'We All Inhabit the Same Island'

10/22/2013 01:25 pm ET

The following is the World Energy Day Address delivered by Ambassador Marlene Moses at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Good morning, everyone, and let me say what a privilege it is to be here at the World Energy Forum.

Energy -- its production and consumption; its power to create and, too often unfortunately, its capacity to destroy -- lies at the center of much of what we do as members of an international body dedicated to building a more peaceful and prosperous world for present and future generations.

Today ("World Energy Day") thus serves as an important reminder that the decisions we make when it comes to how we use energy have substantial implications for our efforts in a number of other areas of concern, such as combating poverty, maintaining international peace and security, and, ultimately, ensuring that we bequeath a suitable environment to our children and grandchildren.

We have known for some time now that greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels, are responsible for dangerous global warming and that the resulting impacts -- such as extreme droughts and floods, ocean acidification, and sea level rise -- have already caused tremendous suffering, particularly among people from developing countries who are the least responsible for causing the crisis.

We also know that the impacts threaten to undermine sustainable development itself, as storms and erosion damage critical infrastructure and ecological degradation takes a toll on water supplies, fisheries, and agricultural resources.

So the challenge we face is really two complicated dilemmas folded into one: that is, we need to find ways to provide reliable energy to billions of impoverished people without relying on fossil fuels to do it.

In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, unless we dramatically transform the way we produce and consume energy by 2017, we are on track to "lock-in" enough carbon dioxide emissions to send the average global temperature soaring past 2 degrees Celsius or more.

Once that point is reached, to keep the mercury from climbing even higher and unthinkable catastrophes that would follow, we would either have to ensure that all additional energy infrastructure is carbon neutral or begin retiring factories and power plants before the end of their useful economic lives.

So we have a massive problem ahead of us, and very little time to solve it, but just as the problems of energy and poverty are linke, so too are the solutions.

Consider, as an example, the situation faced by many Small Island Developing States, the context with which I am most familiar.

Many of us find ourselves in the unfortunate position of being uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and, due to our small size and isolation, highly dependent on fossil fuel imports. Fuel deliveries and logistics are further complicated by lack of modern port facilities and our small size prohibits the benefits of scale enjoyed by larger countries. As a result, SIDS are subject to some of the world's highest fuel costs, which in some cases can approach half of annual expenditures.

However, this same geography has many of us well positioned to reap the benefits of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal. At the same time, building renewable energy systems frees up much needed resources for other investments, like healthcare and education while putting us on a pathway for long-term independence.

In the low-lying Pacific atoll of Tuvalu, after successive droughts nearly exhausted its water supply, officials worked with partners to bring in solar-powered desalination equipment in 2011. The Island Nation hopes to be able to satisfy all of its energy demands using low-carbon technology by 2020.

In the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, a nation blessed with abundant sunshine and rainfall, now generates about 15 percent of its electricity using a byproduct of sugarcane known as bagasse. It has plans to increase the renewables in its energy portfolio to at least 35 percent by 2025.

While on Dominica in Caribbean, feasibility studies suggest the country could become a net exporter of electricity by tapping into the simmering geothermal power beneath it. It would like to be carbon neutral by 2020.

In isolation, these actions would do little to stem the tide of climate change -- our islands account for only a small fraction of global emissions and implementing the projects required strong collaborations with partners. But the models are working and offer valuable case studies for bringing sustainable energy to scale in other places around the world.

Now it may seem a little backward to have the smallest and most vulnerable communities taking the lead on an issue with such far-reaching consequences for the entire international community, but don't forget for many of us our very survival is at stake and we are determined to due what is necessary to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have a future.

Finally, it is worth recalling that we are approaching the year anniversary of the day super-storm Sandy sent the ocean pouring into the streets and subways of this great city. Though SIDS may be uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, we are merely on the frontlines of a crisis that sooner later will affect all of the world's citizens.

Indeed, in a carbon-constrained world, where the economic growth of all countries is inextricably connected to creating sustainable energy solutions, it is no exaggeration to say that we inhabit the same island.