4. The sustainable use of natural endowments

Scaling up renewable energy and the sustainable ocean economy, and building resilience towards natural disasters, represent important opportunities for the OECS region. Indeed, and as already noted, the development of renewables could reduce the cost of energy in the region. This requires a strong political will and a strategic vision. Furthermore, there is a need to secure sufficient financial resources and for reform to regulatory frameworks in the energy sector to facilitate private investment. Regional collaboration in energy-sector regulation, in geothermal energy, and in the training of skilled technicians could generate economies of scale. Furthermore, OECS countries’ location and rich marine biodiversity open up opportunities in the sustainable ocean economy. In particular, marine biotechnologies are one area of the sustainable ocean economy that could be further exploited in the region. There could be potential opportunity in establishing a regional sustainable ocean economy hub, both for academic research and education. Finally, and given OECS countries’ vulnerability to natural disasters, improving their resilience to such disasters should be a key policy priority for the region. Designing disaster-resilience strategies, developing disaster-resilient infrastructure, strengthening public finances, and putting in place the kinds of ex-post resilience measures that can ensure a speedy recovery, are all essential in the quest to bolster the region’s resilience to natural disasters. Table 4.1 represents five major opportunities for the sustainable use of natural endowments in the OECS region.

The price of renewable energy has fallen dramatically over the past decade. For example, the global weighted-average utility-scale levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from solar photovoltaic (PV) installations fell by 85% between 2010 and 2020. Over the same period, the LCOE of offshore wind power fell by 48%, while the LCOE of onshore wind power declined by 56% (Figure 4.1, Panel A). Steadily improving technologies, economies of scale, competitive supply chains, and improving experiences on the part of developers are all factors that have contributed to this dramatic decline in costs (IRENA, 2021[1]).

Renewables are already cost-competitive in the Eastern Caribbean, and are cheaper than imported fossil fuels. Both for wind power and solar PV, the combined costs of operation, maintenance and capital are lower in the Eastern Caribbean than the mere combination of operation, maintenance and fuel costs for generators that run on diesel or heavy fuel oil. Meanwhile, the combined costs of operation, maintenance and capital for geothermal energy are lower than the combined costs just of operating, maintaining and fuelling diesel-powered generators (Figure 4.1, Panel B). Furthermore, the costs of combining renewables with batteries are equivalent to the combined operation, maintenance, fuel and capital costs for diesel generators (USAID, 2021[2]).

OECS countries are endowed with abundant renewable energy resources. In fact, most OECS countries’ renewable-energy potential in terms of solar, wind and geothermal energy is a multiple even of their peak level of demand for electricity (Figure 4.2). Marine renewable energy, which includes wave, current and tidal power, is another potential source of power generation for OECS countries. For the most part, however, ocean energy technologies are still at an early stage of development (OECD, 2020[3]). In sum, low renewable prices, in combination with OECS countries’ abundant renewable-energy resources, result in a multitude of opportunities for electricity generation from renewable sources.

Notwithstanding the potential for renewables, their use to generate electricity currently remains very limited in most OECS countries. To date, these countries continue to rely largely on imported petroleum products, mainly diesel and heavy fuel oil, for electricity generation (Figure 4.3). In 2019, fossil fuels accounted on average for 93% of electricity generation in OECS countries. Antigua and Barbuda has the largest solar generation capacity, and St. Kitts and Nevis has the largest wind capacity in the region. However, the wind farm established in Nevis in 2010 (Vergnet Groupe, n.d.[6]) is no longer operational at present, due to a lack of maintenance of the wind turbines. Only St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica make use of hydropower. Dominica is currently in the process of developing 6.6 megawatts (MW) of additional hydropower capacity, plus a 10 MW geothermal plant, which will replace 35% of Dominica’s currently-installed power-generation capacity.

Scaling up renewables could substantially reduce OECS countries’ energy bills, thereby contributing positively to economic development in the region. Meeting member states’ renewable-energy targets could reduce oil imports by between 22% and 49%, and reduce national electricity bills by 9% to 31% (Figure 4.4, Panel A). As a result, GDP could increase by 1% to 3% in the long run. In addition, lower electricity prices could contribute to higher levels of private investment, fuelling additional GDP growth. Increasing the share of renewables in OECS countries’ energy mix and reducing the share of imported fossil fuels could also reduce electricity price volatility in the region (Srinivasan et al., 2017[8]).

