vacations for most tourists is to behave in a way that they would not at home. Sustainability will have to be at the core of Aruba’s pitch for those tourism dollars.
Transportation: Tourists are often resort-bound, but CWR and Aruba’s tourism board would work on strategies to make Aruba a more walkable environment. New low emission technologies and emission reduction strategies would also reduce Aruba’s dependence on fossil fuels while cleaning the air.
CWR’s vision was announced today in Rio de Janiero at a joint appearance of PM Eman and Sir Richard Branson. The Aruba government will find ways to attract technologies companies that could help make this vision for Aruba a reality. Besides Branson’s involvement, the plan seeks additional funding that could eventually spark private investment.
Carbon War Room produced a short video summing up the move:
Photo of Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad, courtesy Wikipedia.