Having formerly served as the Minister of Investment and Industry, Wallace Cosgrow was appointed as Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change in April 2018. Seychelles’ status as a global leader in terms of environmental conservation and clean, renewable energy targets makes this a hugely influential portfolio. Here he explains the country’s approach to striking a balance between environment and economic development, as well as discussing ways for Chinese investors to get involved in the Seychelles’ sustainable economy
You have recently been named minister of environment, energy and climate change after serving as minister of investment and industry. What are the biggest differences and overlaps between this and your previous role?
In my previous role, I had the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the investment landscape in Seychelles. And what I’ve been able to see is that there are many opportunities in the environmental sectors to take the country forward industrially and to continue to have strong economic growth. They are two different worlds, but there are opportunities to go forward with both, especially in terms of energy. Having said that, we have to also be mindful of the fact that Seychelles is a champion of the environment and we are known worldwide for it. So for us, energy developments have to be sustainable and be able to coexist with the environment. In fact, any investment in the Seychelles has to coexist with the environment. We are small and fertile and if we don’t protect the environment, we will not have our tourism, which is based on the environment. Fortunately, so far we have been able to strike that balance between development and preserving the environment. Of course, development can bring in more revenue, but it also brings in more environmental challenges so we have to be careful; we have to have a long-term view. So, when we talk about development of the energy sector, we have to also look at climate change. It is important and it is real. Small island-states like us will suffer the most if things deteriorate. I think this Ministry is well put together and able to create smart policies that have a positive impact on the country. With both energy and climate change, this portfolio is challenging, but a good one because you can try to play with the challenges and find the right balance. Our energy requirement is increasing yearly, so we have to have the capacity to produce. But we have to look at innovative ways of doing this.
What initiatives will you be taking to promote environmental conservation in Seychelles?
There have been a lot of efforts put into conservation and protection. We have almost doubled the number of tourists coming into the country since 2010, and we’ve been doing well. But there are always challenges, such as waste management. Now, about 50 percent of our whole territory is under protection. Under the Marine Spatial Plan Initiative, we are going to dedicate 30 percent of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to environmental protection. We’ve already committed 15 percent, but in the next two years, we’ve committed another 15 percent. It is a commitment to show the world that we are serious. Environmental protection is always ongoing because the challenges are ongoing, so we have to keep on educating people and looking at where we can improve. It has to be part of life. For the Seychellois people, it is a part of our way of life. But the more we look outside and at the Western world, mentalities change and people start to follow what’s happening there and forget that we have our own beautiful country to protect.
Part of your ministry portfolio focuses on promoting renewable energy. What are the objectives for renewables?
At the moment, we are very much dependent on fossil fuel. The vast majority of our generators are operating on fossil fuels, but the plan is to go towards clean energy over a period of time. We can’t make the change overnight, but we have taken steps to go down that route. At the moment, I think clean renewable energy accounts for around five to six percent of our supply. But by 2030 we aim for at least 15 percent of our production to come from renewable sources. We have, with the help of the government of Abu Dhabi, installed some wind turbines which are producing electricity, but we need more. And because it’s summer nearly all year round, we have a policy of democratisation of solar energy. So we’ve set up an incentives schemes to put solar panels on households. We are also going ahead with the project to have a floating solar farm. It will be in the main lagoon in the eastern part of Mahé island, and will be able to generate about 4.5MW of electricity. We also have another one which will be on Ile de Romainville. This is an island we created as a site for wind turbines, and now half of it will be a dedicated solar farm. All of these projects will help us to achieve the targets by 2030. For now, we feel that renewable and clean energy is the way forward.
Last year, as minister of investment, you led the Seychelles delegation at the China Offshore Shanghai Summit. What kind of reception did you receive from Chinese investors, and how would you assess the scope for further bilateral investment relations between Seychelles and China?
When we went to Shanghai last year, it was for the China Offshore Summit, which focused on financial services. But we had a chance to interact with a range of Chinese businesspeople. When we spoke, much of their interest was in investment in tourism because from their point of view, Seychelles is paradise and the perfect destination for Chinese tourists. But we also talked to them about the fisheries sector – opportunities for processing, aquaculture, mariculture – and also biotech, the Blue Economy and financial services. In fact, we have quite a number of Chinese people who have invested in Seychelles, and they have formed a Chinese business friendship association, which is quite instrumental in getting new businesses from China here. One problem we have with the Chinese investors is that their country is so big and Seychelles is so small, but many investors are very much interested.
When you talk to investors, how do you explain the importance of the environment to make sure that the focus is on win-win situations?
I think Chinese investors know this now. When you talk about Seychelles, sustainability is already at the forefront of their mind. They know they will not be able to come to Seychelles to do things that are detrimental to the environment, and I think they are now very much aware and conscious about the issues of environmental protection and climate change. China is now taking a leadership role in the world in terms of climate change and clean energy. They’re trying to clean up their industrial sector, as well. We have absolutely no problem with Chinese investors. They’re welcome and they’re very aware that environment must be at the top of the agenda.
What would you like to achieve during your first year in this role, and what are your top priorities?
For me, it is important that we achieve our policy towards environmental protection. This is paramount, but of course, we also have to look forward to more developments in this country. If we want to move forward, energy is key. Our nature is well preserved and we have tourists, but if we want to diversify our economy, we need to look at more opportunities and those opportunities will have to be supported by better infrastructure. I will have to ensure that whatever I do from now on promotes clean energy because not only can we increase our capacity to supply energy to the country, but we are doing it sustainably. This is my vision, but we aren’t only doing it for us; we’re playing our part to reduce the bad effects of climate change. We are small, and I know what we do might be almost negligible on the grand scale, but at least we are taking a strong position and telling the world that we are willing to do it – we have to lead by example. This is a global community, and we are sitting there with all the big countries at all the climate change summits. We are speaking, pushing the agenda and telling the world to listen: “you have to lower your emissions and you have to be committed.” And the initiative that China is taking in this regard is very encouraging.