Pacific Islands heading for 100% renewable energy

| 28th May 2015
The Fakaofo solar array on Tokelau, which provides all the island's electricity. Photo: Chính Ðặng-Vũ via Flickr (All rights reserved).
The Fakaofo solar array on Tokelau, which provides all the island's electricity. Photo: Chính Ðặng-Vũ via Flickr (All rights reserved).
A host of Pacific nations are turning to renewable technologies to satisfy 100% of their energy, writes Maxine Newlands. Samoa is aiming to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2017, while Tokelau has already reached 94% including 100% of its electricity.
My government accepts that climate change is a reality, it's happening, it's urgent and we have to act now ... in Samoa the share of renewable energy mix has made significant improvements.

Climate scientists say the Pacific islands are disproportionally affected by climate change, with sea level rises and increases in ocean temperatures impacting on communities and livelihoods.

And Samoa's Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, is determined to do something about it. As he  told climate experts at this year's Pacific Climate Change Roundtable (PCCR) meeting in Apia, Samoa earlier this month:

"We're committed to a 100 percent renewable energy target by 2017, with China, New Zealand and the Asia Development Bank. My government accepts that climate change is a reality, it's happening, it's urgent and we have to act now ... in Samoa the share of renewable energy mix has made significant improvements."

"Climate change posses a fundamental threat to the lives and wellbeing of the Pacific people. It represents an existential threat to the survival of the Pacific people. The lessons we learn, the causes of climate change, are beyond the capacity of our country alone. We can't address the challenges without the support of partners."

As well as using solar power to meet its goal, Samoa has an existing hydroelectric power station that has historically produced a third of its electricity, and a small biomass power capacity using coconut shells which it aims to expand. Local biomass is also used in cooking and water heating.

International investment helping combat climate change

PCRR delegates also heard how Tokelau, a small New Zealand territory mid-way between Hawaii and New Zealand, and just over 300 miles north of Samoa, has achieved 94% energy supply from renewable sources.

It has achieved 100% renewable electricity following the completion of a 1 MW solar array in 2012, allowing the closure of its three diesel generation units. Cooking and water heating is carried out using local biomass, and now the island is turning to locally produced coconut oil to satisfy its remaining energy needs, for example to fuel the island's handful of cars.

Tokelau's representative Jolivisi Suveinakam said: "in the drive to be sustainable Tokelau's total conversion to renewable energy has cost £6m (NZD $12.5 million). Since converting, communities have developed better ways of using the technology and streamlining the processes."

The Cook Islands and Tuvalu are also aiming for 100% renewable energy in 2050. This month a New Zealand-financed $20.5 million project was completed on the Cook Islands bringing solar arrays to Rakahanga, Pukapuka, Nassau, and Palmerston, and finally on the northern Cook islands of Penrhyn and Manihiki. However Tuvalu is still working to raise the financial backing needed to realise its ambitions.

The islands' aim in going 100% renewable is twofold. First, to reduce their own dependence on costly fossil fuel imports by turning to indigenous energy sources. In 2010/2011, for example, over 12% of Samoa's domestic product was spent in importing petrolum products.

The second purpose is to set a low carbon example to the world in the hope that other countries will follow their lead - and so help to save low-lying Pacific island nations from sea level rise.

Donors step up to the mark

Also at the PCCR meeting, Switzerland announced a $100 million contribution to the Samoa-based Green Climate Fund, to be used for a variety of mitigation and adaptation projects inlcuding renewable energy expansion.

Prime Minister Malielegaoi went on to announce a new Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC) funded by Japan. The PCCC will develop partnerships throughout the pacific region and internationally in resilience strategies for Pacific countries to climate change.

"The centre has the full support of my government and the Government of Japan. PCCC will build on the current Pacific climate change program ... and work with likeminded countries and ensure a legally binding agreement", he said.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, attending the Seventh Pacific Island Leaders Meeting (PALM7), in Fukushima last week, announced £290m (¥55bn) funding package to tackle climate change related issues on the Pacific islands.

Pacific leaders also welcomed Japan's initiative to host a series of events in 2015 to promote renewable energy in Pacific island countries, in cooperation with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

From the Pacific to Paris

Pacific Island leaders and climate experts will next meet at the 46th Pacific Islands Forum, Papua New Guinea in September.

The agenda will be dominated by climate change as pacific island governments gather a collective response to take to Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and 11th meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP 21/CMP 11).

Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi added "The Convention in Paris is critically important for our region and we will work with like-minded countries to ensure a legally binding agreement."

Climate change is a daily issue in the Pacific Islands, with many island nations on low-lying land making them prone to land erosion, cyclones and tsunamis. Kiribati, south of Hawaii, is losing land mass from rising sea levels.

In 2013 one former Kiribati resident claimed climate refugee status on the basis that global warming is a form of persecution.



Dr Maxine Newlands is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Education & Social Sciences School of Arts & Social Sciences of James Cook University. Her research focuses on environmental politics from emissions trading, carbon tax to environmentalism, activism, protest, social justice, journalistic practices and occasionally sportsmedia. She tweets @Dr_MaxNewlands.

Additional reporting by The Ecologist.

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