The Caribbean supporting regional oil production?
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OIL production, at least within the Caribbean region, appears to be a complicated discussion where the region’s energy needs are balanced with its vulnerability to the harsh effects of climate change- of which the petroleum industry is a notorious contributor.

Caribbean leaders spent much of the last few days engaging each other on critical issues affecting the people of the region. Among those issues emerged the need for regional energy security efforts, given the challenges (including rising prices and shortage) stemming from the Ukraine/ Russia crisis.

That plan, if finalised in the coming months, could see Caribbean countries harnessing the abundant oil and gas resources in Guyana and Suriname to meet the region’s energy needs. Trinidad and Tobago’s experience as a producer should also be harnessed.

I think oil production and its adverse impact on the environment are well understood. Continued oil production globally will contribute to global warming and disproportionately impact small countries threatened by constant natural disasters and whose people depend largely on the natural environment for sustenance. Guyana, for example, is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels; the increased water level threatens a vulnerable coastline where most of the population lives.

Even so, it is logical to conclude that the global dependence on the resource constrains efforts to slow or stop oil production. Profits, too, if we’re being honest.

But the situation is not so simple for small, developing states- like us here in the Caribbean.

First, there is some historical context to consider. Caribbean historian Professor Verene Shepherd has said that the ecological crisis the Caribbean is confronted by has historical underpinnings.

She explained that the geographic location where the Caribbean nations have been established is vulnerable to natural disasters- earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions. All of these are in one small region. The professor also underscored that our ancestors were “forcefully transported” to this region so that their labour could be exploited to enrich the European powers.

Geography aside, however, she draws attention to the land degradation caused by the monocropping of sugar and mass deforestation that led to the loss of valuable, protective forestry. The production of sugarcane, research Professor Shepherd referenced, has led to the loss of species and habitats.

But even now, there are interesting factors to consider.

Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the Financial Times reported, said that it should be a conversation on equity; developing nations need the revenues from oil and gas sales to protect their countries from the harsh effects of climate change and to fund the transition to the use of more renewable energy sources. Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, during a recent interview with the News Room, echoed similar sentiments, emphasising that developing nations need the “space” to exploit their natural resources and fund their development.

Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño, the outgoing Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also believes that Caribbean countries should be allowed to produce these resources because they have long practised environmental stewardship- even when developed countries used oil and gas to, literally, fuel their development.

Though these calls could be seen as reasonable, let’s not forget that the actual production of these resources can lead to harmful ramifications. Aside from the harmful emissions released when oil and gas resources are burnt, an oil spill, for example, can wipe out entire marine ecosystems- killing animals and plants, and disrupting livelihoods for some (like fisher folk).

All that said, the region seems intent on supporting oil and gas production within the region- because it just seems fair that way. While that happens, I think it is important for such efforts to be made with the utmost environmental safeguards in place- lest the Caribbean suffer much more than it already has.

If you would like to connect with me to discuss the column or any of my previous work, please feel free to email me at: vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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