Cuba is taking serious action on the threats posed by climate change.
Cuba, a small island nation of 11.3 million people, began investing in renewable energy in 2014 and is ramping up its efforts in a push to make renewables its principal source of electricity by 2030. China is one of the leading investors in Cuba’s renewable energy program. As far back as 2019 Xinhau noted that
“Cuba has implemented an ambitious plan to develop renewable energy sources until 2030, which allowed the island to save almost 33,000 tons of fuel last year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
With the aim of transforming its energy model by 2024, the Caribbean nation expects to generate 24 percent of its electricity through renewable sources like sugarcane biomass, solar panels, wind farms and small hydroelectric plants.”(Havana Live)
In November 2018 Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China for the inclusion of Cuba in the Belt and Road Initiative, and in Ocober 2021 Cuba has officially joined the Alliance for Energy of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project to build an international mega-platform for cooperation and exchange under the principle of shared profit.
Following this, on December 23, 2021 the Cuban Deputy Prime Minister and the President of China’s National Commission for Development and Reform signed the Cooperation Plan between the Governments of the Republic of Cuba and the People’s Republic of China for the joint promotion of the Economic Belt of the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century. This document made effective Cuba’s formal admission as a full member of the BRI.
VIDEO: Cuba’s Life Task – combatting climate change
The following extracts are republished from Repeating Islands and Climate & Capitalism
From Repeating Islands:
Cuba has over the past two decades made significant steps towards protecting and improving its environment. Between 2006 and 2020, several international reports identified the island nation as the world leader in sustainable development.
In 2017, the Cuban government approved Tarea Vida (“Life Task”), its long-term plan to confront climate change. The plan identifies at-risk populations and regions, formulating a hierarchy of “strategic areas” and “tasks” in which climate scientists, ecologists, and social scientists work alongside local communities, specialists, and authorities to respond to specific threats. To be progressively implemented in stages from 2017 to the year 2100, Tarea Vida also incorporates mitigation actions like the shift to renewable energy sources and legal enforcement of environmental protections.
Cuba may be responsible for only 0.08 percent of global CO2 emissions, but this Caribbean island is disproportionately hard-hit by the effects of climate change. The frequency and severity of extreme weather events — hurricanes, drought, torrential rain, flooding — is increasing, to the detriment of ecosystems, food production, and public health. Without action to protect the coastline from rising sea levels, up to 10 percent of Cuban territory could be submerged by the end of the century. This risks wiping out coastal towns, polluting water supplies, destroying agricultural lands, ruining tourist beaches, and forcing one million people to relocate — some 9 percent of the population.
Tarea Vida is the culmination of decades of environmental protection regulation, the promotion of sustainable development and scientific investigation. Within Cuba, it is conceived of as a new basis for development, part of a cultural change and a broader process of decentralization of responsibilities, powers, and budgets to local communities. Here, we see that environmental considerations are integral to Cuba’s national development strategy, rather than just a side concern. Tarea Vida is also driven by necessity; climate change is already impacting life on the island. “Today in Cuba, the country’s climate is undergoing a complete transition from a humid tropical climate toward a subhumid climate, in which the patterns of rain, availability of water, soil conditions, and temperatures will be different,” explains Orlando Rey Santos, a ministerial adviser who led Cuba’s delegation to COP26. “We will have to feed ourselves differently, build differently, dress differently. It is very complex.”
“From Rainforest to Cane Field”
Centuries of colonial and then imperialist exploitation and the imposition of the agro-export model led to chronic deforestation and soil erosion in Cuba. The expansion of the sugar industry reduced the island’s forest cover from 95 percent pre-colonization to 14 percent at the moment of the revolution in 1959, turning Cuba “from rainforest to cane field,” as Cuban environmental historian Reinaldo Funes Monzote titled his award-winning book. Redressing this historical legacy became part of the project for revolutionary transformation post-1959, which sought to break the chains of underdevelopment.
Despite the revolutionaries’ early aspirations, Cuba continued to be dominated by the sugar industry through its trade with the Soviet bloc. Productive activities that contributed to pollution and erosion continued, including on account of Cuba’s embrace of the so-called “Green Revolution” of mechanized agriculture — an approach adopted in many developing countries to increase agricultural output.
This process was not automatic — rather, it required geographers and environmentalists to drive the post-1959 government’s environmental agenda. Outstanding among them was Antonio Núñez Jiménez, a socialist and professor of geography in the 1950s. He served as a captain in Che Guevara’s Rebel Army column and headed the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, among other roles. Influenced by Núñez Jiménez, Fidel Castro also propelled Cuba’s environmental movement. Tirso W. Sáenz, who worked closely with Guevara in the early 1960s and headed Cuba’s first environmental commission from 1976 told me, “Fidel was the main driving force for the incorporation of environmental concerns into Cuban policy.” The Cuban Communist Party has also openly endorsed environmental protection and sustainable growth, which, according to Houck, “provides significant legitimacy to environmental programs.”
In 1976, Cuba was among the first countries in the world to include environmental issues in its constitution, and the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and the Rational Use of Natural Resources was set up. That was eleven years before the UN’s Brundtland Report introduced the notion of “sustainable development” to the world. In the following decades, studies and projects were undertaken and environmental regulations introduced to protect fauna and flora. In 1992, Fidel Castro delivered an uncharacteristically short and appropriately alarming speech at the Earth Summit in Brazil. He blamed exploitative and unequal international relations, resulting from colonialism and imperialism, for the rapacious environmental destruction fueled by capitalist consumer societies, threatening the extinction of mankind.
