Pacific can lead the world in renewables: UN | Pacific Beat

Pacific can lead the world in renewables: UN

Pacific can lead the world in renewables: UN

Updated 27 March 2013, 11:27 AEST

The United Nations top climate change official says the drive for renewable energy in the Pacific can serve as a model for the rest of the world to emulate.

The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, is in Auckland, to attend the Pacific Energy Summit.

NZ's Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, has challenged the Pacific countries with a series of targets, including a renewable energy level of 50 percent.

Secretary Figueres says the targets are tough, but not unrealistic.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

FIGUERES: They are ambitious, but they are doable. All of the Pacific nations have a very, very heavy dependency on the importation of diesel in particular for their electricity generation and that has a huge toll on their national budget that needs to import this very expensive and actually unpredictable, volatile prices of diesel. So they have realised that they can actually improve their export-import balance, they can improve their budgetary situation by resorting to national domestic energy sources from renewable energy that actually give them cheaper, dependable, cleaner energy sources and they already have concrete examples. Tokelau is already 100 per cent renewable, Tonga well on its way with well over 2.5 megawatts of different types of renewables, the Marshall Islands already with all of its outer island, homes already renewable. So they're already on their way and many more of them learning from the current examples and applying them at home.

EWART: So perhaps then, it's not so much the targets that are ambitious, as the financing of the projects that led to those targets being achieved and I gather part of what the summit is all about is people making connections and looking where there might be funding available, where they're might be deals available. Are you seeing a lot of that happening?

FIGUERES: Yes, exactly. It's not targets that are the challenge, it's not even the technologies that are challenges, because the technology is there. It's how do you put all of that together, how do you create the enabling environment, the policy framework, the institutional support in each of the islands that will allow for this transformation. How do you put together the financing, which will never come from one source, but rather has to be a blend of different instruments, a blend of sources, and how do you put the partnerships together, and that's exactly what this summit is looking at, Because there are representatives here from many of the financial institutions that are active in the Pacific area. There are, of course, numbers of government that are responsible for their national policy and there are members of the private sector, all talking to each other to figure out what is the particular combination of their efforts that will be an effective response for each Pacific Island, because there's no one equation, no one recipe that is going to be fit for all of them.

EWART: Now, of course, we're talking about a group of countries which are small in size and small in terms of population, so perhaps what they are able to achieve would be more difficult for a larger more heavily populated country or not. I mean do you think the Pacific countries can serve as an inspiration, as an example to larger countries?

FIGUERES: I do think they can serve as an inspiration, they can serve as a model, they can help to create the new norm and just as the solution for one island is not necessarily the solution for another island. The same is true if you go from this level of economy to larger economies, where, of course, the solution of an island is not going to be applicable to the solution in a larger economy.

Having said all of that, there are lessons learned that can be taken from the different successful examples and applied in different combinations to also help other countries to move toward renewables.

One very interesting example, also timely example, is last week, the United Arab Emirates, which is, of course, a very heavily fossil fuel exporting country inaugurated 100 megawatts of concentrated solar power, so proving that even those countries that are not just dependent on fossil fuels, but are actually the main exporters of fossil fuels are also moving in the direction of renewable energy, because it makes sense to them.

EWART: What about the political aspects of what is happening here. Because again, for the Pacific countries, because of their size, if they are able to get to a situation where they're totally reliant on renewable energy and they no longer need to import diesel. That is not going to have a huge impact on the diesel manufacturers is it, but larger countries plainly, if they start cutting back on the amount of oil they use, the knock on affect will be huge and the oil industry is so strong?

FIGUERES: Yes, and that's why the transformation of the energy systems on small islands from being dependent on diesel, to moving towards renewables, that in itself is not going to be the answer to climate change, because the consumption of diesel in the area is so low, compared to other economies. So it's very, very clear that's while they can inspire, while they can provide lessons and models, that is not going to be the solution. The solution is the larger global transformation toward renewable energy, that does not exclude presence of some hydro-carbons. We will always have the presence of some hydro-carbons. What is very clear is that the growth of new energy, which will duplicate over the next few years have to come from renewables. It's not about displacing hydro-carbons fully.

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