Samoa should seize the moment on climate debate
Samoa may be small but for the moment we are having outsized influence on the international stage.
The fourth Regional Energy and Transport Ministers Meeting which took place in Apia this week was dedicated to finding solutions for the next frontier in the fight to reduce transport emissions: shipping.
Sea transportation remains the engine for much of the global consumer economy.
For Pacific countries, sea freight is even more important; for island nations it is nothing short of economic lifeblood.
And yet despite being responsible for some three per cent of the world’s total emissions, major international conventions such the 2015 Paris Agreement or the COP24 Summit in Poland have been relatively silent on its impact.
"We envision low-carbon futures for the Pacific maritime industry that would lead to the development and empowerment of our private sector, to building the capacity within the region to design and operate new technology and new vessels,” the Minister of Works, Transportation and Infrastructure, Papali'i Niko Lee Hang, said on Monday.
And with perfect timing Samoa was on hand this week to provide an example of what the low-carbon vessel of the future might look like.
The installation of two solar panels on the MV Lady Samoa III represents a small change to the vessel’s exterior but with major impacts to its operating impact.
Early analysis suggests the panels can cut the ship’s consumption of energy while idling by up to 40 per cent. Operating costs, too, are down by an estimated 70 per cent.
The ferry is a small example but taken together with a litany of other projects such as the Faleata hydropower scheme; the Piu biogas pilot at Falealili; and the forthcoming biomass gasification plant Mulifanua it shows a nation punching above its weight in climate innovation.
We have six years to go to reach our target of transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025.
The Electric Power Corporation announced on Friday that renewables currently provide about half of the national power supply.
There is reason to be proud of this progress. And our peers, Transport Ministers from nations such as Fiji and Niue, have rightly praised us for providing leadership on adaptation to climate change.
Transitioning our economy to the last mile and reaching our 100 per cent target will entail myriad challenges.
Chief among these obstacles is attracting and retaining the technical expertise to build and maintain renewable projects and reliably connect them to the grid. And the projects, while often economically viable in their own right, require big up-front investments which means, often, external support. Technology, too, particularly battery storage, still needs to come a long way.
But for the meantime Samoa is providing leadership in the Pacific region but also a broader category of nations known as “small island developing states” currently exerting rare influence on the international stage.
Evidence of that is on display in New York this month.
Next Friday an entire session of the United Nations General Assembly will be devoted to reviewing the progress of the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway (Small island developing states Accelerated Modalities of Action) which was established at a 2014 summit in Apia.
Meanwhile as reported in the Thursday edition of this newspaper China’s Ambassador to Samoa, Chao Xiaoliang, signalled that country’s intention to bolster emissions reduction efforts.
“China will also step up its efforts and do its best to make [a] positive contribution to the sustainable and green development of Pacific Islands Countries and jointly rekindle confidence in global cooperation,” the Ambassador wrote.
These are welcome sentiments. And they show that we have the world’s attention.
The question is what we do with it.
But as the recent Pacific Island Forum meeting in Tuvalu showed even in our own backyard nations such as Australia are proving recalcitrant on the push to phase out the use of coal-powered energy.
One answer to these challenges is to better marshal the combined negotiating power of the region.
As the Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Leota Kosi Latu, noted that there is an opportunity to connect the many different approaches and strategies to climate change across the region into one coherent framework.
This would be a welcome step. But a coherent approach to negotiation could be even better.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs says there are 57 small island developing states world-wide: that amounts to just under one-third of the U.N. General Assembly.
The potential is immense.
Have a wonderful weekend, Samoa. And God bless.