Nowhere is this more urgent than in Pacific island states for two obvious reasons: firstly, because they are beginning to pay the price of climate change and need to set an example. The second is purely economic: the exorbitant price of fuel (likely only to escalate) and the abundance of renewable energy sources already available — such as coconut oil, solar, wind, geothermal and hydro options — make the transition towards renewable energy sources for the islands a no-brainer.
Children play near newly carved canoes, made from breadfruit trees, on Piul Island.
According to most analysts, 'peak' oil is already a reality with another major oil shock and massive price spikes not far off. Meanwhile the capital costs of renewable energy equipment — particularly solar — continues on a downward trend, making it more affordable for individuals and communities alike.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Industrialised economies based on petroleum products are already feeling the pinch. They'll find it much harder to readjust to new energy sources and means of production than island states who don't have a large industrial sector, but are largely based on agriculture and tourism. As industrialised countries look increasingly to nuclear power to generate their base-load requirements, this too will prove a short-term solution since uranium is a finite source that can only supply reactors already built (not new) for another 50-60 years. They are merely putting off the inevitable need to harness renewables, and in the process exposing nations to the danger of toxic nuclear waste (which has a half-life of 40,000 years), accidents and terrorism.
Industrialised nations face nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way their energy, transport and industrial sectors are retooled to face the challenges ahead. For island states, the transition can be much smoother as they move quickly into renewable energy power generation.
Some countries are already leading the way. According to the Fiji Electricity Authority, Fiji currently has 66 per cent of its power generation coming from renewables (mainly hydro power) with a target of 90 per cent by 2015. Meanwhile, if plans by Tuvalu are implemented, it will become the world's first nation to operate on 100 percent renewable energy. And it hopes to operate on 100 percent solar power before 2020.
In November this year, the Pacific nation of Vanuatu hosted an international conference by the Climate Parliament, made up of more than 30 MPs from small island states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, to strategise ahead of the looming Copenhagen summit.
None of the MPs were optimistic about any concrete action emerging from the summit, since the biggest polluters, such as the United States and China, have so far offered only timid targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the summit may see a lively, even fiery, confrontation between industrialized nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas.
Opening the conference, Secretary General Nick Dunlop threw down the gauntlet:
'Island nations need to be more radical in confronting industrialized countries. US senators are not worried about small island states, they're worried about fulfilling their obligations to the oil and gas lobby that funds them. This is about national survival for some island states, it is the moral equivalent of war. It's time to get radical.'