In order to scale up renewable energy, OECS countries require strong political will and a strategic vision. While a credible vision and long-term strategy are key elements for successfully scaling up renewable energy in the Eastern Caribbean, they remain largely elusive. In most countries, energy ministries have a one-year budget cycle, focusing mainly on the short term. The case of Dominica, however, shows that with strong political will it is possible to overcome regulatory, financial and other challenges to the development of renewable energy resources. Dominica was the first country in the OECS to develop geothermal energy. It was able to raise funding for its 10 MW geothermal project through CBI inflows, donor contributions,1 and private investment (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2020[10]). Furthermore, Dominica is well advanced in the development of an appropriate regulatory framework for integrating a large share of renewables into its energy mix. Dominica adopted a Geothermal Resources Development Act in 2016, and has already established a net billing scheme, inter-connection standards, and grid codes (IRENA, 2016[11]).

More realistic and credible renewable targets are an important element for ensuring a successful scaling up of renewable energy in the region. To date, most OECS countries have very ambitious targets for electricity generation from renewables, both internally and in the regional strategy scorecard, but in many cases these are not very realistic (Table 4.2). Four OECS countries aim at 100% electricity generation from renewables by 2030.

The development of Integrated Resource and Resilience Plans (IRRP) could help OECS countries to develop credible long-term strategies and visions and more realistic targets for scaling up renewables. In essence, IRRPs define countries’ electricity supply for the foreseeable future based on different energy sources, including both fossil fuels and renewables. They combine the traditional integrated resource-planning process that electricity-sector utilities regularly use, with analysis of climate vulnerability. Indeed, IRRPs take into account the power system’s resistance to natural hazards, and their ability to recover quickly from them. At the 82nd Special Meeting of CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development, the methodology, principles and practices of integrated resource and resilience planning were endorsed as the preferred mechanism for electricity-sector planning, and member states were urged to develop IRRPs by 2023. The Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency is supporting CARICOM member states in designing their IRRPs. To date, however, St. Kitts and Nevis is the only country in the OECS region that has started working on its IRRP (CCREEE, 2022[12]; CCREEE, 2021[13]).

Strong political will, and the prioritisation of an energy transition, would facilitate the adoption of legal and regulatory frameworks that could channel private investment into electricity generation in the OECS region. At present, most electrical utilities in the region are integrated monopolies in power generation, transmission and distribution. As a result, regulatory frameworks do not include provisions for private investment in the electricity sector. There are either no licensing regimes for utility-scale independent (third-party) power producers (IPPs), as is the case in Grenada and St. Lucia, or licensing regimes are inadequate, as in Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis. There is no obligation for utilities to purchase from third-party power producers in most countries, as is the case, for example, in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Table 4.3). Even where third-party power producers are permitted, moreover, there are significant restrictions on their operations, such as onerous, long, and unclear application procedures. Furthermore, access and exploitation rights for geothermal resources are not clearly delineated in most OECS countries. Aside from Dominica’s Geothermal Resources Development Act, which was adopted in 2016, only Grenada has already prepared a draft regulatory framework for geothermal energy (Gischler et al., 2016[15]) (ECLAC, 2016[16]).

There is a lot of scope to improve incentives and regulatory frameworks for renewable energy in OECS countries. To be sure, in most of the countries there are either tax credits, reductions, or exemptions for renewables (Table 4.4). However, net metering or billing schemes exist only in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Dominica. None of the OECS countries have a market-based support mechanism, such as renewable auctions. Furthermore, feed-in tariffs exist only in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, although they are also planned in Antigua and Barbuda. Renewable portfolio standards, which are regulatory mandates that require utility companies to increase electricity generation from renewables, are also absent in Eastern Caribbean states. Meanwhile, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia lack interconnection standards, which can be defined as a set of requirements and procedures that dictate how renewable energy systems can be legally connected to the electricity grid (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2020[10]). Only Grenada and Dominica have grid codes that set out rules for the power system and the operation of the energy market, and that define technical requirements for connecting to and using national power grids. Integrating an increasing share of variable and intermittent renewables in the electricity mix requires the introduction of standards to ensure the safe, secure, economically-viable, and proper functioning of the electricity system, and a stable and secure electricity supply (IRENA, 2016[11]).

Renewable energy projects require relatively high levels of upfront capital investment, and difficult access to finance is a significant obstacle to the deployment of renewables in the Eastern Caribbean, This is especially the case for geothermal energy. High upfront investment costs for renewables contrast with their operating and maintenance costs, which tend to be very low. The OECS region’s needs for investment in renewables over a five-year period range from 3.7% of GDP in St. Lucia, to 10% of GDP in St. Kitts and Nevis (Figure 4.4, Panel B). Given the limited size of their populations, and thus their limited tax revenues and budgets, securing the financial resources that are required to finance the large upfront capital investments that renewable energy projects require tends to be difficult for OECS countries.

