Greening the Islands Foundation

Key island stakeholders from all over the world started cooperation at the GTI e_Convention, setting the scene for the GTI Observatory’s work beyond 2020


The 7th edition of the International Conference and Exhibition went 100% digital for the first time and involved 90 international speakers and 700+ attendees in 15 technical workshops over 4 days

Best practices from Seychelles, Canary Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde, Malta, Elba, Crete, Cyprus, Maldives, Barbados, Sint Maarten, have been recognized with the GTI Awards 2020 in 6 categories

For its 7th edition, the GTI International Conference and Exhibition has gone 100% digital to meet the international health requirements while allowing a wider worldwide audience to participate: 700+ attendees specialized in island sustainability with participants joining from Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hawaii, Seychelles, Maldives, Barbados, Canary Islands, Malta, Greece and more. From 24 to 27 November, 15 workshops with 90 qualified speakers from front runner islands and leading corporates have addressed the topics related to the sustainable transition of islands, presenting innovative solutions and best practices. The MAESHA H2020 debuted at the event: kicked-off in November 2020 with €11.8M budget for innovative smart grid projects in Mayotte and their replicability in other European islands. It will involve 9 countries and 21 partners – including GTI – for 4 years.

Greening the Islands has succeeded in bringing together all the stakeholders of the island world – administrators, regulators, utilities, corporates, scientific institutions and industry associations, etc. – for a cooperation that will continue, flowing into the work of the GTI Observatory in 2021 with the Island Advisory Committee, the Strategy Scientific Committee, Working Groups and Task Forces addressing island needs, producing case studies, position papers and policy recommendations, to facilitate the origination of projects. Extensive material will be distributed via the GTI App, through which the task forces will constantly communicate.

Among the high level contributions from international institutions: Sainivalati S. Navoti – Chief of SIDS Unit, UN DESA; Gurbuz Gonul – Director Country Engagement and Partnerships, IRENA; Catharina Sikow-Magny – Director Internal Energy Market, EC DG Ener; Christopher G. Zamora – Senior Manager, ASEAN Centre for Energy; Michela Miletto – Coordinator a.i., UNESCO WWAP; Konstantina Toli – Senior Programme Officer, Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean (GWP– Med); George Kremlis – Honorary Director, EC & Head of Circular Economy and Islands, EC DG Env; Manuel Butler – Executive Director, UNWTO; Edita Dranseikaite – Coordinator Clean Energy for the EU Islands Initiative, EC DG Ener; Normunds Popens – Deputy Director General, EC DG Regio.

CPMR (Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions) and INSULEUR (Network of the Insular Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the European Union) specified that despite contributing only to a minimum extent to global carbon dioxide emissions, islands are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, coastline erosion, loss of biodiversity, and infrastructure destruction. Insular economies have also been disadvantaged on financial and business levels, and the pandemic is only making this worse.

“One euro in islands is worth averagely less than the same euro in the mainland”

– Tonino Picula, President Searica

In fact, with a very high pre-pandemic share of tourism in their GDP, very few destinations on the planet have been hit from the halt of global tourism like islands have. As confirmed by the Ministry of Tourism A. Mausoom and the Ministry of Environment H.R. Hassan, who jointly committed for the Maldives case study in the dedicated GTI Observatory Task Force, to fully recover, tourism needs to become sustainable, and in order to do so important challenges need to be addressed: from the engagement of local communities, to transportation and environmental issues, to waste management and RES penetration. GTI will continue its work in cooperation with MITDC (Maldives Integrated Tourism Development Corporation), GLISPA (Global Island Partnership), WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) and others, to create a sustainable model of transition for insular tourism.

Sustainable agriculture is fundamental for the self-sufficiency, economy, and transmission of natural heritage of small islands. As reported by ITC (Instituto Tecnológico de Canarias), innovative technologies and plantation techniques, as well as pioneering good practices, can help islands couple conservation and development of indigenous crops, minimize the consumption of water, ultimately achieving food security while decreasing food import and mitigating climate change effects. INSULEUR explained how promoting sustainable island agricultural products by ensuring the traceability of high-quality local products and the protection of endemic species, can drive up the share of agriculture in islands’ GDP again.

RES and innovative technologies applied to water and soil management represent an optimal path for islands towards achieving food security, energy independence, and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while reducing the impact of climate change. Yet, as recalled by Gurbuz Gonul – Director Country Engagement and Partnerships, IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), the cost of energy in islands is up to 10 times higher than in the mainland and renewables still account for only about 10% of the total installed capacity in the power sector.

