Jul 20, 2019 Last Updated 3:02 AM, Jul 19, 2019

January (9)

AFTER years of dependence on fossil fuels, the good news from the international agency on renewable energy, IRENA is that the cost of technology on renewables are falling, and that by 2020, the average cost of power generation of all commercially available renewable energy technologies would be competitive with oil.

“Since 2009, solar PV module costs have fallen by more than 80%,” said IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, hosted by the United Arab Emirates in its capital of Abu Dhabi, in one of its recent reports.

“The power generated by solar PV declined by 73 per cent between 2010 and 2017. Onshore wind costs have also fallen sharply. The global weighted average cost of electricity from onshore wind fell by 22% between 2010 and 2017, making it one of the most competitive sources of electricity available today.”

With IRENA confirming that RE technology is being widely available and cheaper, the onus now is on politicians to ensure that such lower costs trickle down to their population.

This will be so true for islands in the Pacific, members of the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) who for years had complained about high prices of fossil fuels that had strangled their desire to grow their small and vulnerable economies, burdened as they are already with limited natural resources and expensive transportation costs.

Indeed, another report of IRENA was more direct in stating the obvious, that these small states stand to benefit the Costs tumble in renewable energy most if the world shifts towards adopting renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

“Fossil fuel imports currently amounts to 8 per cent of GDP for SIDS worldwide. The shift therefore to renewable energy would cut import bills, promote sustainable development and increase their resilience,” said the IRENA report ‘A New World.’

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BOUGAINVILLEANS are to vote in June this year to decide whether to remain part of Papua New Guinea or to be independent.

The national government has tasked the Bougainville Referendum Commission (BRC) to formulate and finalise the questions that will be on the ballot paper and the tentative dates for the referendum.

On the ground in Bougainville, there has been a lot of preparatory work including public awareness programmes and activities to help people understand the process.

Elected leaders in PNG’s three-tier government system on Bougainville have helped in awareness works in the three electorates of North, Central and South Bougainville. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has warned Bougainville to be wary of possible outside interference in the lead up to the referendum. He said such interferences could come in the form of misinformation.

The former prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern has been appointed by the Joint Supervisory Body as chair of the BRC. During his term as prime minister, Ahern was involved in negotiations between parties to bring about peace in Northern Ireland.

He has since been involved in facilitating peace in other hot spots around the world including Ukraine, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey and the Basque Country.

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FIJI’S Catholic Church will consider the closure of its schools and public protests if it cannot successfully resolve an impasse with the Ministry of Education over the appointment of school heads.

But any form of civil disobedience will be the final option for consideration only if three other proposals fail. Archbishop of Suva Dr Peter Loy Chong and church leaders met Education Permanent Secretary Alison Burchell early this month following the appointment of non-Catholics to head key church schools.

After raising objections publicly, Archbishop Chong proposed that meeting in an effort to find compromise.

After some heated discussions and the refusal of the Education Ministry to agree to common grounds, the Archbishop of Suva issued a statement where he asked for support and prayers “in this process of continued discernment.”

“Since there were strong reactions in social and mainstream media to the sudden appointments of non-Catholic principals to Catholic schools, particularly to Xavier College and St. Thomas’ High School, Archbishop Chong wrote a letter to the Minister for Education, Hon. Rosy Akbar, requesting that the two Monfort Brothers remain in their positions.

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Going Renewable

Pacific island states take the lead in energy transformation

WITH the world going out in a large way towards adopting green and clean energy that is renewable, it makes no ecological or economic sense for any country in the Pacific not to be part of this exciting phenomenon.

For figures do not lie. More and more nations around the globe are switching to solar, wind or hydro energy. In fact in 2017 alone, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that an additional 167 GW of renewable capacity were installed around the world. That is enough capacity to power a country as big as Brazil.

The good news does not end there. With the increasing uptake of renewable, the costs are tumbling to record lows. Prices of solar PV module for instance have fallen by around 80% since the end of 2009, according to IRENA. Wind turbine prices on the other hand have dipped by 30 to 40%.

The agency calculates that prices of renewable can outmatch natural gas prices in fact. Abundant resources, coupled with strong enabling frameworks have caused solar PV prices to crash to below 3 cents per kilowatt hour and dispatchable concentrated solar power (CSP) of 7.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Thanks to the foresight of island leaders and their policy advisers, some islands of the region are giants in this field. Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand to the north of Samoa, is already running on solar power 100 per cent. Samoa and the Cook Islands are almost there, with 80% of their energy needs now powered either through solar or hydro.

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No more tokens please

Australia needs to treat the Pacific with a little more respect

THE flying visit by Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, this month through Fiji and Vanuatu has been hailed as the beginning of a new era in regional détente.

It was the first bi-lateral visit made by an Australian prime minister in more than 20 years – a period in which China has increased its sphere of influence throughout the Pacific.

At this point in geo-political relations, Beijing can argue that it probably has the ears of every Pacific leader while Canberra can no longer claim to have such an audience.

With China and India increasing their economic powers and political influence and a belligerent heavily armed neighbour – Indonesia – on its northern border, Australia has been forced into its current position.

Australia has been forced to return to its eastern neighbours for whom it was Big Brother post-World War II until John Howard decided to play global policeman with the United States.

Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama is not the first leader of his country to turn the nation’s focus north after being rebuffed by the Australians for the illegal takeover of an elected government.

In 1987 Sitiveni Rabuka sought alliances with Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea in order to equip his burgeoning military which plays an unsupervised influence over national politics.

As Rabuka mellowed and moved from military ruler to statesman, he courted the Commonwealth and warmed previously frozen relationships with Australia and New Zealand.

