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Green growth in Fiji

Global Green Growth Institute
Friday, April 28, 2017

ARGUABLY one of the most beautiful places in the world, Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands with a vibrant culture that proudly celebrates its rich heritage, community life, and national sport, rugby.

Yet, as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Fiji faces a number of development challenges including vulnerability to external shocks, such as climate change, a high dependence on imported fossil fuels, declining land and marine biodiversity because of unsustainable land management and coral reef degradation, and costly infrastructure and services in urban and rural communities.

To tackle these challenges, the Government of Fiji (GoF) has recognised the pivotal role that green growth plays in building a sustainable, inclusive and vibrant economy for all communities.

In developing the 2014 Green Growth Framework (GGF), Fiji identified the need to better harness its natural resources, reduce vulnerability to environmental risks, and promote socially inclusive development.

By adopting green growth, Fiji aims to lead by example, especially in climate change: Fiji was the first country to ratify the UN Paris Climate Agreement, and, now, is the first Pacific Island country to hold the Presidency of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties for the COP23 in Bonn, Germany later this year. The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is assisting Fiji in mainstreaming the GGF into their new National Development Plan (NDP), working in close partnership with the Department of Strategic Planning in the Ministry of Economy.

The collaboration between GGGI and the GoF promotes green growth as the pathway to a strong economy in Fiji that benefits local communities and protects the environment. GGGI is focused, in particular, on supporting two components of Fiji's GGF — plans to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity and turning coconut oil mills into sources of sustainable food and fuel production.

In co-operation with the Government, GGGI is finding new ways to design and implement green energy projects, and reinvigorate existing projects, providing the information and pathway needed for effective and sustainable implementation.

100 per cent renewable electricity target to lead Fiji's green growth

With an ambitious objective to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy-based electricity generation by 2035, delivering green growth for Fiji's communities and businesses is key.

By 2030, the population of Fiji could exceed 1 million, with 61 per cent of people living in major urban centers, exerting significant demands on vital resources, including energy.

To determine the best pathway to achieve Fiji's electricity sector renewable energy goals, GGGI is leading a study to establish how Fiji's third and sixth biggest islands — Taveuni and Ovalau — can become self-sufficient in electricity generation with a secure and sustainable clean energy supply from renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydropower.

By starting small and focusing on these two islands, GGGI expects the study will provide insights that can be replicated and implemented on both the larger and smaller islands by identifying options for transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy-based electricity generation.

Kamal Gounder, principle economic planning officer in the Ministry of Economy, notes that this transition to a greener future "is all about people, the service they will be getting, and the improvements they will see".

Steady and secure electricity will benefit economic productivity on the islands and improve local employment opportunities.

It will also provide lower-income households with electric light for children to study under at night, and better internet access.

Building strong economies based on clean energy

Both Taveuni and Ovalau are poised for increasing electricity demand as economic growth expands and the islands continue their ongoing recovery from the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston, which struck in 2016.

Over the next few years, as the electricity grid is extended, Taveuni is expected to grow in tourism and agricultural productivity.

Yet, apart from the Somosomo hydroelectric plant, the island's energy comes mainly from diesel generators.

Burning fossil fuels such as diesel contributes to global warming, and leaves Fiji exposed to volatile changes in the global price of oil. Although low at the moment, prices have fluctuated considerably in the last ten years and show an increasing long-term trend. GGGI's focus, therefore, is to explore how renewables can create more secure, reliable, and locally sustainable energy for islanders.

On Ovalau, a more secure electricity supply will benefit the PAFCO tuna cannery. The largest employer on the island, the cannery contributes significantly to the island's economy.

At the same time, with a workforce made up of 70 per cent women, the cannery provides job security for many community members. With enhanced productivity and further opportunities for economic growth in local communities, as seen with increased electrification on the mainland, Ovalau's commercial centres and businesses could capitalise on tourism opportunities: Fiji's original capital city and UNESCO World Heritage site, Levuka, is located on the island. Not only could an increase in steady and secure renewable energy help bring more visitors to Levuka, but clean energy would also reduce the noise and air pollution that currently disturbs the site.

Access to clean energy promises to help communities become more resilient to climate change impacts. Cyclones, such as Winston, can destroy energy infrastructure, but having diverse and decentralised sources of clean energy will bring greater security.

Importantly, this clean, green approach directly integrates the local private sector, which sees opportunities to contribute to Fiji's ambition.

"Government and private sector collaboration for new energy access is critical. We have to work together and not in isolation to get it done," says Bruce Clay of Clay Energy, a long-established renewable energy consulting and installation company in the Pacific.

"The GGGI and Government of Fiji approach is making it possible to work with the private sector, bringing all stakeholders together.

"It's a sensible way to tackle power and energy problems in rural areas because there is a market for the private sector here.

"Just look at mobile phones and their uptake; rural renewable energy is heading in the same direction: there is a potentially profitable market."

With Ovalau and Taveuni at a crossroads for energy development, GGGI's study aims to offer a new pathway, steer them away from diesel use, and create more secure and reliable electricity for communities and businesses. Powering the islands with clean, climate-resilient energy could have significant impacts for Fiji and the larger Pacific region.

Katerina Syngellakis, GGGI country representative for Fiji and Vanuatu says, "We're looking at two major islands in Fiji that nobody has looked at before. A complete pathway to 100 per cent renewable energy for smaller islands has not been done in Fiji; there is no road map currently for this on any of the islands. If we can show how it can be done for Ovalau and Taveuni, this can be replicated on other islands."

Coconuts provide the fuel for sustainable communities

Recognising the challenges of both the high cost of importing fuel, and the need for energy security to support the economy, in 2005 the GoF introduced a program to encourage the use of coconuts for biofuels in remote islands.

This included establishing coconut oil processing mills in small, remote islands, with the dual objectives of energy security and rural income generation.

Despite significant investment from the Government to develop a biofuel industry in Fiji, the confluence of the declining price of diesel, internationally, and the resulting lack of market demand for biofuel caused significant issues in the commercialisation and sustainability of the program. Additionally, inadequate logistical set up and market engagement resulted in difficulties producing and selling coconut oil-based biofuel.

These factors severely constrained the operations of the mills and, by 2016, none of the mills invested in were running anywhere near full capacity. Clearly an opportunity was being missed.


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