Despite the challenges faced by the bloc, particularly the ravaging effects of this year’s hurricane season which has cast a long shadow over the Region, the over US$2 billion pledged at the Caricom-United Nations Conference for long-term recovery for hurricane-affected countries and the establishment of the regional renewable energy centre are among the successes the Caribbean Community (Caricom) recorded for 2017.Caricom Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Head Achim Steiner and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at a high-level conference back in NovemberCaricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said in his end-of-year message that the Community was ending 2017 with several other noteworthy achievements, including a change in posture by global financial institutions and some development partners with respect to access to concessionary development financing.“It is encouraging to note that our relentless advocacy with respect to the lack of access to concessional development financing appears to be bearing fruit. There is some re-thinking on this issue taking place at the level of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and some of our international development partners (IDPs),” the Secretary General stated.Adding that Caricom will continue to advocate for this change, he said the Region’s vulnerability to external shocks, which the hurricanes laid bare, emphasised the urgent need for the international community to dispense with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as a primary criterion for access to concessional development financing.Ambassador LaRocque noted significant advances in human resources development, highlighting the July 2017 endorsement of Heads of Government of the Human Resource Development (HRD) 2030 Strategy. The HRD Strategy is intended to prepare the Community to address the requirements of its 21st Century economy and society through actions for basic education, from early childhood through secondary, the tertiary sector and life-long learning.Renewable energyWith regard to energy, in July 2017, Caricom Member States signed the agreement establishing the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE). The Centre is based in Barbados and is the implementation hub for sustainable energy activities and projects within the Region. It will play a major role in the Community’s thrust to increase the renewable energy share in power generation to 47 per cent by 2027, with the resulting lowering of costs for the consumers and benefits to the environment, the Secretary General stated.He highlighted the range of opportunities now opened to the Private Sector with the signing of the Second Protocol to the Caricom-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement. This Protocol allows for duty-free access to Cuba for Caricom producers of approximately 300 items including meat, fish, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, beer, rum, cement, soaps, articles of apparel and clothing.CARIFESTAAmbassador LaRocque said that CARIFESTA XIII in Barbados under the theme “Asserting our Culture: Celebrating Ourselves” was another highlight of 2017.“The enthusiasm for the cultural extravaganza was not dampened by the threat of Hurricane Harvey as the people of the Caribbean showcased their creativity at various venues across the island. The business aspect of the creative industries took centre stage in keeping with the Heads of Government endorsement for exploring the potential of the cultural and creative industries to contribute to the economic development of the Region,” he stated.As he looks ahead to 2018, he said it was with expectation of closer regional unity, reminiscent of the kindred spirit that fuelled the outpouring of support post- Hurricanes Irma and Maria.He commended the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) for performing their respective roles “magnificently” and promptly.While the hurricanes will have a lasting impact on the Community, he lauded the “yeoman support” rendered to the hurricane-stricken countries by highly Caricom Governments, people, institutions and the international community.