In order to solve the financing challenge for renewable energy in the region, it is essential to facilitate private investment by reforming regulatory frameworks. Private investment in renewables is restricted by regulatory frameworks. Plus, government-owned utility companies’ ability to borrow for investments in large renewable projects, and to be reliable buyers of power generated by third parties, is constrained in some countries by high levels of government debt, and indeed by their own limited creditworthiness. This is especially the case in Antigua, and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis. In order to secure financing for their sustainable energy projects, third-party power producers need a creditworthy utility to sell to (Gischler et al., 2016[15]) (USAID, 2021[2]). Reforming regulatory frameworks to facilitate private investment would be essential to secure financing for renewables. In addition, OECS countries could consider the introduction of a carbon tax, possibly at the regional level.

It is would also be important to improve financing provided by financial institutions for renewable energy products and projects. Many households in the Eastern Caribbean are credit-constrained, and cannot afford to invest in equipment for renewable energy generation, even if this equipment pays for itself over time. Financial institutions in the Eastern Caribbean tend to be unfamiliar with, and to lack knowledge about, renewable technologies, in particular distributed renewables, and to have limited experience with loans for renewable projects. They are, therefore, reluctant or unwilling to lend, and this exacerbates the credit constraints that households face in investing in renewables such as solar panels. Furthermore, few adequate financial products for investments in renewables exist in the Eastern Caribbean.

Regional inter-connections would facilitate the integration of electricity systems, and would increase the size of electricity markets. At present, the small individual size of the countries of the Eastern Caribbean, and the low demand for energy that they each represent, do not allow for economies of scale for many renewable projects, in particular in the case of geothermal energy (USAID, 2021[2]). Given the small land mass of countries in the Eastern Caribbean, the availability of land is also a challenge. Regional inter-connections via undersea cables could create an integrated regional electricity system, allowing for electricity imports and exports, and for the pooling of financial resources and land, as well as of other resources, including expertise. It would also facilitate joint investments in renewable energy. In this spirit, Dominica is already in discussions with Martinique and Guadeloupe on inter-connection cables for electricity exports (Dominica Geothermal Development Company Limited, 2018[17]; CS Global Partners, 2021[18]). Nonetheless, regional interconnection requires further study and a careful assessment of the business case for each individual connection line and would be feasible only in the long term.

Regional collaboration in geothermal energy could generate economies of scale, allowing for a sharing of costs, and thereby relaxing financial constraints. In most OECS countries, geothermal potential for electricity generation outstrips electricity demand, resulting in opportunities to export electricity to countries in the region. At the same time, regional collaboration on geothermal energy investments could facilitate the mobilisation of financial resources required for large upfront capital investments. Regional inter-connections via undersea cables would be a pre-condition for exporting electricity from one island to another. Alternatively, the excess electricity generated from geothermal resources could be used to produce hydrogen for export. Nonetheless, similarly to regional interconnection, the possibility to produce and export hydrogen requires further study and a careful evaluation in terms of costs and benefits.

In combination with regional inter-connections, geothermal energy could serve as baseload capacity to facilitate the integration of intermittent renewables, such as solar and wind energy. The amount of electricity generated from solar and wind energy depends on climate patterns, and on the sun shining or wind blowing at a given moment. In addition, fluctuations in demand for electricity do not always correspond to fluctuations in the electricity that is generated from these resources. In order significantly to increase the share of solar and wind power in their electricity mix, Eastern Caribbean countries require flexible electricity systems so that they can adjust electricity production quickly in response to large fluctuations in the amounts of electricity coming from renewable resources. In combination with regional inter-connections, OECS countries’ great potential for geothermal energy could allow them to solve the baseload challenge in that geothermal would complement intermittent solar and wind power. Geothermal plants generate a stable supply of electricity. Regional inter-connections would make OECS countries’ electricity systems more flexible, allowing exports and imports to balance intermittent renewables. Islands that lack the potential to develop geothermal projects would be able to import geothermal energy from neighbouring islands. Reinforcing individual countries’ electricity grids in order to allow for larger fluctuations in electricity supply would be a pre-condition for regional inter-connection, and for the integration of a higher share of intermittent renewables.

At present, many OECS countries do not have independent regulatory institutions for the energy sector. Since electricity sectors in the region are monopolies in power generation, transmission and distribution, there has not historically been a need for energy regulators. Most of the region’s existing national regulators were established only recently, and independent regulators now exist in several OECS countries. In 2016, for example, Grenada established the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission to regulate GRENLEC, the local power utility. Also in 2016, St. Lucia established the National Utilities Regulatory Commission. Meanwhile, Anguilla has its Public Utilities Commission, and Dominica has its Independent Regulatory Commission. Still, these regulators’ mandates are generally not limited to the energy sector, as they also target other public utilities and, in some cases, the telecommunications sector too. Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat do not have energy regulators at all (Energy Transitions Initiative, 2020[19]; GBN, 2019[20]; Anguilla, 2014[21]; Independent Regulatory Commission, 2020[22]; National Utilities Regulatory Commission, 2017[23]).

