By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Port Vila

The fight for a fossil fuel free Pacific will not be without its detractors and opposition – but Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is optimistic it can be achieved if Pacific countries stay the course.

Henry Puna was in Port Vila last week when six Forum Island Countries – Fiji, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signed a declaration for a fossil fuel free Pacific. Marshall Islands participated in the ministerial dialogue but was awaiting its capital to endorse the Port Vila Action for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific.

Puna was encouraged by the ambitious call to action – and Pacific nations standing on moral authority to guarantee a future for their peoples, their children, their pristine islands and a future for humanity.

“Despite the enormous fight that we have ahead of us, I am encouraged and proud to see that the Pacific continues to lead the way in the push to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees and a net zero emissions future.

“I know that navigating a Just Transition and getting a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty through the global mechanisms will not be without its detractors and opposition, but we have seen that if we stay the course, these can be achieved as demonstrated by several examples championed by Pacific countries.

The Forum Secretary General highlighted Pacific leadership in three global campaigns – Vanuatu and 116 States that have agreed to co-sponsor the UNGA Resolution for an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Tuvalu and Antigua and Barbuda’s co-sponsorship of the Commission on Small Islands (COSIS) initiative and the Pacific Islands Forum declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of climate change related sea level rise.

“These examples signal to the world to stop looking at us as just Small Island States, but as giants in the fight against climate change. We must use all of the available regional and international mechanisms at our disposal.”

In the coming months, there will be several opportunities to raise the call for a fossil fuel free Pacific and push momentum on a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty – at the Energy Ministers meeting in Vanuatu, the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting and Forum Officials discussions in Nadi later this month and the Forum Leaders meeting in Rarotonga in October this year.

“Let me emphasise that while progressing down the path of Fossil Fuels elimination, we must do so with integrity and with a lense of equity, fairness, consideration of basic human rights including those of women, girls and of the most vulnerable in our communities. It will require whole of systems transformational changes, but we must bring the people along with us, after all this is why we are doing this.

Puna assured ministers from the six Pacific nations – who are now spearheading the Pacific’s campaign – that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and other CROP agencies will provide support to drive this ambition forward – that will ultimately allow our people to live in a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific.

Fiji, one of the countries that signed up to the Port Vila Call to Action, recognises significant economic challenges for the country to secure alternative renewable energy sources if it moves away from using fossil fuels.

Assistant Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sakiusa Tubuna told PACNEWS in Port Vila that transitioning away from fossil fuels is a necessity and is crucial to mitigating the impacts of climate change, ensuring a sustainable future for Pacific island countries and the world.

Assistant Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sakiusa Tubuna and Vanuatu’s Minister of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology and Geo-Hazards, Energy, Environment and Disaster Risk Management , Ralph Regenvanu. Photo: Makereta Komai

Signing up to the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific ensures collective regional solidarity, said Tubuna.

“I think it’s necessary for countries to start to raise their voices on what they think are their priorities. It’s quite critical as part of this regional ministerial network to ensure that the outcome of this meeting is raised and reflected at upcoming regional and global meetings – to demand that ambitious actions needs to be taken.

“What has been lacking in the past has been political will. Through this ministerial dialogue we are exemplifying the political will to call for ambitious and bold actions.

“This call for action is part of the overall process of ensuring we are fossil fuel free – even though we are heavily dependent on it right now. We have to start thinking about actions that we can take to minimise fossil fuel free and invest in renewable energy – particularly the transport sector which chews up the bulk of Fiji’s fossil fuel consumption, said Tubuna.

Fiji depends heavily on imported fossil fuels – which results in high energy prices and a negative impact on the nation’s energy security.

In 2016, fuel imports accounted for 16 percent of Fiji’s total national import bill of USD$346 million. Most of this fuel, mainly gasoline, oil and aviation turbine fuel, is consumed by the transport sector, said Minister Tubuna.

On the proposed Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Fiji is yet to make a decision on joining the global campaign spearheaded by Vanuatu and Tuvalu.

“I will go back and inform cabinet of the decisions taken here through the Port Vila Call to Action. Fiji is already a friend of Beyond Oil and Alliance (BOGA) and we might need to look at how we can intensify our membership for BOGA. At the same time, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty has not been endorsed internationally but we are taking steps to recognise the Treaty, said Minister Tubuna.

Tonga now joins Vanuatu and Tuvalu as the three states from the Pacific that are spearheading the campaign for governments to set up an international mechanism to transition away from fossil fuel dependence, prevent the proliferation of coal, oil and gas by ending all exploration and production and phase out existing production of fossil fuels in line with the 1.5 degrees’ global climate goal.

At the close of the three-day meeting in Port Vila. Ministers and officials from six Pacific countries agreed to ask their leaders to adopt the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Declaration for a just transition to a “Fossil Fuel Free Pacific” when they convene in October in Rarotonga.

The Call to Action will also spearhead a campaign for global phase out of coal, oil and gas production in line with global temperature goal of below 1.5ºC, including at the UN Secretary General’s climate summit in September, at COP28, and beyond.