NEW YORK, Aug 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British billionaire Richard Branson and two dozen Caribbean nations and territories on Thursday launched a multi-million-dollar initiative to turn the hurricane-prone region into a green tech hub resilient to disasters.
The Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator marks the culmination of talks that began with Branson's push last year to replace fossil fuel-dependent utilities with low-carbon renewable energy sources in the hurricane-ravaged region.
"Just the fact that we've got...pretty much every single Caribbean nation signed up, and a lot of agencies willing to work with them, gives a good chance of speeding the process forward," Branson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Branson has lived in the British Virgin Islands for more than a decade and weathered Hurricane Irma last year inside a cellar on Necker, his private island.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma left trails of destruction as they crashed through the Caribbean in September 2017, and many low-lying nations fear their infrastructure and economies will be devastated by more powerful storms and encroaching seas.
Scientists say that climate change can affect the paths of hurricanes, and increase their frequency and intensity.
At the launch event in Jamaica's capital, Kingston, Branson said the initiative - backed by more than $4 million and serving 26 countries and territories - will give start-ups easier access to financing for large green projects.
Partners include the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), private firms, and countries including Grenada, Anguilla and Dominica.
Thursday's announcement followed a December gathering in Paris where the IADB pledged $1 billion in loans to help the region grow cleanly and curb damage from climate change.
The loans will help Caribbean islands switch from costly imported fuels to cheaper renewable energy, build coastal defences such as sea walls, and fund other initiatives to buffer communities against the effects of global warming.
The Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator will also act as a "facilitator" between those funds and public, as well as private sector recipients, a spokesman said.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the project would spark economic growth while combating climate change.
"The Caribbean can change the narrative of climate change from a narrative of disaster to a narrative of hope," Holness said in a speech unveiling the accelerator to representatives from the region.
Organizers also introduced an award under the patronage of Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica, that will recognize leading countries, businesses and individuals making the most strides toward a green future.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jared Ferrie