Thursday, November 10, 2011

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson says: ...the entire Caribbean is well positioned to get involved in the energy industry ...whether in terms of pursuing renewable energy or developing traditional hydrocarbon products

Energy is 'incredible opportunity'

Tribune News Editor

Nassau, The Bahamas

THE Bahamas has an "incredible opportunity" to improve on energy security while also increasing the safety of its citizens, a top US official said.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said the entire Caribbean is well positioned to get involved in the energy industry - whether in terms of pursuing renewable energy or developing traditional hydrocarbon products.

This potential can in turn be used to create economic opportunities that erode the underlying causes of crime and violence, she said.

Ms Jacobson, who is in Nassau to take part in the second Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) Dialogue, explained that while combating the trafficking of drugs, guns and people is a cornerstone of the initiative, true regional security can only be attained if citizens feel their everyday lives have been impacted.

She said: "One of the reasons we talk now about citizen security and considerably less about just counter-narcotics is because it's so obvious that the phenomenon is broader than just drugs.

"It is in fact about whether people feel personally safe, secure, and we all know that in many respects that's a government's first duty - to keep its citizens safe. But when you start to look at the problem and you disaggregate it, it isn't just about where drugs or gangs may come from and the supply, it isn't just about the demand - it's about the socio-economic causes that underlie crime and criminality.

"If you go about fixing it only by trying to attack the symptoms and not the underlying causes, you're never going to get more than half way there."

A lack of economic opportunities - particularly for young men - is often significant among these root factors, and this is where energy diversification can come in, Ms Jacobson said.

"It isn't just economic opportunity," she said, "there are other things that have to come with it, but certainly if people don't feel they have an opportunity to progress economically, to have a life that holds promise for them, it makes it easier for gangs, for drug cartels to recruit."

Once a country accepts that crime prevention starts with social and economic opportunity, Ms Jacobson said, the next step is to identify the emerging fields that Bahamians can be prepared for.

"Obviously, there's a lot that's going on in the Bahamas that speaks to some of the, perhaps, more traditional areas of economic growth - there are building projects for new hotels, there are lots of industries related to tourism - but the fact of the matter is, as you look ahead, the issue of energy production, energy self-sufficiency, is also one in which you can really significantly generate jobs.

"Now, the kinds of jobs you are going to generate are also going to be fairly well paying jobs, but they may also be jobs where fairly specialised training is necessary."

In recognition of the region's potential, Ms Jacobson said, President Obama launched the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) in the Caribbean - at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.

The ECPA, a relatively small agency, helps create pilot projects in countries where either private or public sector entities are interested in breaking into the energy industry.

"Our focus," she said, "has been heavily on how we work with countries on energy security, on clean energy, on renewables."

At the moment, the ECPA is involved in around 40 projects throughout the hemisphere.

Asked how the Bahamas could qualify for an ECPA pilot project, Ms Jacobson said: "The way that you have to look at that is, how do we develop the market for renewable energies? Because until those are really economically viable and there is a structure in place for those industries, they're not going to be developed by the private sector.

"I think in the end, obviously, every government has to make its own decision on how they proceed on this, but I think the more you look towards diverse sources of energy, the more governments are going to realise that they need expertise from those in the private sector and, hopefully, will work in partnership with them."

November 10, 2011