Regional institutions and regulation in the energy sector could generate economies of scale. Independent regulators could help to promote a predictable and transparent regulatory environment for energy investors as well as a credible commitment over the long term and stability (IMF, 2017[24]; OECD, 2014[25]). The absence of independent energy regulatory offices in many countries in the region represents an opportunity to establish a single regional regulator. A single regional energy regulator, and an updated harmonised regulatory framework facilitating the integration of renewables, could mirror the structure of ECTEL, the regional telecommunications regulator, and the harmonised regulations that go with it. Local regulators could be integrated into this over-arching single regional institution as local representatives. Once regional inter-connection has been established, regional balancing and day-ahead markets would present further opportunities.

Furthermore, there is a need to improve public awareness and information on renewable energy in the OECS countries. At present, households and businesses in the Eastern Caribbean lack the sufficient information and awareness to make informed decisions about investing in distributed renewable energies. More broadly, there is limited awareness of the technical, economic and financial benefits of renewables, and there is also insufficient information on the options that are available for the development of renewable energy. Moreover, many individuals still harbour reservations on renewables, sometimes due to bad experiences in the past. As a result, there is little investment in them from households and businesses (Gischler et al., 2016[15]) (USAID, 2021[2]). Furthermore, little detailed information on the potential of renewable energy and the ways in which it can be exploited commercially, such as wind maps, is available in Eastern Caribbean countries. This is particularly the case for wind and geothermal resources (Gischler et al., 2016[15]).

Regional collaboration to pool procurement for renewable energy products could reduce prices of renewable equipment. Renewable energy products and services are still limited in the Eastern Caribbean. Markets for renewable energy equipment and services are not very developed yet. Indeed, as a consequence both of low levels of demand and small market size, few retailers in the Eastern Caribbean sell distributed renewable generation products and services, such as home solar systems. This results in high prices for equipment, installation and maintenance (Gischler et al., 2016[15]) (USAID, 2021[2]). Regional collaboration to create a single market for renewable equipment and for joint procurement of equipment could improve the availability of renewable products in the region and reduce prices.

Regional co-operation could help to generate the skills that are required for the development of renewables. In the Eastern Caribbean, governments currently lack well-developed capabilities and experience when it comes to renewable policies and projects. Moreover, they lack skilled human resources to implement such projects. In addition, utilities in the Eastern Caribbean have limited experience of operating and maintaining renewable energy plants (Gischler et al., 2016[15]) (USAID, 2021[2]). Regional collaboration among community colleges, in combination with online teaching, could facilitate the generation of skilled human resources for the development of renewables. It would also allow OECS countries to share costs.

The sustainable ocean economy offers many opportunities for OECS countries. Indeed, ocean-based industries such as tourism and fisheries can generate foreign exchange, income and jobs. As small island nations, OECS countries have abundant access to the ocean. At present, moreover, tourism that is largely marine in character is already the most important economic sector for most OECS countries. However, there are opportunities for OECS countries in the sustainable ocean economy beyond tourism. If managed sustainably, the expansion of ocean-based sectors could advance sustainable development more broadly, by creating new opportunities for jobs, food security and clean energy. It could also help OECS countries to achieve more diversified and resilient economies. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OECD projected a doubling of the global ocean economy from 2010 to 2030, reaching USD 3 trillion and employing 40 million people (OECD, 2020[26]).

Marine biotechnologies are an area of the sustainable ocean economy that offers many opportunities, and there is scope to exploit these more in the OECS region. To date, the potential of marine bio-resources beyond fish remains largely untapped worldwide. Indeed, the marine ecosystem contains many as yet undiscovered microbial species. What is more, the properties even of some marine species that are already known remain largely undiscovered. There are many opportunities to use marine biotechnology for the development of pharmaceutical drugs, cosmetic products for health and well-being, food production, and biofuels. Some industries already rely on marine bio-resources, as is the case, for example, with the development of new generations of antibiotics. The global market for marine biotechnology was estimated to be worth approximately USD 3.7 billion in 2020, up from USD 2.8 billion in 2010, and it is predicted to expand between 5.8% and 9% a year over the next five years, reaching at least USD 5 billion by 2026 (OECD, 2020[3]; OECD, 2016[27]; Global Industry Reports, 2022[28]; Research and Markets, 2022[29]; Market Research, 2020[30]). Due to their location in the tropics, the countries of the OECS are endowed with a high degree of marine biodiversity, and they possess extensive and valuable marine resources such as corals, sponges and fish. The OECS region performs well in terms of biodiversity in the Ocean Health Index (score of 82.9/100 compared to a global average of 80.4/100 in 2021) (Ocean Health Index, n.d.[31]).

