PRESS STATEMENT - [3 October 2011, Rarotonga, Cook Islands] - Renewable energy is no longer an option, but an imperative for the Pacific region.The Cook Islands, Japan and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat last week joined forces to send a strong message that renewable energy was no longer an option - but an imperative for the Pacific region.
Speaking at the signing ceremony for the Rakahanga US$1m PV Project, the Forum Secretariat's Deputy Secretary General, Feleti Teo, Ambassador of Japan, Mr Hideto Mitamura and Cook Islands Prime Minister, Hon Henry Puna, reiterated that for the Pacific region to be true to its words, it must invest heavily in renewable energy - backed up with strong political will.
Mr Teo said Forum Leaders in 2009 declared climate change the greatest challenge of our time, threatening the very viability of some Pacific communities.
"Again in 2011 through the Waiheke Declaration on Sustainable Economic Development, Forum Leaders committed themselves to improving energy security through greater efficiency measures and the promotion of clean and affordable energy, including renewable energy."
"Now is the time to act," Mr Teo said. "The Rakahanga project is a step in the right direction and I commend strongly the Cook Islands Government for its efforts in the area of renewable energy."
The Rakahanga project is funded by the Pacific Environment Community (PEC) Fund, a commitment by the Government of Japan of ¥6.8 billion (approx US$66 million) to support Forum Island Country (FIC) projects with a focus on the provision of solar power generation systems and sea water desalination plants, or a combination of both.
Each FIC has an indicative country allocation of US$4 million under the PEC Fund.
Cook Islands' Rakahanga project
The Rakahanga project will provide significant benefits to the people of Rakahanga by increasing access to a reliable and secure supply of electricity from power generated by solar panels 24 hours a day.
It is expected that the project will displace the need for generator fuel, unless there is an emergency and will result in fuel cost savings. In the long term, the cost savings accumulated will represent significant savings that can be utilised in other priority service areas.
Prime Minister Puna said that in choosing the order of islands for energy conversion, the most vulnerable and most isolated was chosen.
"This is to emphasise that our people's energy needs - even those islands with the smallest number of inhabitants - represent a genuine concern for us and must be taken care of with a sense of economic and environmental responsibility."
He said that having lived on an isolated island like Manihiki, a neighbouring atoll to Rakahanga, the economics of doing this made sense.
"The cost of living and doing anything on those islands are dictated by the price of oil. From food to education to infrastructure and doing business - as the price of oil continuously increases, so does the cost of living and doing business. Those who cannot pay the price either leave our shores or abstain from using electricity in their homes."
He said Rakahanga, like Manihiki, depended very heavily on the health and wellbeing of its lagoon and environment to support livelihoods including pearl farming.
"We know very well that the use of fossil fuels is a big contributor to carbon emission into the atmosphere which is a significant contributor to climate change. Although our emissions are very tiny compared to bigger countries, and the impact of natural disasters are much harsher on us, we all need to work together to do our bit to make sure our environment can sustain us and future generations, and ensure our small islands like Rakahanga stay above water."
"We all know renewable energy is a necessity for the Pacific, especially for Smaller Island States like the Cook Islands. Pacific leaders have affirmed this many times. It is our lifeline, to save us from the economic and environmental degradation of fossil fuels. I can tell you that the Cook Islands will be quick to take that lifeline, hence the short timeline in achieving our policy targets. What we have done this morning is the start of moving on that journey."
Ambassador Mitamura said he was delighted that the Cook Islands had become the second country to receive funding among the 14 Pacific island countries. Samoa was the first to access the PEC Fund in June this year.
"I wish success for the implementation of this project, not only contributing to the Cook Islands' goal of generating 50% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2015 and 100% by 2020, but also becoming an example of good practice for future projects to be funded by the PEC Fund, both in the Cook Islands and in other Forum Island Countries," he said.
With just over US$1m million assigned to the Rakahanga project, the Cook Islands still has an allocation of approximately US$3m remaining in the PEC Fund.
Mr Puna said the Government is now developing two further proposals to utilise the remainder of its indicative allocation.
In May of 2009 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders met with the Government of Japan at the 5th Pacific Island Leaders Meeting (PALM 5) in Hokkaido, Japan. At the PALM 5 Summit, Leaders issued the Islanders' Hokkaido Declaration which reaffirmed Leaders' commitment to collaborate and cooperate on a wide range of issues.
A significant part of the Declaration was the launch of the PEC Fund, under which Japan provided a ¥6.8billion (approximately US$66 million) contribution to Forum Island Countries to tackle environmental issues. These funds will be used to support projects with a focus on the provision of solar power generation systems and sea water desalination plants.
A PEC Project Management Unit (PMU) has been set up at the Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, tasked with administering and managing the PEC Fund. The PMU is guided by a Joint Committee (JC), chaired by the Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat. The JC comprises senior representatives of the Japanese Government and the Forum Secretariat. A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) comprising nominated experts in the fields of climate change, renewable energy, water and sanitation has been set up to appraise project proposals and make recommendations to the JC.
Accessing the PEC Fund
Access to individual country allocations under the PEC Fund is undertaken in a two phase process. Phase one involves submission of project Concept Notes from FICs to the Forum Secretariat. Once appraised by the PEC Project Management Unit and a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), and if the outcome is positive, the FIC is then invited to progress to phase two which involves the development of a detailed project proposal for consideration and final approval by the PEC Fund Joint Committee.