“We are not limited by capacity, we are limited by our vision”

– Sainivalati S. Navoti, Chief of SIDS Unit at UNDESA

In order to meet increasing energy demand, reduce fossil fuels import costs, and save land for agriculture, islands have to exploit the sea for power generation. In particular, tidal and wind. The oceans represent the world’s largest untapped source of renewable energy, as mentioned by Yann Herve De Roeck – Vice Chairman Ocean Energy Systems, OES-IEA, wave energy is predictable and programmable to larger extents compared to other RES and shows the highest power density. As pointed out by Wind Europe, the recently presented EU Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy sets a target for at least 60 GW of offshore wind power capacity by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050. For islands characterized by deep coastal waters, like in the Mediterranean, and limited land available, floating wind solutions are the most viable option. IDA (International Desalination Association) and Global Solar Council showcased frightening forecasts regarding freshwater availability in the near future, which justify accelerated development of clean desalination systems. Besides, RES hybrid desalination systems are of pivotal importance for islands in order to reduce both the price of water supply and carbon footprints. Combinations of PV, wind, and storage are optimal to drive the cost of desalination down and to allow islands to produce full-green freshwater non-stop.

Clearly, with a higher penetration of RES comes the need for an increased energy storage capacity. EASE (European Association for Storage of Energy), EUROBAT (Association of European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers) and SolarPower Europe agree that smart grids and energy storage have the potential to support decarbonization, flexibility and stability of insular power grids, and can adapt very well to different energy mixes, demand profiles, and other attributes that differ across the islands. RES plus storage, incorporated in a framework of energy communities, can avoid costly interconnections and allow islands to go full-green. Therefore, the new upcoming EU regulation on batteries and storage will play a key role for the decarbonization of islands. Particularly those that are not interconnected with the mainland, need to increase their storage capacity to achieve a larger penetration of RES while ensuring the stability of power grids. EVs are optimal for distributed storage systems and one of the main opportunities is for islands to create local industries for the recycling of batteries, where certain economies of scale are achievable.

“The main bottleneck for the energy transition of islands is an obsolete regulation that results in an incentive to fossil sources, discouraging investments in new clean technologies despite their lower costs”

-Gianni Chianetta, Founder & Director Greening the Islands

Energy storage and smart grids are also essential to decarbonize maritime transportation. Ports and docks are responsible for the largest emissions on islands, hence developing sustainable maritime transportation and mobility is crucial to reduce pollution, protect the health of islanders, and save marine life and ecosystems. Several alternative engine technologies – like electrochemical batteries, LNG, electrofuels, hydrogen – are already capable of substituting vessels and retrofitting ports. When it comes to mobility, the latest data confirm cycling is booming: according to the World Economic Forum, by 2050 it will be the second means of mobility. On islands, cycling can be optimal for tourists to enjoy the natural environment and for residents to reduce their carbon footprint. However, it has to be safe: CONEBI (Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry) called for further efforts needed to update business models, road policies and infrastructure – including both sideways on roads and outdoor paths – in order for bicycles to fully contribute to the sustainable transition of islands.

Overall, the GTI e_Convention has provided confirmations that islands can indeed represent laboratories for testing innovative circular economy solutions and ultimately showing to the mainland the decarbonization path. There are still many challenges: technological, financial, environmental, behavioural. Public funds, policies, R&D and private investments all must play a role in supporting sustainable and just transition of islands. With the joint efforts of all the stakeholders and the replication of best practices, like those rewarded at the GTI Awards, islands of the world can progressively turn greener and lead in battling climate change and recovering from the pandemic. A prestigious jury recognized the following projects with the GTI Awards 2020: Seychelles Energy Commission Initiative in Seychelles for Energy; ADAPTaRES in Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, Madeira, Santiago, Boa Vista, Sal (Macaronesia) for Water; Civitas Destinations Project in Gran Canaria, Malta, Elba, Crete, Cyprus for Mobility; Soneva Namoona project in Baa Atoll, Maldives for Waste; IAT Climate Smart Greenhouse in  Barbados for Agriculture; IntelliReefs – Coral Reef Restoration and Preservation in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten for Sustainable Tourism.



The three-day global technology event was followed by the European Forum, which deepened EU Legislation, Policy and Regulation and hosted INSULEUR’s General Assembly, which focused on digitization as a cross-sectoral tool for relaunching islands’ economy and supporting circularity. Considering the announcement of the largest stimulus package in history financed through the EU long-term €1.8tln budget – coupling the EU’s long-term budget with the Next Generation EU initiative – it will be important that Member States consider the strategic role of islands as testbeds and frontrunners together with their greatest difficulties in the decarbonisation process. From the workshop emerged also the important role of the EU cohesion policy, in response to the emergency, in the “Multiannual Financial Framework” (MFF), for the period 2021-2027.

Besides, European islands should exploit the vast resources unlocked by the EU, integrating investment plans with innovative solutions and enhancing dialogue with national and supranational regulators, while the latter must take into account specific islands\’ needs in their recovery plans, to achieve greater islands resilience.

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