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Breaking New Ground

Barbados pioneered ambitions for a green economy and is now ready to take the next step towards implementing them.

· Sustainability,green economy,Environment

Back in March 2007, during his annual presentation of the government’s economic proposals in Parliament, the then Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Hon Owen Arthur, used these words to launch a comprehensive National Green Economy Policy for Barbados. The policy was designed “to integrate green principles into national economic planning, marrying economic growth with environmental management and preservation.”


At the time, no one recognized that a global precedent was being set. It would be another five years before the international community would embrace – in the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, “The Future We Want” – the value of the green economy “as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development.”


Important lessons emerge from the early chapters of the Barbados story. The first is that innovative policy and examples of best practice can come from the developing world and from Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Another is that a green economy policy signals the kind of new direction that would be resisted by entrenched interests that derive certainty, power, profit or other benefits from the status quo. Hence, an announcement coming directly from the Head of Government demonstrated the high level of priority that government attached to the new policy direction.


Yet another important lesson in the story of Barbados’s national green economy came less than a year after its launch, in the form of a general election and a new government. National policies frequently change or fail, not because they are without value but because the pendulum swings of the political cycle militate against continuity and successful implementation.

The government of Barbados is trying to create transformational and disruptive change and innovation. At the time, no one recognized that a global precedent was being set.

Barbados escaped this political pitfall when the new administration adopted the policy in its entirety. Significantly, in the foreword of the Barbados Green Economy Scoping Study of 2012, the current Prime Minister, the Hon. Freundel Stuart expressed his administration’s commitment, noting: “The green economy debate recognizes our structural vulnerabilities, offers a model to assist us in further realizing our sustainable development aspirations, and creates the institutional platform that would enable us to participate in innovative partnerships in the fight to save our planet.”

Building on successful models, leveraging core competencies, and maximizing competitive and first-mover advantage are techniques usually employed in the corporate world, but they also describe what Barbados has been trying to do. A green economy policy was not a far reach for the country, as it had already benefited substantially from its indigenous solar water-heating industry, which reduced carbon emissions, created decent work, generated revenues from exporting solar water heating systems throughout the Caribbean and saved foreign expenditure on fossil fuels.

Figures from the Central Bank of Barbados and USAID indicate that between 1974 (when it began) and 2009, this industry saved the country US$410 million in foreign exchange expenditure.

“Disruptive change” – an expression coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen – describes new product innovations, models, services, processes or practices that disrupt the status quo, creating new value systems that transform an organization or market in a way that benefits the consumer. In pursuing a green economy, the government of Barbados is trying to create this kind of transformational and disruptive change and innovation.

Exporting solar water-heating systems saved foreign expenditure on fossil fuels. Figures from the Central Bank of Barbados and USAID indicate that between 1974 and 2009, this industry saved the country US$410 million in foreign exchange expenditure.

The government has taken a number of good steps towards achieving its objective, including by identifying five sectors – agriculture, fisheries, building/housing, transport and tourism – for particular attention; starting a national dialogue; holding national multisectoral consultations; setting up an interministerial, technical steering committee; engaging the private sector and civil society; involving the University of the West Indies; partnering with UNEP to access international expertise; and using both national and international partnerships to enhance public sector capacity. A corollary policy seeks to promote a greater percentage of renewables in the national energy mix and aims for greater energy efficiency.


Nearly nine years after its introduction, we are well past the opening chapters of the Barbados green economy story. The government has crafted a policy with a distinctively Barbadian DNA, but implementation has been slow. There has been much discussion about developing national metrics and sustainability indicators, but they are still outstanding.


No roadmap is in place to establish targets, benchmarks, indicators and time frames for actualizing the policy and its constituent elements; as a consequence, there remains policy dissonance. So what is needed to accelerate implementation and entrench the policy across all ministries, sectors and stakeholders?


Disruptive change must be carefully managed and this is particularly true when policy intervention is being used to precipitate the disruption. Christensen argues that in such circumstances there is a need for a dedicated leader of the process, as the change will not occur while a government is immersed in the exigencies of managing daily events. Appointing a manager with the appropriate authority, supported by a unit with specific responsibility for making the green economy a reality, is now a necessity.

The Barbados Green Economy Policy is a groundbreaking instrument. The path of the pioneer is rarely smooth or predictable, but the country already has the core elements for full and successful implementation. With the right leadership, the story may well have the kind of happy ending to which Barbadians rightly aspire.

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