Last week, the Pacific Island archipelago of Tokelau turned on the first of three solar-power plants. Once all three are online, it will be able to switch off it’s diesel generators. Meanwhile, not far away, Tonga is also undergoing a rapid transition to renewable energy. The first solar-powered plant it has switched on will help Tonga save 470,000 litres of diesel annually for 25 years. And that’s just the start of their plans for solar. Tokelau and Tonga are not alone in the Pacific – just about every Pacific Island nation has plans in action to make the switch from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy. As the renewable energy revolution spreads across the Pacific ocean, there’s important lessons for the world:
1. Make fossil fuels more expensive and renewables will win. Getting diesel to remote Pacific Island nations is expensive, and it makes energy very expensive. If you read the reports for why the New Zealand Government funded the Tongan solar powered-plant, it wasn’t because it would be good for the climate. Actually the New Zealand Government’s recent performance on climate change is not pretty. Domestically, they have created new subsidies and opened swathes of new land to oil and coal mining. So the New Zealand Government is hardly a strong proponent of renewable energy – or of climate solutions. The reason it supported renewable energy in Tonga was because of the economics. Renewable energy is much more cost-effective than constantly importing diesel.
This is a great demonstration of how fast the global transition to renewables could happen if Governments got serious about putting a price on carbon pollution. Make economies pay the true cost for fossil fuels and renewables quickly start winning.
2. Take out the influence of the fossil fuel industry and leaders act on renewable energy. The Pacific Islands is kind of an annoying place for the fossil fuel industry – small economies and demand, spread far apart, and not much oil or coal to drill for. When you travel around the islands, the fossil fuel industry is still visible in the major towns, but it has nothing like the reach and influence they do in other parts of the world. This has meant that the fossil fuel industry is not polluting the airwaves with fossil fuel propaganda, it’s not lobbying so actively against climate change policies and renewable energy plans. Implementing solar-plants is not a simple process either, but without the destructive influence of the fossil fuel industry, leaders in the Pacific Islands have taken on the challenges of renewable energy and are ovecoming them.
Sure, the situation is always more complicated than these generalisations here (for example different scales of economies etc) – but both of these are important lessons and reassurances we can take – from the fact that the Pacific Islands are winning the renewable energy race. Now to help the rest of the world catch up: as a global movement we need to be pushing for genuine, non-corrupted pricing on carbon emissions, and campaigning hard against the fossil fuel industry to clear the airwaves of their fossilized influence and exploitation.