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Caribbean island finds silver lining in climate change discussion

You may not imagine that a tiny country with a population of just 270,000 would be the venue for a global discussion on climate change.

Most would assume emerging economies like India or China might better fit the bill, or even - whisper it - the massive, energy-consuming US or Russia.

But the Caribbean island of Barbados insists it has very good reasons for hosting this year's World Environment Day (WED). It argues that not only is it particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change - but also that it is at the cutting ege of the fight against it. That's why WED 2014, whose theme is Small Island Developing States and Climate Change, is somewhat perversely being hailed as a day of celebration rather than commiseration.

This small nation has taken big steps to reduce its own climate impact and to provide clean, renewable energy, as well as opportunities for green economic growth to its people. Among other things, it has pledged to increase the share of renewable energy across the island to 29 per cent of all electricity consumption by 2029. This would cut total electricity costs by an estimated $283m (£168m) and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4.5 million tonnes, according to the government, which has also announced that it is delighted to be having the opportunity to showcase its fantastic tourism assets to the world. This isn't double standards: Barbados's tourism sector contributes about 15 per cent of the island's GDP, and its sugar industry, which contributes about 2 per cent, could both be severely affected by changing weather patterns.

UN Environment Project executive director Achim Steiner concurs with this, saying: "Small Island Developing States the world over are facing a host of risks related to climate change, from temperature increases that negatively affect agriculture to sea-level rise that threatens the very existence of some nations." The island's over-reliance on imported fossil fuels has become one of its major environmental concerns: last year Barbados spent almost $400m on oil imports.

The National Strategic Plan is designed to ease this dependency by increasing the country's renewable energy supply, with a special focus on raising the number of household solar water heaters in Barbados. High oil prices have severely affected Caribbean competitiveness.

World Environment Day began in 1972 and is the focus of ongoing year-round activities, intended to help the United Nations highlight the need to protect the environment with events in over 100 countries. The official host country in 2013 was Mongolia, one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, with a current population of under three million.

World Environment Day takes place in Barbados on Thursday, June 5. Visit www.unep.org/wed

Contextual targeting label: 
Environment

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