Meanwhile, the possible establishment of a regional sustainable ocean economy hub, both for academic research and education, constitutes an opportunity for the countries of the OECS. Such a hub could advance research activities, for example in marine biotechnologies, an area in which it could build on the OECS region’s rich biodiversity. It could also advance education in different fields of sustainable ocean economy. Globally, there is a shortage of qualified and skilled professionals in many sectors of the sustainable ocean economy, as recent experience in the EU has shown (European Commission, 2021[32]). It appears that curricula in the field of the sustainable ocean economy, such as marine sciences, elicit large global demand from students, but that academic capacity is limited. Due to its geographical characteristics as small islands surrounded by the ocean in the tropics, and to its rich ocean biodiversity, the OECS region has a comparative advantage for establishing a regional sustainable ocean economy hub. In so doing, moreover, the region could build on its experience of hosting offshore medical schools. In addition, the regional sustainable ocean economy hub could possibly work together with community colleges throughout the region, for example by offering joint curricula in marine sciences and other areas of the sustainable ocean economy, supported by online teaching.

Moreover, there is scope to further improve marine protection and ocean conservation in the OECS region. This would be an important way for the region to secure and enhance its attractiveness for marine tourism, in particular eco-tourism. It would also be an opportunity to bolster and develop its attractiveness for marine biotechnologies, and as a location for research and education in marine sciences and other areas of the sustainable ocean economy more broadly. Globally, the pressures on oceans are mounting. They include climate change, pollution, overfishing and over-exploitation of other ocean resources, the degradation of habitats, and the spread of invasive alien species (OECD, 2020[3]). According to the Ocean Health Index, the OECS countries perform only moderately when it comes to protecting places that have a special significance for marine-related cultural identity, ensuring the cleanliness of their waters, and protecting their coastline. Except for St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda, OECS countries score poorly for the protection of special places for marine-related cultural identity. In this category, their scores in 2021 ranged from 0/100 for Montserrat to 39.5/100 for Anguilla. Performance in terms of clean water is also moderate, generating an average regional score of 63.6/100 in the Ocean Health Index in 2021, compared to a world average of 65.2/100. In this category, there was particular scope for improvement in St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In terms of coastal protection, the OECS region scored 73.3/100 compared to a world average of 80.9/100 in the Ocean Health Index (Ocean Health Index, n.d.[31]) (Figure 4.5). Marine protected areas amounted to only 0.8% of territorial waters in the OECS region on average in 2021, compared to an average of 17.5% for Latin America and the Caribbean, and to 24.3% in the OECD (2018). There is also scope to further reduce the number of threatened fish species, of which there are between 29 and 31 in each OECS country (World Bank, 2022[33]).

Improvements to marine protection and ocean conservation are even more important in the context of climate change. As small island states, OECS countries are highly exposed both to rising sea levels and to ocean acidification. What is more, ocean acidification and rising water temperatures can result in the degradation of coral reefs, and Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis are two of the 27 countries in the world that are most prone to reef degradation as a result of climate change. In turn, the degradation of coral reefs can result in the erosion of soft shores and beaches, which are a key natural and economic asset for OECS countries in the context of their high dependence on tourism. The reason that damage of this kind can occur is that corals deliver calcareous sand to maintain beaches and protect against wave erosion, especially in the context of storms and hurricanes (World Bank, 2018[35]).

The OECS member states are highly prone to natural disasters. Their small size and geographic position make them particularly vulnerable to disasters such as tropical cyclones, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Over the past 70 years, the OECS region has experienced 74 tropical cyclones, 12 floods, and seven volcanic eruptions (EMDAT, 2022[36]). As natural disasters become increasingly frequent and more severe due to climate change, the islands are predicted to become even more exposed to deadly hurricanes. Climate change also poses concerns with regard to rising sea levels, higher temperatures, and changes in agricultural production. Such changes threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the region (OECS, 2022[37]).

These natural disasters have been very costly for the region, causing damage and loss of human life. Out of the 93 events that have occurred in the region in the past seven decades, 46 have caused damages exceeding USD 1 million, and 30 have caused more than USD 10 million in damages. Furthermore, over the course of the past decade about 65% of the total population of the OECS was affected in some way by a natural disaster, up from 15.5% in the 2000s (EMDAT, 2022[36]). These disasters place a burden on the debt-sustainability of the OECS member states, as debt levels often jump following a disaster event (Figure 4.6, Panel A).

