Pacific Energy Summit Showcases ‘The New Development Norm’

An aerial view of Marovo Lagoon in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. Photo Credit: United Nations via Flickr Creative Commons
An aerial view of Marovo Lagoon in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. Photo Credit: United Nations via Flickr Creative Commons

Pacific Island Countries are simultaneously at the frontlines of feeling the effects of climate change and creating solutions. Development projects and political commitments in the South Pacific are setting precedents and shifting the global perspective of sustainable energy. The 2013 Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland, New Zealand March 24-26 closed with strong results that will continue to drive investment in sustainable development projects.  New funding of $635 million was secured for projects throughout the Pacific. Similar to Pacific Island Forum meetings, the Summit was preceded by a Pacific Leaders Energy Summit in Nuku’alofa, Tonga that also served as a launching pad for new ideas and to assess existing projects.

 Organized by the Government of New Zealand and the European Union – major funders of development projects and tied to the region economically – the Pacific Energy Summit is another positive example of multilateral cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.  Close to 80 projects were presented at the Summit, enabling donors and the private sector to partner on projects of mutual benefit. Additional sponsors included the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Asia Development Bank and The World Bank. More than half of the $635 million secured will be “in concessional loans to support over 40 of the proposed projects”($380 million), and only $255 million committed will be grant funding.

 UNDP Administrator Helen Clark recently stated that the potential for renewable energy – harnessing wind, sun and tidal opportunities – was the most promising area for development in the Pacific; a significant challenge Clark pointed out, however, is the “tyranny of distance.” Therefore it is critical that Pacific Island Countries remain united in their mutual economic, political and energy goals for the Pacific as the Pacific Island Forum continues to garner additional international observers and the Pacific Plan is reviewed this year.

 The recent Summit’s new funding will enable most Pacific Island Countries to reach a target of obtaining 50% of their energy from renewables within five years; several states are already leading the way. The Tonga Energy Road Map (TERM) was a highlight of the Leaders Summit as a model for a “well-designed and integrated country action” plan. The TERM drew an additional $6.5 million in funding from the European Union over the next three months. Last October, Tokelau became the first nation relying totally on renewable energy, in their case solar energy.

 In a statement on March 22 in Tonga, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres emphasized the overwhelmingly constructive impacts of pursuing renewable energy in the Pacific nationally, regionally and internationally. For example, the Cook Islands, and Tonga spend 30% and 15%, respectively, of their GDPs on importing fossil fuels; those funds could instead be spent on adaptation, education and public health. Additionally, Pacific Island Countries making the switch to renewable energy provides necessary models of successful plans for other states. Figueres calls the plans and actions of the Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu to transition to renewable energy for electricity generation as “a courageous example of what the rest of the world needs to do.”

 Figueres and others have called for Pacific nations to be the catalyst that the international community needs to act on real, workable climate change rules and frameworks. Countries in the Pacific will not be able to “reverse global emission trends,” but they can signal to governments and markets alike that the path toward a green, low carbon economy is irreversible and “the new development norm.” Other small island country leaders such as President of Kiribati Anote Tong and former president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives have played significant advocacy roles within the international community to promote the plight of small states among Climate Change difficulties. Steadily the tide is turning in favor of Pacific development projects, but it may take a continued, concerted effort by a resolute Pacific Island Forum and group of small island leaders to maintain this momentum and convince larger states to change their habits and transition to green economies.

 Was Figueres too bold in her call to action? Are Pacific Island Countries making national plans and setting energy targets that are too ambitious? As Matthew Dornan writes for East Asia Forum, small island nations in the Pacific cannot raise funds necessary for these projects internally; therefore, they must turn to international development grants and soft loans as obtained at the Summit. Ambitious targets indicate to potential funders that a country is more serious about the long-term implications of projects and so the probability is higher that the country will receive more investment. Realistic or not, these targets are a step in the right direction if they are produced from cohesive national and regional plans that seek to consider individual stakeholders.

 The Pacific has been a place for inspiration for internationally acclaimed authors and artists such as Paul Gaguin to Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson since the 1800s. While states work to keep their beaches pristine, oceans full of fish and water supplies sufficient, the sustainable energy projects and forums continue to inspire enthusiasts of renewables and international collaboration alike. Renewable energy benefits the environment, local residents and businesses; however, a one-size-fits-all approach to mitigating climate change, like energy projects in other parts of the world, will not work for the Pacific. To help maintain momentum for the new ‘development norm’ in the Pacific and elsewhere, there is a distinct need to improve media coverage of the challenges and opportunities brought on by Climate Change in the Pacific. The new Carnegie program Ocean Matters is one initiative that helps to bring environmental journalism to the forefront.

