Using renewable energy and desalination for climate mitigation and adaptation in Small Island Developing States and coasts of arid regions

JHU Adjunct Professor Magdalena Muir recently published an article concerning renewable energy and desalination for an Energy publication issued by the Stakeholder Forum during the UNFCCC COP 18 process.

Renewable energy can help address water security and scarcity by integrating energy and water systems, and combining renewable energy with desalination. The Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – as well as coastal arid regions such as northern Africa and the Middle East – need to incorporate energy with water for sustainable energy development, economic development and poverty alleviation in order to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Although SIDS have geothermal, ocean, solar, and wind resources, they mainly rely on hydrocarbons to generate electricity. Both SIDS and arid regions share similar issues relating to energy and water security, which renewable
energy, desalination, and aquifer management can address. SIDS and coasts of arid regions are highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and adaptation, including responding to higher temperatures, changing
seasonal and annual precipitation, depletion of aquifers and groundwater, saline intrusion of coastal and island aquifers, increased water quality issues and incidences of waterborne illnesses. Both regions have rich customary,
local and traditional knowledge and technologies to manage energy and water needs (e.g. water harvesting, traditional architecture), which can augment and complement the generation of renewable energy and desalination rates.

Sustainable energy development and water linkages were recognised at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. International policy developments are also underway, such as the Global Dry Land Alliance, initially proposed by Qatar at the 66th Session of UN General Assembly in 2011, and scheduled for launch at COP18 in Doha. The Global Dry Land Alliance could boost food security in arid regions through joint research and the adoption of energy and water systems and technologies by Member States

Likewise, the Renewable Energy-Desalination-Water Treatment Pilot Project for Small Islands and Coasts in the Americas is currently being implemented by academic institutions (including John Hopkins University), with the support of the Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC), and the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organization of American States.

The Munipality of Los Cabos, Baha State, Mexico, is a potential location, which is part of the feasibility assessment for the project. The municipality is located on the arid coast of the Baha peninsula and shares numerous characteristics with islands, being beset by high seasonal temperatures, limited precipitation and declining aquifers. Though solar and wind resources are available,
the municipality mostly uses diesel generators to provide electricity. If water scarcity and high energy costs are not addressed, they could limit the tourism sector, which supports the local economy. Additionally, renewable energy
and desalination could improve sustainability and thereby attract more tourists to the Los Cabos Municipality.

The energy, environmental and economic feasibility of renewable energy and desalination approaches and projects is being explored by the Municipality of Los Cabos in collaboration with the Sustainable Cities International (SCI) Energy Lab (2013-2016). Working initially with ten cities, the SCI Energy Lab supports innovation in the development of local energy solutions and furthers the understanding of how cities can address the barriers that prevent larger scale uptake of sustainable energy technologies by providing a multidisciplinary forum for collaborative problem-solving and idea generation around all aspects of the design, implementation and regulation
of urban renewable and local energy systems.

Further information on Stakeholder Forum and Outreach publications for COP 18 available at:

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