Key Note Address by Tuiloma Neromi Slade
Forum Secretary General at the Pacific Energy Minister's Meeting
Tonga, 23-24 April, 2009
HRH Princess Pilolevu Tuita
The Honourable Viliami T Tangi, Deputy Prime Minister of Tonga
The Honourable Tuita, Minister of Lands and Survey, Natural Resources and Environment
My Colleagues, Heads of Regional Organizations,
Heads of Government Ministries and other Government Representatives
Representatives of Development Partner and Governments and Organizations
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Mr. Chairman, may I say that it is an honour, always, to be in the Kingdom. It is honour in double measure that I have been afforded this opportunity to be a part of this important meeting to provide this keynote address.
2.Honourable Ministers, over the next two days you will be asked to give consideration to a range of issues of fundamental concern and significance to our region, issues made all the more complicated by the global financial crisis which is still evolving, and evolving in ways none of us can predict with any certainty. It is a situation that leads particular importance to your task, and which invites for you as Ministers a measure of special responsibility.
3. In recalling your work of 2007, I can report to you that Forum Leaders have acknowledged your vision, Forum Leaders have set policies committing regional Governments to action. Leaders have, in particular, through successive communiqués and under the auspices of the Pacific Plan, codified your decisions as best representing the actions required to address these energy challenges.
4. Energy is and will remain high amongst the region's key priorities. Certainly, this is clear direction from Forum Leaders. In their decisions of the Niue Forum last year, for instance, Leaders emphasized the need for continuing implementation of the Pacific Islands Energy Policy and the actions mandated under the Pacific Energy Minister's 2007 communiqué.
5. Recognising this, I want these remarks to offer some observations which I hope may assist you in shaping the outcomes of this meeting and the directions you may offer as a result of your deliberations.
6. The question of energy, like no other, gives full exposure to the vulnerability of Pacific Island Countries. Nothing, as energy does, crystallizes or so clearly demonstrates the precarious position of small island communities and their inability to ensure any condition of security. Equitable access to reliable and affordable energy is a fundamental requirement for achieving national development. Predictable energy supply is critical in supporting economic growth and improving the delivery of basic services. Regional and international experiences demonstrate a clear correlation between the increased use of energy and national wealth measured as GDP. This accumulative experience further suggests that no country has substantially reduced poverty, increased human health conditions or improved access to education in modern times without massively increasing their use of energy. Energy is, inexorably, linked to the condition of human well being.
7. I believe that despite our best plans and intentions, we as Forum countries have fallen short of realizing full potential for regional and national well being in any sustainable way, dare I suggest, in any equitable way. The challenges all countries face in this region in better ensuring energy security are well known to Honourable Ministers, and for this reason I speak not of what we all know, but rather of what I believe we must address in pursuit of this common well being.
8. For all that we desire to ‘think and dare for the future', there remains the imperative of today. For we need to address the here and now. The magnitude of what must be done should not be understated. All Forum member countries, from the largest to the smallest, have and must continue to grapple with the effects of climate change and the consequences of dependence on fossil fuels. It is not special revelation, but I say to you all, that renewable, sustainable and clean energy is and must be, unequivocally, our ultimate goal. It would be short-sighted however to neglect what can be done now to better relieve the very real pressures that many Forum countries face in meeting their energy requirements. Particularly, in our small island states.
9. This response will require a suite of innovative short, medium and long-term actions that are better coordinated. It is well-known and well acknowledged, that there is no magic formula that will ensure the security of energy supply overnight. No initiative envisaged by Honourable Ministers in 2007 of its own will mitigate associated economic pressures posed by ongoing and significant commitments to procuring energy supply, managing power generation and maintaining costly infrastructure. Much good work has and will need to continue to be implemented across the sector. Despite this, much more needs to be done to better coordinate the work of national, regional and international agencies in this area in the Pacific. Our response must be collective, as must our view of what energy means for this region. Above all else, we need to be absolutely clear as to who does what; and we need clear articulation of the roles and responsibilities of regional agencies. I expect that in the course of your meeting you will hear viewpoints on this aspect, including from the Chief Executive Officers of the SPC, SOPAC and SPREP. I would, respectfully, highly commend to Ministers what my learned CEO colleagues will present to you.
10. Honourable Ministers, I believe we need to ensure that energy is viewed with broader and more strategic perspective. Energy cannot be thought of as somehow separate to issues of economic development, infrastructure, transport, and climate change or food security. In failing to grasp the often understand "true" value of energy, we open the door to increasing national fragility and in some cases the very viability of some communities. Geographic isolation and heavy reliance on imports, including fossil fuel imports, mean that many small island developing states carry disproportionately high levels of risk, and with little ability to pursue policies of domestic import substitution. It is commonplace in all Forum countries.
- that fluctuations in the price of oil have a direct bearing on the price of food and other key commodities;
- that there are consequential impacts on the costs of transporting goods and services; or
- that the costs of maintaining infrastructure to manage generation, supply and distribution of energy are high and ongoing;
These have been matters of concern for Forum Leaders before, they certainly were in the Forum in Niue last year and, without question, will remain concerns for the foreseeable future.
- With some emphasis I would contend that the continued pursuit of efficiency must remain an immediate goal. Improving national action to better support efforts in reducing heavy reliance on fossil fuels and wasteful energy should be the clear and central objective. In particular, I believe there is a strong and demonstrated case for integrating energy and economic development in national strategic development plans and policies. Appropriate regulatory and pricing policies and programmes would be essential, as would be appropriate incentives for more efficient energy supply and consumption. I cannot pressure to speak to politicians about political about political roles and responsibility, but, in all this, Honourable Ministers, I do suggest that political commitment would be critical.
- There are also the realities. Energy efficiency, inevitably, as with everything else, will have associated costs. These may be high, at least initially. Our response should endeavor to utilize all financial and technical resources available. These resources will be found within and outside of the Pacific and must be complimented with commitments from national recurrent budgets. These resources should be accessed and managed in a coordinated way where possible ensuring a ‘whole-of-region' position to better realizes our common interest. Perhaps above all, efforts will need to be made to ensure that our actions are sustainable and supported by funding that is predictable.
- Mr Chairman, as I close allow me to suggest that Honourable Ministers may wish to consider building on the acknowledged success of your work in 2007, and continue offering clear directions for Forum Leaders, regional Governments and technical agencies and international partners to follow. In doing so, I would, respectfully, encourage you to grasp this opportunity and to cast energy in the broader context of national development and economic growth, to consider how we may better coordinate our pursuit of energy efficiency and security, and to balance our big picture thinking with tangible and immediate responses, drawing on our collective experience to improve the well being of the peoples of the Pacific.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.