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The Change Women Need: Australia and New Zealand Celebrate International Women’s Day in DC

Hon Julie Collins MP from Australia at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson
Hon Julie Collins MP of Australia at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

On International Women’s Day and at the start of Women’s History Month, many national governments, companies and civil society organizations reaffirmed their commitment to women’s issues such as equal pay for equal work, ending violence against women and children, and enabling women in leadership positions. On March 7, the Embassy of Australia hosted a reception with Hon Jo Goodhew MP , Women’s Affairs Minister of New Zealand and Hon Julie Collins MP, Minister for the Status of Women of Australia. Both Goodhew and Collins praised the progress that has been made for economic and political rights of women in their respective countries and suggested that more can still be done, particularly to end violence against women.

Can the rest of the world learn from Australia and New Zealand regarding the role of women in society and politics? The US discourse has, particularly recently, focused on the work and home life balance of women executives in government and high profile companies. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer supply their own versions of how women can ‘have it all’ in pressurized workplaces; however, their situations are not necessarily applicable to most women whether they are in North America or the Asia-Pacific. In Australia and New Zealand women are strongly encouraged to pursue tertiary education in a more egalitarian setting. The gender gap is shrinking for all ethnicities (but at different rates), programs to reduce violence against women are nonpartisan and promoted cohesively nationwide; furthermore, women’s suffrage movements and women in politics have helped to shape national identities.

Recent research by the NZIER found that particularly for younger women and compared to those in other countries, “women in New Zealand are more able, and more likely, to be economically independent today than at any time over the last 30 years.” Women are now more likely than men to obtain tertiary education. While the average earning capacity of women is much less than that of men, according to the report the gap between average pay “is likely to close.”  Rather than focusing on closing the pay gap, then, policy is moving in the direction of examining factors of women’s economic independence such as attitudes toward if and when to have children, preferred approaches to taking care of children, and “drivers of some women’s decisions to end their education without achieving qualifications and in some cases to have children.” Women are making greater strides toward economic equality, and framing progress for women is becoming more complex.

Hon Jo Goodhew MP of New Zealand at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson
Hon Jo Goodhew MP of New Zealand at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

While on Thursday evening both Goodhew and Collins agreed that economic equality remains a significant issue, the continued prevalence of violence against women and children and high profile cases of violence spurred government policy in this area. Too many women experience violence at the hands of governments, military and at home from partners and family members.  Led by Julia Gillard’s Labor government, the 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children establishes a way for all service systems in Australia to come together for “common goals of preventing violence, delivering justice for victims and improving services.”

In New Zealand the Families Commission and Ministry of Social Development (along with local nongovernmental organizations and individuals) support the global initiative White Ribbon Campaign. The Campaign remains the most widespread program promoting involvement by men to end violence towards women. According to the Campaign, in New Zealand one in three women experience “violence from a partner in their lifetime, while on average, fourteen women are killed each year by a member of their own family.” A response to the case of the murdered Kahui twins, turning a blind eye to domestic violence is now unacceptable with the passage of the Crimes Amendment Act (No3). Individuals and nongovernment organizations can take steps to mitigate violence against women and children; ultimately in a democracy elected officials and bureaucrats are empowered by citizens to facilitate progress through legislation and public programs.

New Zealand was the first independent country to allow women the right to vote in 1893, but achieving political and economic equality in the face of stereotyping and other constraints has still been difficult. New Zealand History Online provides a remarkable glimpse of how women were viewed for the first time as voters:

Suffrage opponents had warned that delicate ‘lady voters’ would be jostled and harassed in polling booths by ‘boorish and half-drunken men’, but in fact the 1893 election was described as the ‘best-conducted and most orderly’ ever held. According to a Christchurch newspaper, the streets ‘resembled a gay garden party’ – ‘the pretty dresses of the ladies and their smiling faces lighted up the polling booths most wonderfully’.

Fast forwarding to contemporary times, Australia and New Zealand have both broken gender barriers in national politics. Australia’s current Prime Minister, Hon Julia Gillard is the first female Prime Minister and head of the Labor Party of Australia; as an atheist, childless woman that has never been married (she has a long-term male partner), it is difficult to imagine a woman with such personal characteristics as an elected public leader in the US.  New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister and only female head of the National Party was Jenny Shipley who served from 1997 to 1999; Helen Clark was the first and only woman elected as Prime Minister in the national election and served from 1999 to 2008. As the first woman to be Administrator for the United Nations Development Program, Clark supports women’s interests globally through UNDP programs. Simply having females in political leadership roles helps to shape national opinion and create a more reflective environment as successive generations pursue such positions.

 Initiatives such as the White Ribbon Campaign that try to put men in women’s shoes and gain understanding help facilitate public policymaking and public awareness to end violence against women. Feminist movements and women leaders in Australia and New Zealand have helped correct tendencies of domestic and international political and economic environments “to see only men and masculinities.” If more government programs are instituted with the long-term thinking of Australia’s National Plan and reactive laws such as New Zealand’s Crimes Amendment Act (No3) can institute new social norms against violence, women will have a strong chance at closing more than the economic gap.