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WFMauritius Speaker Interview: Indra Haraksingh, Professor, Department of Physics, University of the West Indies

23.06.2016

 

Dr. Indra Haraksingh is a lecturerin the Department of Physics at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Trinidad. Her focus is in Pure Physics, Geophysics, Earth Sciences, Solar Energy and Geothermal Energy. Dr. Haraksingh is supervisor of two post graduate research groups in Solar Energy and Geothermal Energy, and has developed and is coordinator of the MSc Renewable Energy Technology Programme in the Physics Department at the UWI, Trinidad. She holds a Ph.D. in Physics in Solar Energy, a Diploma in Education, and BSc. – Physics and Mathematics Degrees.

She is a Member of the Projects Steering Committee of the CARICOM appointed Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme (CREDP). She is also a member of the Cabinet appointed Renewable Energy Committee of Trinidad and Tobago and Renewable Energy Committee of the University of the West Indies, among others.

Dr. Haraksingh is one of the key persons involved in training and capacity building in Renewable Energy in the Caribbean region and also internationally. In July 2002 Dr. Indra Haraksingh was honoured as the Recipient of the Outstanding Scientist Award at World Renewable Energy Congress in Cologne, Germany, and in July 2008 she was presented with the International Pioneer Award for Solar Energy at the Tenth World Renewable Energy Congress held in Glasgow, Scotland. In September 2012, Dr. Haraksingh was honoured by the National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) with the NIHERST Award for Excellence in Science and Technology in the Silver Category.

 

Indra Haraksingh, Professor, Department of Physics, University of the West Indies

Women’s Forum: Why did you choose to be a speaker at the Women’s Forum Mauritius 2016?

 

I was invited to speak at the Women’s Forum Mauritius and I accepted because I understand the importance of such a forum to serve as a vehicle for highlighting the achievements of women internationally, in particular in the field of Energy, and to deliberate on some of the burning issues facing women. I also understand some of the many challenges women face in numerous disciplines and coming together to speak on such important topics adds strength to the movement towards some solution.

 

 

Women’s Forum: What challenges and opportunities do climate and energy present?

 

Climate change presents challenges and opportunities of a varied nature, depending on numerous factors, such as whether a country is large or small, inland or island etc. These challenges can be monumental and difficult to address depending on the economic status of the country. These challenges can also be social and environmental, such as resource shortages, migration, damage to eco systems and biodiversity, and increased vulnerability. Countries are also faced with economic challenges derived from climate change. However, addressing these problems can lead to great opportunities in development education. Educational and learning spaces can be created and these can lead to innovative approaches to education. One of the biggest problems is the cultural / attitudinal shift needed in addressing the problems. But teaching Climate Science to adults and children in particular can be a very rewarding experience. Building resilience can be the underlying thread to the education movement.

Addressing energy problems can also present both challenges and opportunities. Energy security can be compromised, carbon emissions will be on the increase, depletion of fossil fuels, which many countries depend on, will pose threats to adequate energy supplies for basic amenities, and general degradation of the environment will be experienced. This can lead to opportunities, which can be easily embraced. Starting with energy conservation and efficiency, and transitioning to a low carbon economy can lead to innovative solutions.

 

 

Women’s Forum: In your opinion, what effects does climate change have on the African continent and Small Island Developing States like Mauritius? What more needs to be done to minimize them?   

 

For small island developing states, like my country, Trinidad & Tobago, or Mauritius, climate change leads to global warming, which can have particularly disastrous effects, such as sea level rise, damage to coastal areas, increased vulnerability of the fragile eco systems, etc. Even for the large continent, like the African continent, climate change could present disastrous effects. It is reported that two in three persons lack proper access to electricity. With climate change, this problem is exacerbated.  Not only is energy security a problem, food security can be declining. Global warming can lead to serious drought causing degradation of the soil, making it unsuitable for agriculture purposes. This creates further decline in the quality of the soil and, as such, agricultural output, leading to declining food crops and further food insecurity.

But these challenges can all be viewed as opportunities to take control of the situation. The people have been clamoring for access to modern energy, which is somewhat achievable using innovative methods of generation using indigenous resources. Implementation of renewable energy technologies is now much more accessible due to a decline in costs, such as in photovoltaic technology. Africa has natural abundant resources, and while we recognize that harnessing the technologies may be beyond their reach financially, it is definitely becoming more accessible. Therefore opportunities for implementing these low carbon technologies are becoming more realistic. Utility reform is imminent, and requires new business models and cultural shifts to support the transformation. Africa is therefore set for further economic growth, coupled with demographic change and urbanization. Development of renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, has already started. Development of Africa’s geothermal energy is already underway and could take on much greater strides with further international support.

In closing, one of the most important moves both for small island developing states and for a large continent, like Africa, is the urgent transition to low carbon technologies, such as renewable energy technologies, both for the protection of the fragile ecosystem and the environment, and for enhancing energy security.

 

 

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