President Ramnath Kovind’s visits to Jamaica and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines in May 2022, was the first visit to the Caribbean island nations by an Indian Head of State. The visit to Jamaica is especially significant as the two nations celebrate the 75th and 60th anniversary of their independence, respectively, and commemorated the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the India and Jamaica. The visit is important as the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region is emerging as a significant geopolitical pole of the world and is looking beyond its traditional ties to North America and Europe towards new partnerships in Asia, which coincides with India’s own desire to deepen its strategic engagement with the region.
Within the LAC, CARICOM[i], the 15-member inter-governmental organisation, representing the Caribbean nations, is one of India’s foremost partners. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first meeting with CARICOM leaders in 2019 highlighted the steadily intensifying and deepening relations between India and the Caribbean countries, not only in the bilateral, but also in the regional context. The recent visit by President Kovind to the region takes forward the emphasis laid by India in strengthening its relations with the CARICOM countries. The meetings are a means to strengthen the existing political and institutional dialogue processes, boost economic cooperation, increase trade and investment opportunities and foster robust people-to-people relations. The deepening engagement will not only allow India to understand CARICOM countries priorities, concerns, and requirements, it will also help it in its outreach to the larger LAC region.
For the CARICOM nations, relations with India and other emerging economies in the “Global South,” are being viewed as one that ‘could support regional integration and bring sustainable development solutions to the region in the long term.[ii] The CARICOM countries are looking to a more diverse set of relations with new partners to help it achieve its goals of building economic diversity, strengthen political ties and work with countries on issues of concern such as climate change and environmental protection, disaster relief, sustainable energy and energy security among other areas. A number of countries of the CARICOM are also member of the Commonwealth, providing India with an additional platform to cooperate in international processes in areas of mutual interest.[iii]
To add momentum to India’s relations with the Caribbean nations, Prime Minister Modi has emphasised on partnering with CARICOM countries in capacity building, development assistance and cooperation in disaster management and resilience[iv] India and the nations of the CARICOM region share similar concerns on the issue of climate change. The recent report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that if climate change is not arrested it would have devastating consequences for coastal cities and small island nations. Climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies have become an integral part of the development policy of both India and the Caribbean region. This growing convergence of interests between India and the CARICOM nations on the issues related to climate change needs to be harnessed to find solutions to mutual challenges.
India-CARICOM and Cooperation on Climate Change
India has become a leading country in taking measures to address climate change. India’s efforts for low carbon development outlined in the Glasgow Summit (COP-26) in 2021 provides an opportunity for investors and innovators from around the world, including the Caribbean to collaborate with Indian companies to build climate change mitigation technologies and tools. This follows from India’s efforts to work with partners through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which was announced during the COP-21 in Paris in 2015.
In the CARICOM region, India is currently partnering with three Caribbean nations[v] under the Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) to promote the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to climate change and disaster risks, and promote sustainable development. India welcomes the CARICOM countries to join the CDRI. Working with the Caribbean nations through bilateral, multilateral forums provides the best opportunity to highlight the common concerns and needs. During the India-CARICOM leader’s meeting (2019), India had extended a US$ 140 million Line of Credit to CARICOM for solar, renewable energy and climate-change related projects. India also provided US$ 1 million to the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) in 2019. The CDF’s directive is to give financial and technical assistance to countries or sectors within the Caribbean Community in areas such as the development of renewable energy or increasing energy efficiency; providing physical infrastructure to encourage investments and trade; encouraging small and medium enterprises and developing human resources.[vi]
India's approach to climate change has been guided by principles and provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Paris Agreement particularly the principles of Equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capability[vii] (CBDR-RC)[viii]. The CARICOM declaration on Climate Change leading up to COP-26, (Glasgow, 2021) laid special emphasis on the vulnerabilities of climate change for small island developing nations. Under the declaration, the CARICOM seeks financial assistance to bridge the gap between mitigation and adaptation. An important aspect of the declaration was to enhance the capitalisation of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). The Insurance Facility was formed in 2007 as a regional catastrophe fund to limit the financial impact of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes by quickly providing financial liquidity when a policy is triggered by quickly providing short-term liquidity to Caribbean and Central American governments[ix].[x] Since the inception of CCRIF in 2007, the Facility has made 54 payouts to 16 member governments on their tropical cyclone, earthquake and excess rainfall policies totalling approximately US$244.8 million.[xi]
The CARICOM region has also established the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) to coordinate the Caribbean region’s response to climate change. It works with the civil society, NGOs and other groups of people of the region to respond to and find effective solutions to climate change. India’s National Action Plan on climate shares similar goals of a people centric approach to climate change policy. To encourage joint research, India and CARICOM nations could encourage the formation of joint knowledge networks among institutions of India and CARICOM countries to study bio-diversity, coastal ecology and natural ecosystems. Such programmes could be developed under already existing education ITEC scholarship/ student exchange programmes. Institutions in both India and the CARICOM region could also be encouraged to collaborate on climate related research.
Climate change also affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The Caribbean Action Plan on Health and Climate Change 2019-2023, is currently under implementation. This Action Plan is based on the Caribbean's needs and realities at improving climate and health systems, as well as human capacities. Health systems in the Caribbean remain highly vulnerable to impacts from climate change both on the quality and the capacity of services, as well as on the socio-economic and environmental determinants of health. An important aspect of the action plan has been development of digital health infrastructure. Given India’s expertise in adopting digital services, India and the Caribbean nations could explore partnerships in the digital health technology. The digital healthcare landscape in India has evolved considerably especially during the pandemic. The CoWin multilingual website has been backbone of India's vaccination drive against COVID-19. The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) of the Government of India aims to use information technology to improve efficiency in health care delivery, extend healthcare to rural areas and provide better quality healthcare at reasonable prices. An integrated network of hospitals, labs, insurers, pharmaceuticals, and HealthTech start-ups under the regulatory framework of the government has emerged to address the healthcare challenges for India, and these expertise could be shared with the Caribbean nations and modified to address the latter’s requirements.
