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Pacific Islands Aiming For Energy Self-Sufficiency

  • Phil Mercer

A renewable energy project in Tokelau, supported by UNDP, converts solar-generated power to electricity. (Photo: UN/Ariane Rummery)

A renewable energy project in Tokelau, supported by UNDP, converts solar-generated power to electricity. (Photo: UN/Ariane Rummery)

SYDNEY - Citizens on the South Pacific island atolls of Tokelau are to become the first in the region to rely entirely on renewable energy. Officials say a hybrid system of solar energy and coconut oil will be supplying enough power for every resident on Tokelau by the end of the year. The pledge comes after 20 small island nations announced new plans to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels at a conference organized by the United Nations in Barbados.

Tokelau officials say the atolls will stop using imported fossil fuels and become self-sufficient in energy later this year.

$1 million saving

It is estimated that oil imports account for up to 30 percent of national income in some isolated parts of the Pacific.

The use of coconut biofuel and solar panels will save Tokelau about $1 million each year, and will provide far more electricity than the population currently needs.

Nileema Noble from the United Nations Development Program says Tokelau is making a bold statement about sustainability.

"We here have a tiny nation of people - 1,400 people - telling the world essentially you know what, get on with it," said Noble. "Move away the discourse away from the small island states being vulnerable to one which says we can do things for ourselves, we can take action and, of course, have overcome enormous barriers of distance and isolation to make this happen."

The tiny New Zealand administered territory is among several small Pacific island nations that are threatened by rising sea levels and want to become carbon neutral.

Other small islands examples

The island nations of Samoa and Tuvalu are aiming to get all of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The Cook Islands plans to start converting to solar panels and wind turbines, while most houses in the South Pacific archipelago will begin to use solar water heaters. The changes are in part funded by grants from Japan and New Zealand.

East Timor's government has promised that no households in the capital, Dili, would be using firewood for cooking by 2015 and said 50 percent of the country's electricity would be from renewable sources by the end of the decade.

The push for energy efficiency was a focus of a U.N.-sponsored energy forum in Barbados. It brought together more than 100 heads of state, ministers and campaigners from 39 countries across the Caribbean and Africa, as well as the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Twenty small island nations signed a statement calling for access to modern and affordable sources of renewable power that would protect the environment and boost economic growth.

The declaration has been adopted ahead of next month’s U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Brazil.
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