Image: U.S. President Joe Biden responds to questions from Caribbean leaders during the Summit of the Americas in June 2022. Source: Vice President Kamala Harris / Twitter.
With the doors now closed on the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles and the conversations of who should or should not have attended now increasingly in the rearview, it’s now time to take stock of the frameworks released just several weeks ago and the prospects for moving forward on some of the most significant issues in our hemisphere. For the host nation, there was a bevy of policy proposals, from the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” to the “Inter-American Action Plan on Democratic Governance,” to the “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity.” Perhaps the biggest breakthrough, however, was the U.S.-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis 2030 (PACC 2030), a new framework to elevate U.S.-Caribbean cooperation on climate adaptation, energy security, and clean energy investment.
Despite the Caribbean’s geographic and cultural interconnectedness with the United States, the region has far too often garnered only episodic attention from U.S. policymakers, often in the context of a natural disaster, immigration concerns, or in connection with polarizing countries like Cuba and Venezuela. In recent years, when the U.S. has engaged, it has largely been through two longer-term investment frameworks: the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), with the CBI facilitating free trade and the CBSI supporting efforts to curb trafficking, increase security, and promote crime prevention among beneficiary countries.
Though the CBI and CBSI have facilitated a greater degree of U.S.-Caribbean engagement, the Summit of the Americas, for some like Antiguan Barbudan Ambassador to the United States Sir Ronald Sanders, seemed to signal “a breakthrough” moment and an understanding of the urgency of engaging across a host of issues, at a time in which terms like “nearshoring” and “friend-shoring” are increasingly topics du jour in hemispheric conversations. The administration’s launch of the PACC 2030 initiative represents a considerable upgrade from the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) launched by President Obama at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009. Indeed, the vision for PACC is one that centralizes the Caribbean and its energy and climate agencies—in that sense, the initiative offers novel, multi-themed frameworks to address an acute regional concern with an explicitly regional focus.
However, for PACC 2030 to succeed, it will require a concerted, organized effort from Caribbean and U.S. policymakers to ensure that the U.S. executive branch agencies and other multilateral development banks named in the framework work closely with local American Chambers of Commerce and Caribbean private and civil society organizations to bring together already existing initiatives with these new ones. Moreover, success will depend on actors holding governments to measurable indicators of progress and clear, tangible investments.
PACC 2030: A Way Forward
The PACC 2030 initiative will advance two crucial objectives for Caribbean leaders: strengthening energy security and promoting climate adaptation and resilience. The former objective is important in the short term because, according to the World Bank, fossil fuels provide more than 90 percent of the Caribbean’s primary energy needs, and the Caribbean collectively has the highest dependency on imported energy in the Western Hemisphere. In the longer term, the latter is critical for the region’s viability as the effects of sea-level rise and hurricanes intensify alongside a warming planet.
PACC 2030 details four pillars to achieve its two objectives: (1) Improving Access to Development Financing; (2) Facilitating Clean Energy Project Development and Investment; (3) Enhancing Local Capacity Building; and (4) Deepening Collaboration with Caribbean Partners.
The first pillar of the plan, improving access to development financing, addresses a long-standing concern of many Caribbean governments. Under this item, through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the U.S. government will “advocate for improved access to international financing mechanisms to unlock additional financing for infrastructure projects.” Crucially, Treasury’s five-pronged action approach also takes special consideration to account for the Caribbean’s unique vulnerability to debt, climate-related disasters, and external economic shocks. At the PACC 2030 unveiling, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Carla Barnett noted that the undertaking to improve access to financing is “very important.” Additionally, under this pillar, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) “will explore ways to increase financing for climate and clean energy projects in underserved Caribbean countries.” Though dollar figures have yet to be disclosed, the DFC will partner with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to provide a direct resource pipeline to address climate-related infrastructure needs.
PACC 2030’s second pillar of facilitating project development and investment is equally encouraging in the medium-term. PACC 2030 will create an investment facilitation team and a technical assistance program. The investment facilitation team will be a joint effort between the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Similarly, the PACC 2030 communique does not specify dollar commitments, but this new team “will build a pipeline of climate and clean energy projects in the Caribbean; identify existing funding gaps in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors; explore opportunities to expand power generation from cleaner sources; and establish a project facilitation and investment mechanism to leverage greater private sector investment in climate and clean energy projects.” In addition, the technical assistance program will allow the U.S. government to collaborate with Caribbean national and regional authorities to deliver technical support for climate and clean energy projects in the Caribbean.
The third and fourth pillars, enhancing local capacity building and deepening collaboration with Caribbean partners, though less eye-catching, may ultimately multiply the effects of PACC 2030 in the long-term. The third pillar, enhancing local capacity building, looks to make U.S. information and know-how more accessible to decision-makers in both the public and private sectors to improve the Caribbean’s ability to adapt to climate change, mitigate disaster risks, and enhance resilience. Activities under this pillar will also focus on strengthening institutional capacity by connecting U.S. and Caribbean climate experts and expanding the existing 100,000 Strong in the Americas public-private partnership to include a focus on the Caribbean. The final pillar, deepening collaboration with Caribbean partners, commits increased U.S. focus on regional forums like the biennial Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum and Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum. This pillar also pledges U.S. collaboration with the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) “to promote the use of sustainable energy in the region through a climate-resilient path that supports economic growth and social development.”
Taken together, the administration’s summit engagement and PACC 2030 initiative signal the U.S.’ desire to support its Caribbean partners through their unique needs and priorities. Prominent Caribbean leaders are already taking notice. As Global Americans Climate Change in the Caribbean Working Group Member and former Guyanese Ambassador to the U.S. Riyad Insanally notes, “This initiative is very welcome and has the potential to reshape US-Caribbean relations significantly. It will, however, require real engagement on both sides to add more substance to the framework.” Likewise, in a recent column for Caribbean News Global, Ambassador Sanders concluded his analysis of the summit by noting, “No Summit of the Americas in the past could reasonably have been considered a success by the Caribbean, but at this Ninth Summit, the Caribbean by the harmony and determination of its leadership, achieved movement. Progress depends on maintaining both resolve and unity.” Indeed, engagement, resolve, and unity will be critical to ensuring that the administration follows through with the requisite efforts and funds.
Caribbean leaders and members of relevant U.S. congressional committees, including the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, should press for PACC 2030’s robust implementation. The Congressional Caribbean Caucus and civil society actors across the region should also facilitate a continued dialogue between decision-makers on both sides of the U.S.-Caribbean relationship. Finally, CARICOM and its member heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors, and banking, trade, development, and energy ministries should continue to push their counterparts in the United States and across the hemisphere to ensure that PACC 2030’s laudable objectives are met. Implementing this initiative and others like it will be vital to safeguarding a sustainable climate future in the Caribbean and indeed, around the world.
Guy Mentel is the President and Chief Legal Officer of the Western Hemisphere-focused think tank, Global Americans. Mr. Mentel writes and speaks extensively about hemispheric affairs, and frequently briefs congressional staff and other international observers about U.S. policy toward the region.
Jackson Mihm is an Associate Editor at Global Americans and the Project Lead for the organization’s High-Level Working Group on Climate Change in the Caribbean.