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FIVE countries and one region are going to the polls this year to get a fresh and new mandate from their electorate, and while this will no doubt provide interesting results, the trend to watch though in 2019 may be something beyond the result that comes out of the ballot box. How China pushes its influence through its much touted Belt and Road Initiative through and over the islands of Oceania is predicted to be the development that will keep analysts and commentators busy over the coming months.

Ramification of the paradigm shift in the world’s geopolitics has been felt in some parts of the Pacific very early in 2019. The region’s first woman leader of an independent state in the Pacific, President Hilda Hein of the Marshall Islands narrowly survived a confidence motion against her in her island’s legislature and she accused China for influencing her opponents to introduce the motion. The country she leads is one of the five that will be holding general elections during the year, and for someone who came into power by default, her bid to win another new term from the electorate will be closely followed.

January also saw a whirlwind tour of Vanuatu and Fiji by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He stayed away from last year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders summit in Nauru, so the decision to do island hopping intrigued not a few observers of regional politics. The disquiet about China’s growing influence in the islands, and its championing of its Belt and Road Initiative with millions of Yuan of aid no doubt was one of the factors that prompted the visit.

News that Vanuatu had entered into a $130m aid agreement with China during the summit President Xi Jinping held with Pacific Island leaders at the margins of the Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting that Papua New Guinea hosted last November no doubt triggered alarm bells in Canberra. Fiji on the other hand had indicated its willingness to partner with Australia, not Beijing in the development of its military training base near Nadi International Airport, on the west coast of the country’s main island.

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Falling short at COP24

TOO watered down and stripped of a clear sense of urgency is how some experts have labelled the outcomes of COP24 at the southern Polish city of Katowice last month.

Representatives of countries that are members of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were bogged down on the exact language of the rule book of the Paris Agreement that COP24 was supposed to produce during the two week-long negotiations.

They could not agree for instance on whether to welcome or simply note the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 1.5C. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait were identified as countries that refused to “welcome” the IPCC report.

At the end, the compromised wording in the final text was that “timely completion” of the report was “welcomed” and countries were “invited” to make use of the report.

A few decisions could not be made due to the lack of consensus. This included article 6 rules for voluntary carbon markets. Agreement on this was reportedly hijacked by Brazil, so the matter has been carried forward to COP25, which Chile will now host late December 2019 or early January 2020.

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BOTH government and opposition parties in Australia have outlined a renewed commitment to the Pacific, as voters prepare to go to the polls.

In recent months, the Coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced more than $3 billion worth of infrastructure and security initiatives in the Pacific. However it’s unlikely that Morrison will get to spend this money. National elections must be held by May, and opinion polls suggest that the opposition Australian Labour Party (ALP) led by Bill Shorten will win a crushing victory.

Despite positive economic data, many workers have seen little wage growth during the period of Coalition government between 2013 and 2018. Relations between the governing Liberal and National parties are tense, as the government stumbles from scandal to scandal. Above all, there are unresolved tensions within the Liberal Party after the dumping of three prime ministers since 2013. Internal faction fighting saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, who was then replaced in August 2018 by Scott Morrison, after a failed putsch by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (with six changes of Prime Minister since 2007, Voreqe Bainimarama is pleased that Canberra has replaced Suva as the coup capital of Oceania).

In states like Queensland, small but significant numbers of voters have turned away from the major parties towards Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or other Right-wing forces. These groups call for cuts to overseas aid and restrictions on foreign workers coming to Australia, which sits uneasily with Canberra’s pledge of “stepping up” in the Pacific.

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Eleven days after the Nauru PIF Leaders’ Meeting last September, the Premier of Niue, Sir Toke Talagi, said on Radio New Zealand that “the Pacific Islands Forum is stuck in limbo and making little progress.” Considering Sir Toke’s standing in the region, having been in various leadership roles for his country and in the region since 2002 and the timing of the statement after the Forum’s premier annual gathering, it can be said that such an
utterance was made with much thought. As such, it should not be taken lightly. However, it can be subjected to close analysis to get to the nub of the issue; which can help to re-direct our compass to re-set Pacific regionalism; and to the realisation of our collective aspirations.

Purely from a pedantic linguistic perspective, Sir Toke’s statement is oxymoronic. To be ‘stuck in limbo’ implies that one or something is unable to move from one position to another. It follows therefore that one or something cannot make any progress when ‘stuck in limbo’. However, Sir Toke clarified that the Forum was making progress, albeit, little. He substantiated his comment by his lack of success in trying to increase funding for climate change activities and by his dissatisfaction with the fisheries license systems not doing enough to combat illegal fishing. He also implied the lack of capacity building in Niue and, as such, he is considering appointing youth ambassadors to be posted out to various Forum countries to learn about these issues.

It can be envisaged therefore that the situation depicted by the Premier is best characterised by the Forum being ‘in limbo’ rather than ‘stuck in limbo.’ Being ‘in limbo’ carries the meaning that whilst the Forum may depict conditions of neglect and oblivion - specifically or generally, these do not rule out moving from one position to another. This article assumes such an analytical lens to assess one aspect of Pacific regionalism, aimed ssentially at securing learnings to direct our way forward.

In 1971, the inaugural meeting of the then South Pacific Forum was a joint one that followed separate meetings of two caucuses – one for the founding five independent Pacific Island Countries and the other for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). In a 2015 report to Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, I listed 14 issues identified by the 1971 Joint Communique (the only one to date) for regionalism. Those that were aimed at regional economic integration included ‘the possibility of establishing an economic union.’

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