Furthermore, natural disasters have a negative effect on the region’s economic growth rates and tourism sectors. Natural disasters lead to reduced growth in impacted countries through losses in agricultural productivity, damages to infrastructure, and interruptions to normal business operations. This is particularly important for the tourism-reliant member states, and on infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants, highways and airports, which are frequently damaged or destroyed during hurricanes. When these services are not available, or take time to rebuild, output can be reduced as tourist arrivals fall. In OECS countries that are frequently impacted by natural disasters, the numbers of tourist arrivals tend to fall significantly in the ten to 12 months after a natural disaster, according to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF, 2017[24]). The 6.8% contraction in GDP in Dominica immediately after the category 5 hurricane Maria in 2017 illustrates the impact on growth that such events can have. Another example comes from St. Kitts and Nevis, where GDP growth declined by a similar proportion in 1998 following a tropical cyclone that caused more than USD 1 billion in damages (Figure 4.6, Panel B).

Another important consideration is that the debt that member states take on to pay for disaster relief leaves them more vulnerable to other crises. When Hurricane Maria swept through Dominica in 2017, many rivers were flooded, and over 90% of the island’s structures were destroyed. This hurricane caused damages of a total costs estimated at USD 1.3 billion, or 224% of Dominica’s total output in 2016 (OCHA, 2018[38]). Despite Dominica receiving financing in the form of grants, plus support from international organisations, this left limited fiscal space for the country to react to other economic events in subsequent years, given its increased debt burden. This made the COVID-19 pandemic particularly difficult for the Dominican government to manage, despite the fact that the country was better positioned than other OECS member states to ride it out because of its relatively smaller tourism sector (UNDP/UNICEF/UN Women, 2020[39]).

Building resilience against tropical storms and other natural disasters can help to mitigate costs and protect populations. While there is little that OECS countries can do to avoid natural disasters, it is possible to build up resilience against such events through several avenues, such as developing disaster-resilience strategies, strengthening financial resilience, and building infrastructure that is resistant to natural disasters. Studies have shown that although such disaster-mitigation efforts increase medium-term debt, investment in disaster resilience outweighs the long-term costs (IMF, 2021[40]). In fact, planning for natural disasters has already yielded positive outcomes in the region. For example, Dominica’s airport was operational just two days after Hurricane Maria because of structural reinforcements that the country had invested in the year before. This facilitated the transfer of supplies and the movement of support workers into the country at a critical time, and saved the country thousands of dollars in damages (IMF, 2021[40]).

Developing clear visions and strategies for resilience to natural disasters is important. Dominica has been a prime example of this in region, since after Hurricane Maria announcing its commitment to become the first disaster-resilient nation in the world. With the help of the IMF, Dominica developed and adopted a disaster resilience strategy in 2019 (IMF, 2021[40]). Most of the other countries in the region have also begun enhancing their strategies with the help of various international organisations. Several of these improvements have been completed, while some are still in the initiation phase.

Developing disaster-resilient infrastructure throughout the region could build resilience and reduce risk. Since announcing its ambition to become disaster-resilient following Hurricane Maria, Dominica has invested in reconstruction to build infrastructure that is more resilient, and to improve its national preparedness for disasters through itemised investments and resource requirements. Some of Dominica’s infrastructure strategies have included building over a thousand dwellings to disaster-resilient standards, constructing hurricane shelters, and developing disaster-proof transportation networks and bridges (Dorst, 2021[41]). The other member states of the OECS could follow Dominica’s example and start reinforcing structures and transport networks. It would also be important to build a legal framework to require new developments to meet certain standards of disaster-resilience, including updating building codes in the region. There is scope for economies of scale through regional collaboration in the design of such a legal framework. Such strategies are also important indicators for insurers, and can help build a case for lower premiums for insurance against natural disasters.

Strengthening public finances in the OECS countries would facilitate counter-cyclical spending, relief measures, and rapid reconstruction following natural disasters. Indeed, the rapid availability of sufficient financial resources is fundamental when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure, smoothing growth, and providing social assistance to households that have been impacted by natural disasters. Strengthening public finances requires a consolidation of government debt in OECS countries. Specific disaster resilience funds are another option to secure financing for emergency response measures to natural disasters and post-disaster recovery measures. Such funds have already been established in Antigua and Barbuda (the Climate Resilience and Development Fund) and Dominica (the Vulnerability Risk and Resilience Fund). Dominica’s Vulnerability Risk and Resilience Fund is funded by revenues from citizenship by investment programmes (World Bank, 2022[42]).

In addition to bolstering the public finances, developing an ex-post resilience framework for reacting to natural disasters is key. Such a framework would provide the member states with a toolkit with which to react to natural disasters in a quick and organised fashion. There are several key recommendations for doing this, including designing clear rules on how governments will offer post-disaster financial assistance, They also include establishing clear cost-sharing mechanisms across the different levels of government, assessing disaster-related liabilities, and including risk reduction in disaster-risk management measures (OECD/The World Bank, 2019[43]).