Not Beholden to Profit
Several factors underpin Cuba’s capacity to develop such an ambitious state plan.
Cuba’s state-dominated, centrally planned economy helps the government to mobilize resources and direct national strategy without having to incentivize private profit — unlike other countries that rely on “market solutions” for climate change.
Tarea Vida builds on Cuba’s world-leading record of anticipating and responding to risks and natural disasters. This has already been frequently demonstrated in its response to hurricanes and, since March 2020, in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Cuban approach to climate adaptation and mitigation offers an alternative to the globally dominant paradigms based on the private sector or public-private partnerships. It has increasing relevance to tourism-dependent Caribbean SIDS (Small Island Developing States) and other Global South countries emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with levels of indebtedness that will obstruct future access to international financing. This will bring them closer to the financial and resource restraints that Cuba has confronted for decades due to US sanctions. Tarea Vida relies on low-cost domestic solutions, not external funding.
2. From Climate & Capitalism
Cuba’s high level of vulnerability as an island nation, makes rising sea levels precisely the element that most affects the country, in terms of climate change.
In a recent interview in Juventud Rebelde, Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, stated ” Tarea Vida involves everyone.”
Thus during her travels around the country, she has prioritized exchanges with provincial authorities, local Party leaders, representatives of Central State Administration bodies, Civil Defense, Physical Planning, and provincial risk assessment centers. She also believes raising consciousness about climate change in the population is essential, so that everyone is involved in action to meet the challenge.
“The projects are highly complicated, since environmental investments must be made, which are characterized by their significant cost and special requirements. Those that have been made are based on the research of many scientists, and are today systematized,” the Minister said.
Among Tarea Vida’s 11 projects are identifying and implementing projects to adapt to climate change, assuring the availability and efficient use of water to confront drought, reforesting to protect soils and water, stopping the deterioration of coral reefs by restoring and protecting them, and measures, plans, and projects linked to renewable energy, food security, health, and tourism.
Also included are protecting urban waterfronts, relocating at-risk human settlements, integrating recovery of beaches, mangroves, and other protective natural ecosystems, waterworks and coastal engineering projects.
Priorities are based on protecting human life in the most vulnerable areas, food security, and the development of tourism.
While Tarea Vida is being enriched as it is being implemented over time, and as action is taken, Cuba is aware that what is most important is foreseeing and confronting climate change. The ambitious, complex project shows the government’s determination to reduce vulnerability and raise risk perception
Eleven Projects included in State Plan “Tarea Vida”
- Project 1: Identify and implement actions and projects to adapt to climate change, of a comprehensive, ongoing nature, needed to reduce existing vulnerability in the 15 identified priority zones. To be considered, to determine the order of these actions, are the population threatened, their physical safety and food security, and the development of tourism.
- Project 2: Implement legal norms needed to execute the state plan, as well as assure their strict enforcement, with particular attention to measures directed toward vulnerability of constructed properties, prioritizing threatened coastal communities.
- Project 3: Conserve, maintain, and recover the Cuban archipelago’s sandy beaches, prioritizing those urbanized for tourist use and reducing the structural vulnerability of constructed properties.
- Project 4: Assure the availability and efficient use of water as part of confronting drought, on the basis of technology for conservation and satisfying the demands of locations. Improve water infrastructure and its maintenance, while taking action to measure the efficient and productive use of water.
- Project 5: Direct reforestation toward providing maximum protection of soils and water in terms of both quantity and quality, as well as the recovery of the most affected mangroves. Prioritize reservoirs, canals, and the regulatory banks of tributaries leading to the island’s principal bays and coasts.
- Project 6: Stop deterioration, renovate, and protect coral reefs throughout the archipelago, with priority for those bordering the insular platform, and protect urbanized beaches used for tourist purposes. Avoid over-fishing of species that benefit corals.
- Project 7: Maintain, and add to plans, territorial and urban land use stipulations that emerged from the Macro-project on Dangers and Vulnerability of Coastal Zones 2050-2100, as well as Studies of Dangers, Vulnerability, and Risks in the disaster preparedness effort. Employ this information as an early warning to make decisions.
- Project 8: Implement and supervise implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, which emerge from sector policies in programs, plans, and projects linked to food security, renewable energy, energy efficiency, land use, fishing, agriculture, health, tourism, construction, transport, industry, and the comprehensive management of forests.
- Project 9: Strengthen monitoring systems, vigilance, and early warning plans to systematically evaluate the condition and quality of coastal zones, water, drought, forests, as well as human and plant health.
- Project 10: Prioritize measures and actions to increase risk perception, understanding of, and participation by the entire population in confronting climate change, and a culture that promotes water conservation.
- Project 11: Manage and use available international financial resources, both those from global and regional climate funds, and those from bilateral sources, to make investments, carry out actions, and implement projects related to the tasks outlined in the state plan.
- Repeating Islands, ‘Cuba shows how to take action on climate change’. 16 January 2022. https://repeatingislands.com/2022/01/16/cuba-shows-how-to-take-action-on-climate-change/
- Climate & Capitalism, ‘Project Life: Cuba’s action plan prepares for climate change’, 13 April 2018. https://climateandcapitalism.com/2018/04/13/project-life-cubas-action-plan-prepares-for-climate-change/
- China Environment News, 29 December 2021. https://china-environment-news.com/2021/12/29/cuba-eyes-cooperation-with-china-on-clean-energy/
- China Environment News, 21 Julu 2021. https://china-environment-news.com/2021/07/21/china-invests-in-renewable-energy-in-cuba/