3 Mar 2021

Pacific commits to energy transition ahead of COP26

2:49 pm on 3 March 2021

Pacific island governments have reinforced their commitment to energy transition action, 10 months out of the global climate conference in the UK.

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.. Photo: Supplied/IRENA

Despite a year of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pacific continues to focus on critical action for climate mitigation and adaptation.

At a recent meeting of policy and intergovernmental representatives, Pacific leaders expressed the need for transformative pledges to significantly reorient the world's energy transition pathway.

The virtual event was jointly hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Regional Pacific NDC Hub and the UK COP26 Presidency.

Ministers and government representatives agreed to continue to strengthen sustainable energy goals within updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in November.

The leaders said the aim was to be at the forefront of global efforts.

During the discussion, Palau's Minister for Infrastructure Charles Obichang reiterated his government's commitment to a sustainable energy future.

Obichang said Palau was developing a new roadmap that will ultimately result in a 100 percent fossil fuel free energy system.

"The pursuit of energy security through renewable energy makes environmental, social and economic sense for us, helping to fight climate change while creating opportunities for new industries and new jobs.

"Renewables are an opportunity for us to thrive in a new era of fossil fuel free energy production."

According to IRENA, 13 out of the 14 Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have increased their renewable energy targets in their NDCs.

IRENA said these had been submitted under the first round of the Paris Agreement climate pledges made in 2015.

The agency said Pacific SIDS were engaged in improving their NDCs with Fiji, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tonga already submitting their contributions.

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Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

The Marshall Islands' Director of Energy Angeline Heine said in order to meet multiple national objectives, the government organised its strategy around three pillars.

Heine said as a frontliner on climate change, the Marshall Islands was committed to meeting its NDC objective of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

"Our goal is ambitious but our electricity roadmap has identified three key priorities which address the technology, human resources and investment components of the plan," she told the meeting.

"We believe this ensures our transition is owned and advanced by the Marshall Islands people."

COP26 allows countries to submit enhanced NDCs by revising mitigation and adaptation targets, finance goals and developing concrete action plans for the implementation, formulation and communication of long-term emission reduction strategies agreed to in 2020.

Red alert warning for the planet

While the Covid-19 pandemic continued to dominate global attention and resources, the Pacific still faced the threat of climate change.

The UK-based New Climate Institute said governments needed to halve emissions by 2030 if they wanted to keep global warming within 1.5-degrees of pre-industrial levels.

This is the threshold recommended by scientists to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change.

A set of national climate policies submitted to the recent COP26 Pacific Islands Roundtable on Urgent Climate Change claimed that meeting their targets would see emissions stabilised by 2030.

But Pacific leaders were warning the planet was already on a climate red alert.

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.. Photo: Supplied

Tuvalu is one of the islands on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Its Prime Minister Kausea Natano said that in 2019 alone, the climate disaster cost the world $US150 billion.

Yet Natano, who is also chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, said carbondioxide levels are at record highs, and rising.

He said in 2020, the upward trends continued despite Covid-19.

"The latest scientific evidence shows that this is causing our seas to rise, our oceans to warm and is increasing the intensity of extreme weather events - inflicting damage and destruction on our people, our peoples, our ecosystems, economies and countries.

"Five years on from the Paris Agreement, we must now ask ourselves: Are we making the necessary policy and behavioural change to keep us under 1.5-degree pathway.

"From the perspective of the Blue Pacific, the answer is simple. No, we are not."

The New Climate Institute said some nations had yet to submit a climate plan while others, such as Australia, were being judged for not offering any substantial improvement on previous proposals.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama agreed.

People of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall to struggle against sea level rise cause by global warming.

People of Kiritimati coral atoll building a stone seawall to struggle against sea level rise cause by global warming. Photo: AFP

Bainimarama warned of the dangers of high-polluting countries not curtailing their greenhouse gas emissions and committing to meaningful net-zero targets.

The Fijian leader said the 'cost of inaction is everything'.

"I refuse to let Fiji and our Pacific island friends be some sacrificial canary for coal-burning countries and high-emitting companies.

"We must not stand idly by and watch the world's most vulnerable countries suffer - only to warn other wealthier nations that their own fate will soon follow.

"This is not only Fiji's climate emergency, it is the world's emergency."

Bainimarama's Samoan counterpart, Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, said the Kainaki2 Declaration called on the international community to join the Blue Pacific and take bold, decisive and transformative action.

Tuila'epa said Samoa's enhanced climate change actions indicate his country's commitment to be a part of the solution despite our 'insignificant greenhouse gas emissions.

"We cannot allow Covid-19 to disrupt ambitious climate action," he said.

"These are vital to planning and owning our development agenda and to building the resilience of the Pacific, particularly in the face of the pandemic."

Nauru's President Lionel Aingimea said five years on from the Paris talks, the world is still facing an unprecedented climate war.

And for the Pacific, Aingimea said the situation is becoming dire.

"There is no disputing the size or the impacts that we have experienced which will most likely worsen if we continue on this trajectory.

"We need ambitious climate action. Now not five, not 10 or 50 years into the future if we are to secure our children's future."

The Secretary-General of the United Nations visits Tuvalu describing it as "the extreme front-line of the global climate emergency".

The Secretary-General of the United Nations visits Tuvalu describing it as "the extreme front-line of the global climate emergency". Photo: United Nations in the Pacific

Meanwhile, the COP26 Presidency has welcomed the Pacific's commitment to energy transition ahead of the global climate conference in November.

COP26 chief Alok Sharma said the message coming from regions like the Pacific had a 'moral urgency'.

And Sharma said the world could not ignore it.

"I hear what you're saying," he told the Pacific summit. "That climate change is the single, greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of your people.

"I'm committed to working with you throughout my COP presidency - to make sure that your voices are heard, to address the issues that matter most to you. And to find practical solutions."

The UN secretary-general António Guterres is on the same page as Pacific leaders.

He said governments were nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Treaty.

Guterres wants the world's major emitters to 'step up' with much more ambitious targets on their emission reductions.

"Decision-makers must walk the talk," he said. "Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and the planet so desperately need."