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October 04
14:55 2019

By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

Over the period September 23-24, the UN held its 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York City. The summit saw leaders from around the world converging on New York to discuss the issue of climate change and to find common but differentiated solutions to urgently address it.

Present at that summit was Belize City’s Mayor Wagner who shared a bit of the Belize City Council’s ongoing climate change actions. On the adaptation side, he spoke of a voluntary resettlement program for people encroaching in the Krooman Lagoon area and on the mitigation side he spoke of a new City-owned municipal bus network using, YES, electric buses!

During his Independence Day speech Prime Minister Dean Barrow informed the nation that Belize Electricity Ltd. (BEL) was embarking on an electric vehicle project and was planning on converting a portion of its fleet to electric vehicles. Along with the conversion of its fleet, BEL will conduct a study to determine the charging infrastructure needed to create a paradigm shift to electric vehicles across the wider economy.

Some of my PUP colleagues have honed in on the PM’s electric car declaration to make the point that Mr. Barrow is out of touch with the needs of the Belizean people. Perhaps it is politics as usual but such a position is wholly wrong footed in my view.

BEL’s pursuit of zero carbon transportation in no way takes away from the duty of any government to provide the basic social infrastructure: affordable housing, education, healthcare, etc! The two are not mutually exclusive.

If my understanding is correct it is not the government which will be buying electric vehicles but BEL. But even if it were the government that would be converting its fleet, how can that be such a bad thing? The through-life-costs of electric vehicles have proven to be far less than that for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The upfront costs of electric vehicles are now just marginally higher than traditional ICE vehicles but because electric vehicles have fewer moving parts their operational and maintenance costs are considerably lower.

Beside the financial benefits ($0.10/mile compared to $0.60/mile), electric vehicles provide important co-benefits: (1) electric vehicles do not emit harmful greenhouse gases thus improving urban air quality; (2) electric vehicles would dampen the demand for imported fossil fuels thus improving our energy security posture; and (3) electric vehicles would help to ease the crushing demand on our limited foreign exchange which is extremely important since our traditional exports continue to suffer both endogenous and exogenous shocks.

Whether we like it or not, electric vehicles are the future of transportation. By 2035 it will be hard to find ICE vehicles as nine countries have signaled a pending ban on the manufacturing of ICE vehicles. By 2025 diesel vehicles will not be able to operate in Mexico City and Paris and by 2030 a ban on the sale of new ICE vehicles will be imposed by Israel, France, India, Belgium and the Netherlands among others. Germany and the UK are right behind with a ban by 2040.

Electric vehicles are not some far-fetched idea that is fit only for first world countries as some of us seem to think. In fact, Barbados is leading the Caribbean in the deployment of electric vehicles with almost 500 electric cars in the private auto space. Barbados’ success was only possible with the stellar support of the government of Barbados. You will remember that Barbados also led the Caribbean in solar water heating technology and deployment, again, supported by their government.

The question to our political leaders is this – why must we always follow? Why can’t we lead? It is no secret that a nation perishes when its leaders are timid and devoid of ideas. Leaders should inspire us to be bold and innovative. The transition to electric vehicles requires that we be bold and innovative. In 2019, Belize can ill afford to fall behind in what is clearly a global paradigm shift towards electric vehicles.

I happen to be working on my own electric car project which will occupy the space between private car ownership and traditional car rentals. The burgeoning private car market in Belize is unsustainable and we have to find ways to provide access to sustainable transportation solutions that benefit everyone. Shared-car solutions are a critical component of sustainable transportation and PM Barrow’s declaration on Independence Day signaled to me that the necessary political will exists for the deployment of electric vehicles. A breath of fresh air!

The People’s United Party hopes to form the next government. When it does, how will it address the issue of climate change in general, but in particular how will it address the obvious need for sustainable transportation?

If we are to survive the impacts of climate change, Belize has to transition its economy along a low carbon pathway. To do that, one of the urgent climate actions that we must take is to convert our vehicle fleet to electric vehicles.

As mentioned above, the PUP’s Belize City Council is exploring the idea of an electric bus project. If and when they launch that project to the residents of the City and the wider Belizean public, what will my PUP friends say then? Will they cheer him on or will they use the same line of attack that they have used on Mr. Barrow’s electric car declaration?

Politics in Belize is a hell of a game. It often makes fools of wise men! To those who feel that the transition to electric vehicles is a pipe dream, I say plug in and shut up!

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