A regional insurance scheme to pool risk offers another useful way to help offset damages. This could be in the form of an extension of the Caribbean the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), a regional catastrophe insurance scheme that has already been established. It provides parametric catastrophe insurance for hurricanes, earthquakes and excess rainfall (OECS, 2018[44]). Plans are in the works for the CCRIF to expand its coverage to agriculture and fisheries, public utilities, and possibly the tourism sector.

Agriculture and fisheries insurance offer a possible means of boosting resilience in the region’s agriculture sector. One of the main fallouts from hurricanes comes in the form of the damage that winds and flooding cause to crops. Given that the majority of the people who partake in agriculture in the OECS are low-income or small farmers, these disasters have a direct impact on vulnerable populations. Giving these workers access to agricultural insurance would transfer risk from low-income producers to international reinsurers, fortifying the sector against natural disasters (Hatch et al., 2012[45]). At present, four of the member states, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have agriculture insurance that is provided by an organisation called WINCROP. This insurance programme was developed exclusively to cover banana production that is lost as the result of wind storms and volcanic eruptions. As things stand, there is scope for this programme to be expanded to other islands, and potentially to other crops or aquaculture. Expansion of this type of insurance could pursue policies similar to those of the CCRIF, albeit with an approach that would be tailored more to small farmers.

Strong social protection systems would also help build resilience in the OECS. Social assistance programmes such as unemployment and social insurance have been shown to be instrumental in building resilience to natural disasters (Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft/Ruhr University Bochum, 2021[46]). These types of systems work as safety nets for the population, and protect vulnerable households from falling into poverty because of natural disasters. However, many of the OECS countries lack the social protection systems that would be necessary to react to natural disasters. While such programmes should be built up beyond the specific context of natural disasters, their framework could include a temporary expansion during times of crisis. This is often called adaptive social protection, and covers short-term undertakings such as adding more beneficiaries, expanding non-contributory schemes, providing cash transfers, and increasing coverage that already exists (Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft/Ruhr University Bochum, 2021[46]).

When it comes to the region’s waste-collection capabilities, and the relatively low levels of of waste that it generates, the OECS region is already advanced. Indeed, the majority of the population is covered by municipal waste collection, and an average of 99.5% of citizens in the OECS were served by some form of waste collection in 2015 (D-Waste, 2022[47]). Furthermore, municipal waste generation per capita is relatively low, with about 354 kg of waste generated per capita on average in the member states, lower than the OECD’s average of 549 kg per capita (Figure 4.7). This is complimented by further waste-reducing initiatives in the member states, such as bans on single-use plastic, and programmes to reduce marine pollution.

However, there is little in the way of recycling in the OECS. According to the latest data, landfills are the primary waste-treatment method in the OECS. Indeed, only St. Vincent and the Grenadines has diversified its disposal methods, with a mix of 15.1% recycling and 84.9% landfills (Figure 4.8). It is likely that the lack of recycling in the region is linked to the high costs of exporting recycled waste, as well as to the high costs of collection and processing (UN Environment, 2019[48]). Indeed, an assessment conducted in the early 2000s at the regional level concluded that there was not enough recyclable material throughout the member states to develop a sustainable recycling industry (World Bank, 2003[49]). As a result, the member states have a limited capacity for recycling, although processing stations do exist in most countries. However, the situation may be turning around as a result of the RePLAST-OECS project that launched in 2019, and whose goal is to build up recycling throughout the region with an incentivised scheme to collect plastic waste and recycle it (OECS Commission, 2021[50]). The project has already shown promising results in St. Lucia, by diverting about 11 800 kg of plastic waste from landfills. It will soon be deployed in other OECS member states.

Waste generation has been increasing in recent years. An increase in imports has led to a greater generation of waste in the Caribbean, particularly with regard to polluting and hazardous substances (UN Environment, n.d.[54]). Further to this, the total number of tourist arrivals to the ECCU area doubled from 2.5 million to 5 million from 2000 to 2019 (ECCB, 2022[9]). Seasonal peaks in tourism are often associated with elevated levels of waste generation, which is likely to have pushed up total waste in the region, in addition to the overall growth in visitor numbers (UN Environment, 2019[48]). Without proper management of the additional waste, public-health concerns such as outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses, and the contamination of drinking water, can occur (World Bank, 2018[56]). Environmental degradation is a further issue, particularly with respect to the destruction of coral reefs and the loss of natural habitats. In particular, the build-up of litter and pollution can reduce member states’ ability to attract tourists, given that their primary marketing devices are clean beaches, beautiful scenery, and marine activities.

