Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Change Cooperation in the Americas

As the Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador 10 years ago, I worked on an effort to connect Central American power grids. I was in Panama last week, this time as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Economic Policy, and met with Central American energy ministers. I was so impressed by how far they've come. Almost two decades after beginning this effort, El Salvador and its neighbors are very close to creating a regional market for electrical power.

The United States is helping governments advance this effort, and many others, under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). President Obama proposed this partnership at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, and today, ECPA comprises more than 40 initiatives and projects led by governments or NGOs in the Western Hemisphere. Activities focus on seven pillars: renewable energy, energy efficiency, cleaner and more efficient use of fossil fuels, energy poverty, infrastructure, sustainable forests and land use, and adaptation.

My trip to Panama was for an ECPA meeting hosted by the country's Energy Secretary, Juan Urriola. Every energy and environment ministry of the region was invited to this meeting. About 20 government delegations and more than 200 participants from development banks, the private sector, and civil society attended. Governments talked about their priorities, and private companies talked about policy and regulatory frameworks needed to invest in clean energy projects and infrastructure.

The endless opportunities for energy and climate cooperation continue to amaze me. Central America, thanks to hydroelectricity and geothermal power, is already a "green" power supplier. The countries are linking their grids and creating a regional power market that will make larger-scale renewable energy projects more attractive. Caribbean islands are also excited about renewable energy. The nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for example, is working to become the first Caribbean country to supply all of its electricity with domestic renewable energy from wind and geothermal power.

In the Andes, countries use science to understand how glacial retreat will impact their water security. In the Caribbean, scientists model the effects of climate change on small island states and use their findings for disaster risk planning. We are launching programs to slow, halt, and reverse deforestation, and all countries are assessing the impact of emissions from energy, land use, forestry, and agriculture, and other sectors, which have important implications for the region's development.

What makes ECPA unique is that the United States is one of many countries sharing its expertise, which emphasizes how we can work with the region as equal partners. This is a region with a lot of "know-how." The region supplies the United States with more than half of its daily oil imports and 25 to 30 percent of the region's energy is supplied by renewable sources, compared to a world average of 13 percent. This region has implemented some of the world's most efficient payments for environmental services strategies, such as in Costa Rica, and as governments met last week on ECPA, Panama's legislature passed a new wind energy law.

There is a lot happening in the Americas, and I'm proud to be part of an initiative that provides a means to share responsibility for addressing common challenges of energy security and climate change. When leaders meet next at the ECPA Ministerial hosted by Brazil and the Sixth Summit of the Americas that Colombia will host in 2012, we should be proud of all the hard work this region has undertaken and of the joint efforts to share our expertise and help each other.



District Of Columbia, USA
April 14, 2011

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

I read that Chile is going to use nuclear power for energy needs and the U.S. is helping them. I find this upsetting given what is happening in Japan. Aren't there other options?

Guy E.
April 28, 2011

Guy E. in Ecuador writes:

The ECPA is an exciting and ambitious initiative. Yet the US press and commentators on hemispheric relations have not given it much attention. Why is this?

Guy E.
May 3, 2011

Guy E. in Ecuador writes:

In Santiago, Chile, President Barack Obama was unequivocal about the urgency of tackling climate change and embracing a more secure and sustainable energy future in the Americas. The US president stressed that regional expertise on renewable energy and biofuels was being pooled and shared under the U.S.-led Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). Yet despite the resources and energy going into the initiative, the level of attention paid to the ECPA is currently minimal:


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