Another area of cooperation between India and the CARICOM nations could be collaboration in the renewable energy sector. India has backed its mitigation strategy with action and has become a leading voice in development of renewable energy solutions to address energy needs in a sustainable manner. India ranked 3rd in renewable energy country attractive index, in 2021. India has also set an ambitious target to achieve a capacity of 175 GW worth of renewable energy by the end of 2022, which expands to 500 GW by 2030.
Solar energy plays an important role in this mix as India is endowed with vast solar potential. To harness this, India and France launched the ISA as a collective platform that would encourage the increased deployment of solar technologies to bridge the energy needs and drive energy transitions in member countries. In 2021, India and the United Kingdom launched the One World One Sun One Grind (OWOSOG) initiative. The OWOSOG aims to develop a worldwide grid through which clean energy can be transmitted anywhere, anytime (use power at night in one part of the world from solar energy generated on other side of the world where it is day time). Its ultimate goal is to reduce carbon footprints and energy costs. The ISA and OWOSOG initiatives provide India and the CARICOM with platforms that could be used to encourage collaboration in innovation of technology to help upscale the use of renewable sources of energy. It also provides them an opportunity to build solutions to energy transmission challenges that may be unique to their respective regions such as transmission of power over difficult terrain for India and across islands divided by oceans for the Caribbean countries.
A critical problem facing most CARICOM countries is their dependence on imported fossil fuels for power generation. Adoption of renewable energy has been limited for reasons including: high initial costs, grid stability issues and an insufficient understanding of clean energy resources. However, interest in renewable energy has been growing within the Caribbean, due to vulnerabilities in securing stable energy supply and increasing cost of energy resources and growing awareness of the harmful effects of fossil fuel on the environment. The emphasis on research and development in the renewable sector is a common to the policy making in both India and the CARICOM nations. Given similarities in the challenges that India and the CARICOM countries face and India’s growing knowledge base, working with each other to build capacity and find build cost effective solutions to common concerns will further strengthen the relations.
Another aspect of cooperation is developing and deployment of smart grid technology. The CARICOM countries are exploring smart grid technology to enhance their existing power networks; India also has a Smart Grid Vision and has been taking steps to implement it through developments in software, technology, and know-how that can be leveraged to provide power to all its citizens. India is learning from the countries that have successfully adopted smart grid technology while understanding adapting the solutions to meet conditions on the ground through micro-grids to power remote communities. The knowledge base to build both capability and capacity could lead to collaborations with CARICOM nations.
A third area of collaboration between India and CARICOM countries could be in the smart mobility sector. The government of India has set itself an ambitious target to make India a 100% electric vehicle nation by 2030 through more investments in public transport systems and work towards adopting new mobility solutions. India aims to make a transport sector that is well connected, energy efficient and less polluting. As the Caribbean nations work towards building smart cities, smart mobility technology innovation and research & development provide an opportune area for partnerships.
In Latin America, India is partnering with Brazil to promote biofuel research and production through the Biofuture Platform. The two nations are also working together to develop an Alliance for Bioenergy and Biofuel, while working with each other within the framework of the BRICS. Experience gained from working with Brazil could be utilised in partnerships with the CARICOM nations. India could look towards developing triangular cooperation with Brazil and the CARICOM nations.
The visit by President Kovind is part of India’s high-level engagement with the CARICOM region and its commitment to working with small island developing countries. For the moment, there is limited cooperation between India and the CARICOM nations in working together within the ambit of addressing climate change but there is scope for joint collaborations in this sector. As India expands its development partnership programmes beyond the neighbourhood to countries in Africa and LAC region, working on climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies provides them an opportunity to work together while expanding on India’s existing development funding programmes for the Caribbean.
*Dr. Stuti Banerjee, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] CARICOM countries - Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago
[ii] Annita Montoute, “CARICOM’s External Engagements: Prospects and Challenges for Caribbean Regional Integration and Development,”https://www.policycenter.ma/sites/default/files/OCPPC-GMF-1517v2.pdf, Accessed on 19 June 2022.
[iv] Ministery of External Affairs, Government of India, “Prime Minister met with the leaders of CARICOM at the UNGA, 26 Sept. 2019,” https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/31862/Prime+Minister+met+with+the+leaders+of+CARICOM+at+the+UNGA, Accessed on 18 June 2022
[v] Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. Other countries from the LAC region are Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru.
[vi] Priti Singh, “Areas of Cooperation between Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and India,” https://diplomatist.com/2020/01/03/areas-of-cooperation-between-caribbean-community-caricom-and-india/, Accessed on 16 June 2022.
[vii] Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR–RC) is a principle within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that acknowledges the different capabilities and differing responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change.
[viii] Press Information Bureau, “Cabinet approves India's Approach to UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Spain next week 2019,” https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1593665#:~:text=India's%20approach%20will%20be%20guided,well%20recognised%20across%20the%20globe, Accessed on 21 June 2022
[ix] Nineteen Caribbean governments are currently members of the Facility: Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Sint Maarten, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos Islands. Three Central American governments are currently members of the Facility: Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. One electric utility company is currently a member of the Facility: ANGLEC.
[x] The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, “The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility,” https://www.ccrif.org/about-us?language_content_entity=en, Accessed on 16 June 2022.