A European Union Commissioner says moving to renewable energy will give the Pacific Islands a stronger moral mandate to pressure larger countries to follow suit as well as saving them significant amounts of money by reducing dependence on diesel.
EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs is co-hosting the Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland this week. The goal is to reduce the islands' reliance on costly imported diesel for energy down to 50 per cent from the current levels of about 90 per cent. About one quarter of the imports bill for the region is on diesel and New Zealand and European Union have both focused on looking at the question of energy in recent years - a common focus that resulted in the summit.
The primary motive is economic and while it will have some environmental benefits, Mr Piebalgs conceded it would have little impact on the already small carbon emissions of the Pacific Islands - where the main issue is dealing with the effects of climate change rather than reducing emissions.
However, he said reducing their own carbon footprint further would help send a message to larger countries, some of whom were sceptical about renewable energy sources.
"Being a good example by moving to 100 per cent renewable, or getting a substantial increase in renewable energy, gives a good example for bigger economies and increases the leverage to discuss binding climate change agreements for the years to come."
He said it was still an uphill struggle to persuade people that energy efficiency could improve living standards. "If we can prove the island states are doing well with renewable energy, I assume we could also make quite an impact on far bigger economies."
For the EU, Mr Piebalgs committed a further $40 million for energy projects at the summit which is attended by Pacific Island leaders, donor countries, investment banks and private sector energy companies in a bid to get about 80 renewable energy projects up and running in the Pacific Islands. Other measures announced so far include a $5 million solar project in Kiribati, funded by Australia and the World Bank. That is expected to reduce diesel use by up to 230,000 litres a year in the tiny country.
Mr Piebalgs said the fruits of the focus on renewable energy should be apparent in 3- 5 years time after the projects were up and running. New Zealand has helped fund a solar plant in Tonga, the Cook Islands is on track to having renewable energy for all of its electricity needs by 2020 and Samoa already has 40 per cent of renewable energy.
The EU has a total funding package of $156 million for energy programmes and climate change mitigation in the Pacific from 2008 and 2013 and Mr Piebalgs said he was expecting greater funding to be allocated in the next seven year round through to 2020, although it was unlikely to be announced until September because it had to be agreed on by the European Parliament and member countries.
Helen Clark, the head of the UN Development Programme, will speak at the summit today, as well as representatives from Japan, the United Arab Emirates, followed by workshop with the energy sector and investment banks.