There have already been several initiatives to build up waste management capabilities, such as improving infrastructures and reducing marine waste. In the early 2000s, for example, the OECS worked together with the World Bank to develop a regional solid-waste management project. This centred on improving waste management facilities and introducing sustainable disposal practices in the region (World Bank, n.d.[57]). More recently, and in an attempt to reduce the run-off of marine waste, the OECS Commission launched a project entitled Reduction in Marine Litter (OECS Commission, n.d.[58]).

Recycling initiatives can include schemes to convert waste into useful products, thus avoiding the high cost of exporting recyclables. Other Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago have been able to circumvent the high cost of exporting processed recycled waste by turning recyclables into useful products to be used on the island (UN Environment, 2019[48]). Trinidad and Tobago’s strategy established transfer stations to collect and sort recyclable materials and then send them for further processing at manufacturing facilities. Similar projects could be considered in OECS countries. These projects could include an expansion of the capabilities of transfer stations, and the development of greater links between manufacturing facilities. Furthermore, the benefits of developing recycling infrastructures go beyond waste reduction. Indeed, they include improving employment outcomes for women and providing opportunities for informal workers (UN Environment, 2019[48]).

Furthermore, landfill gases are a potential source of renewable energy in the region that could be used to offset high energy costs. The decomposition of organic materials in landfills produces natural gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Given that the primary method of waste disposal in the OECS is landfill, it is possible to capture these gases and convert them into energy. This would require additional investment on the part of OECS member states to build new infrastructure to capture and transport the gases. Infrastructure would include a series of wells, pipes and a treatment system as well as a processing facility to convert the landfill gases into energy (EPA, 2022[59]). Aside from offering clean energy, developing such a system would bring additional benefits to the community through increased employment and lower energy costs, likely outweighing the initial costs of investment.

The reduction and removal of plastics is a primary concern in the OECS, particularly in marine areas. According to a report by the World Bank, an estimated 322 745 tonnes of plastic go uncollected each year across the OECS member states (World Bank, 2018[56]). This waste makes its way into marine areas, building up as litter on beaches and in natural areas. Indeed, it has contributed to the Caribbean Sea becoming the second most plastic-contaminated sea after the Mediterranean (OECS, 2019[60]). This is reflected in the large amount of plastic litter that coastal populations in the OECS region create (Figure 4.9, Panel B). Overall, the generation of plastic waste per capita has been high in the OECS, with about 0.36 kg used per capita each day in 2010, higher than the OECD average of 0.20 (Figure 4.9, Panel A). Still, is is likely that this number has fallen in the past decade as the result of single-use plastic bans.

Single-use plastic bans exist in some form in almost all of the OECS member states. Indeed, every member state has either placed a ban on the use and import of single-use plastics and Styrofoam, or has advanced legislation towards doing so. These bans target plastic shopping bags in particular, and sometimes include efforts to supply the population with sustainable alternatives such as with jute and cotton bags for shopping (UN Environment, 2021[62]). There have already been positive effects as a result of this. For example the first country in the region to institute the ban, Antigua and Barbuda, managed to reduce the share of plastics in the composition of landfill from 19.5% in 2006 to 4.4% in 2017 (World Bank, 2018[56]).

However, such bans could be extended in order to ensure that they are effective in reducing the use of plastics. Single-use plastic bans often prohibit products such as plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam. In response to these restrictions, the products are usually replaced with biodegradable or compostable alternatives. Despite their labelling, however, many of these replacement products cannot be properly disposed of outside of designated facilities, and are marketed misleadingly (EEA, 2021[63]). Given the difficultly of processing them, and the specialised equipment that this requires, the replacement products also often cause similar littering and pollution concerns as the banned plastics. Furthermore, there have been cases in which plastic bans have led to rebound effects in littering with the replacement products. In San Francisco, for instance, while littered polystyrene cups fell by 34% when the city banned them, the littering of paper and plastic cups then jumped by 141% and 72% respectively (Cornago, Börkey and Brown, 2021[64]). Instead, it may be more prudent to expand policies in order to ban all plastics substitutes, and to encourage the exclusive use of reusable products, with a particular emphasis on the monitoring and enforcement of such bans.

Legislation introducing more stringent littering polices can also help to reduce mismanaged waste. Given the influx of greater numbers of visitors over the past two decades, the management of the waste that they generate in coastal areas is very important. Indeed, the majority of marine trash in the OECS is the result of direct littering by beach-goers, both from visitors to the islands and from locals (World Bank, 2018[56]). In 2019, Antigua and Barbuda instituted the Litter Control and Prevention Act in 2019, which places fines of up to XCD 3 000, or imprisonment for one year, upon individuals, and fines of XCD 15 000 for corporate bodies (Government of Antigua and Barbuda, 2019[65]).


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