By Theresa Gordon
Health Minister Molwyn Joseph, has backpedalled on a decision to withdraw from a climate change programme which involves the testing of electric vehicles in Antigua and Barbuda.
“I do not intend to back out of the experiment. It is the vehicle that will be involved in the experiment, not the minister,” Joseph said during a climate change news conference held at the Department of the Environment on Tuesday.
Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and has agreed to use clean technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
As a result, the Environ-ment Ministry sought funding from the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment
Facility to purchase electric and hybrid vehicles for a feasibility study to be presented to the Cabinet.
But there was an outcry in several quarters, including the opposition, after news broke about the purchase of a Tesla Model X electric vehicle to be used by the minister.
The UPP had characterised the purchase of the Tesla Model X vehicle as a sign of a heartless and uncaring government, which forced the minister to turn down the opportunity.
“At the time this distraction came about I was negotiating to expand the dialysis services at the hospital. During that same time I was also chairing the coordinating committee for the response to Barbuda, that responsibility required almost a 24-hour type of availability, so this issue came when I was under some serious workload,” the minister explained.
Joseph said he has never seen such “brouhaha” about the use of a vehicle before, which in his view, will bring about immense benefits for Antigua and Barbuda regarding savings.
According to the minister, based on recent statistics, Antigua and Barbuda spent about $220 million on the generation of electricity and transportation in 2016.
He said for transportation in the private sector alone, approximately $153 million was spent on vehicles last year.
Joseph estimated that the government would spend at least another $10 million in the purchase of diesel and gasoline for government vehicles.
It was also revealed that the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) spends approximately $60 million to purchase bunker C fuel and diesel to service their generators.
“We must take climate change seriously. We cannot be saying yes, there is climate change, yes we are victims, but yet as part of the global community, we do nothing. The greatest opportunity we have to impact climate change is the transition from fossil fuel to electric vehicles that we need to use on a daily basis,” Joseph said.
Meanwhile, Dianne Black-Layne, chief environment officer, stated that the department has already purchased a Toyota Rav 4 Hybrid, a small Nissan Leaf and a Nissan van.
“The experience that we have is something that we are documenting in our report to see how this transition can take place in Antigua and Barbuda. It’s not going to be easy, the role of the department is to convince our minister and the Cabinet that we have tried the technology and we have done it in a technically correct way,” Black Layne said.
The department of environment will also be making significant investments in the construction sector.
By Theresa Gordon