FEATURE: Partnerships, cooperation focus of UN sustainable energy summit

Polynesian canoe voyage among the small island developing states in the Pacific. Photo: UNEP

5 June 2014 – "We need to form partnerships and investments on energy," a senior official from Fiji said today at the United Nations Headquarters, echoing calls from other diplomats, business partners and civil society who traveled to New York to do exactly that, as they also celebrated World Environment Day and the launch of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

"Climate change is a threat to national security and a threat to the fabric of our society," Ravinesh Nand, a senior energy analyst at the Fiji Department of Energy told the audience gathered for a panel discussion on small islands and clean energy.

"The threat is not an issue for the future," he warned, "it is now."

Fiji is one of 52 countries and territories classified as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) by the UN and grouped by shared characteristics such as fragile natural environments, high costs for energy and heavy dependence on remote, external markets.

The States are also heavily dependent on fossil fuels and conventional biomass that negatively impact the environment on which most island nations depend to boost the lives and livelihoods of their people.

"November to April used to be the hurricane season. Now it is January through December," Lord Ma'afu, Lands and Environment Minister of Tonga, told the panel. Cyclone Ian hit the South Pacific archipelago on January 10, bringing winds of up to 270kmh and causing almost complete destruction to the northern islands of Haapai. Thousands of people were displaced and more than 100 lost their homes. In addition, the majority of the fresh water drinking supply was lost.

"The things that Tonga is really looking at are finance and adaptation," Lord Ma'afu told UN News Centre afterwards, stressing the need to start the process of accessing funds for mitigation and adaptation purposes.

"There is a lot of talk about billions and billions of dollars available. We are doing a lot in the Pacific, but all the talkfest of how much is available for adaptation and mitigation is not actually touching the ground. A lot of the money seems to be spent on an annual basis to just have another talkfest," the Minister said walking by a model solar panel.

"My message would be - let's stop talking, let's start acting...," he continued, adding that there is a lack of political will from the Member States controlling the purse strings. "We want the political will from the other side that has the funding."

Lord Ma'afu and Mr. Nand delivered their strong calls to action during a panel discussion to mark World Environment Day, as part of a three-day UN Sustainable Energy Forum, named after the initiative Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched in 2011 with the aim of making sustainable energy for all a reality by 2030.

This week's summit is meant to draw attention to the initiative. It will also draw attention to Mr. Ban's climate summit, which will be convened in September in New York, to garner support for a legally-binding climate change treaty aimed at limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

This past April, while in the United Arab Emirates to address leaders weighing action on climate change at the Abu Dhabi Ascent, Mr. Ban met with representatives from the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, a network supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), to promote debate and discussion around better use of fuel economy.

"Energy efficiency is so unsexy," said Sheila Watson, Director of Environmental Issues at the FIA Foundation. "For years, everyone wanted to talk about new technologies. But actually [fuel efficiency] is crucial, it's free money basically; $2 trillion dollars [in savings] by 2025 is just free money that we are throwing away. And I think 'Sustainable Energy for All' [initiative] has really pushed the whole thing onto the agenda."

The $2 trillion is the estimated amount that FIA says could be saved through 2025 with improvements to fuel economy. The issue is particularly pertinent to the islands, which are likely to see increased car use in the next few years.

Mauritius, also a small islands development State, doubled its use of cars between 2002 and 2012, Ms. Watson said. Based on this number of cars, a fuel economy policy could save one billion liters of gasoline and decrease its carbon dioxide output by 2,500 kilotons.

"I don't know if there is a politician alive who does not want to get money back. Certainly finance ministers can get pretty interested when you're talking about savings," she told the UN News Centre.

Ms. Watson spoke on the same panel as Lord Ma'afu and Mr. Nand, and afterwards, some officials approached her to discuss further partnerships.

"SIDS are just like everyone else in many ways. They face the same kinds of issues - lack of resources, a growing car fleet. It's relevant to them because it is relevant to anyone," she noted.

That is a bit of what the Forum is meant to encourage: the creation of partnerships between the different representatives, including the hundreds of businesses, academics and non-governmental organizations in attendance.

"The political will is there," Mr. Nand told the UN News Centre following his presentation, pausing every so often to shake hands and take pamphlets and cards from passersby.

"I think what is lacking is on the financial side. We need to form partnerships and [generate] investments," he continued. "We have done our ground work in terms of feasibility studies and identification of gaps. We need some project developers and implementation partners."

"Fiji is a small country, and in some areas, we do not have the technical capacity. For example, geothermal resources have big potential, but we do not have the technical capacity," he said. "The UN and other international and regional agencies provide the expertise to develop such projects."

In early September, the Government of Samoa will host the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in its capital Apia. The focus will be sustainable development of small island developing states through genuine and durable partnerships.


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