RAROTONGA, Cook Islands, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- When the tiny Pacific island nation of Tokelau switched on its first solar power system earlier this month, it moved closer to overcoming one of the enormous barriers to development in the region.
With plans to become the world's first 100-percent solar- powered nation by January next year, Tokelau's 1,400 people are freeing themselves from dependence on fossil fuels and the resulting drain on the country's coffers.
Trapped between burning 200 liters of diesel a day 2,000 barrels a year shipped in at an annual cost of 1 million NZ dollars (804,311 U.S. dollars) and finding the funds to establish a sustainable energy network, Tokelau had to rely on larger neighbor New Zealand to advance 7 million NZ dollars towards building the solar power project.
When it is completed, the population spread over three atolls covering just 12 square kilometers will have 150 percent of their current electricity needs.
After years of blackouts lasting six to nine hours every day, they will have power 24-hours a day from a system designed to withstand cyclone force winds of 230 km per hour.
MANAGING THE SEA
Such projects support the core aims of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting this week in the Cook Islands.
Like most small Pacific island states, the Cook Islands too are dependent on imported fossil fuels, which take 30 percent of its GDP, and will be spending 200 million NZ dollars over the next 10 years on renewable alternatives.
It's a priority for a region, whose low-lying island states have more to fear from global climate change and rising sea levels, and one that encompasses both public and private sectors.
But the sea, rather than being a curse, is also being embraced at this year's PIF meeting under the theme "Large Ocean Island States the Pacific Challenge."
Leaders will discuss how to improve their management of the vast ocean expanse that both separates and unites their countries.
The Pacific, which is home to the world's biggest remaining tuna populations and extensive coral reefs, provides bountiful opportunities in both fisheries and tourism.
According to the World Bank, about 45,000 Pacific islanders are involved in commercial fishing and their catches can contribute up to half of the GDP of nations like Kiribati and up to 76 percent of exports.
However, over-fishing, pollution and climate change are all putting the industry at risk.
The World Bank estimates more than 786,000 tonnes of fish are taken illegally from the Pacific every year and the tuna fishery is being depleted as catches hit new annual records.
The ocean is also home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a floating mass of 3.5 million tonnes of rubbish from land and marine sources that is now entering the food chain.
Smaller regional groups such as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu) are trying to improve coordination and policing of the tuna fishery, through scheme like the "vessel days" program that allocates fishing days, which can be used or traded, to each member state.
FINDING A VOICE
By tackling region-wide problems, such as oceans management and energy dependence, Pacific leaders hope also to overcome the social and economic barriers that hinder individual states, such as the inequality of women and struggling private sector economies.
States such as Nauru and Micronesia have no women in their parliaments despite foreign aid to foster women leaders, and other states have very few women legislators.
The governments will be looking to coordinate transport and communications development as well as trade policies across the region so that small businesses can find bigger markets and investment opportunities.
Poor levels of education also need to be raised if the region is to foster entrepreneurs and workers who are increasingly exposed to the global economy.
But little of this matters if the region has no international voice that can influence global developments.
In a speech Monday to leaders of the Smaller Islands States group of the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu, PIF Secretariat Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade urged them to engage with the world in order to ensure they were fairly represented in international processes that are crucial to their future.
Slade told the leaders that they should look closely at factors that underscored their exposure and vulnerability to global forces that were affecting the environment and sustainable development of their communities.
The issues had to be considered within the broader context of recent global processes on pursuing more integrated sustainable development and effective development cooperation, he said.
Such processes included the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Busan, the Republic of Korea, which adopted the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation calling for a more inclusive and transparent global partnership in the delivery, management and monitoring of development efforts.
Another was the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil this year, which called for a more balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
With the international consultative process under United Nations auspices gathering global momentum to determine development sustainable goals for the post-2015 era, the Pacific had to respond and participate to ensure the global development agenda fairly and correctly reflected its regional aspirations, he said.