Your Royal Highness Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita, Lord Tuita, The Chairman of the Council, Ministers of the Pacific Council, Hon. Energy Ministers of the Pacific Island Countries, Hon. Ministers of the Realm, Members of the Diplomatic Corp, Head of CROP Agencies, Rev. Dr. ‘Ahio, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am deeply honoured and grateful for the opportunity to deliver this opening remark. On behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government of Tonga, I would like to extend to you all our heartfelt and warmth welcome to the Friendly Island and the Kingdom of Tonga. I am also happy to welcome all of you to the Second Pacific Island Energy Ministers Meeting.
I am aware that all of you have heavy responsibilities and am therefore deeply appreciative of your allowing sometime in your busy schedule to attend this important meeting.
The first meeting of the Pacific Energy Ministers in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 2007, discussed a broad range of energy issues, identifying challenges and opportunities under the overarching theme of Energy Security for Sustainable Development. This is part, has paved the way to the Second Pacific Energy Ministers meeting here in Tonga, with the theme of “Strengthening the Fragile Pacific Island Energy Sector – addressing energy, economy and environment in a period of rapid change.” We consider this meeting in Tonga as a positive step that will contribute to implementing the Forum Leaders decision, where they endorsed the 2007 Pacific Energy Minister’s Communiqué and recognized the need for the immediate implementation of the very concrete, time-bound actions.
Further, the Leaders of the Pacific Island Countries recognize Energy as one of the key requirements for sustainable development, in terms of economic growth, social development, and environment sustainability. This has been reflec ted in the Pacific Plan as well as, the Millennium Development Goal level, which articulates the need for equitable access to reliable and affordable energy as a fundamental requirement to achieving core national development goals such as economic growth, poverty alleviation and improved health and education services. This was also part of a thematic cluster for the Commission on Sustainable Development Sessions (CSD14 and 15) that included “Energy for Sustainable Development, Industrial Development, Air Pollution and Climate Change.” However, due to the inextricable relationship between energy and climate, CSD 15 was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion. This clearly demonstrates that countries need to address energy and environment in an integrated and balanced manner. In strengthening these development linkages, more emphasis has been given to the economic aspects of energy, which offers another dimension and contributes to strengthening the planning and development processes.
ted in the Pacific Plan as well as, the Millennium Development Goal level, which articulates the need for equitable access to reliable and affordable energy as a fundamental requirement to achieving core national development goals such as economic growth, poverty alleviation and improved health and education services. This was also part of a
thematic cluster for the Commission on Sustainable Development Sessions (CSD14 and 15) that included “Energy for Sustainable Development, Industrial Development, Air Pollution and Climate Change.” However, due to the inextricable relationship between energy and climate, CSD 15 was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion. This clearly demonstrates that countries need to address energy and environment in an integrated and balanced manner. In strengthening these development linkages, more emphasis has been given to the economic aspects of energy, which offers another dimension and contributes to strengthening the planning and development processes.
It is therefore imperative that we must effectively integrate energy into national planning processes, along with embracing the principle of equitable access to reliable and affordable energy. This is fundamental requirement for achieving national development goals. I am aware that within our region, the Regional Pacific Islands Energy Policy development jointly by Energy Officials and relevant CROP Agencies in 2004, ahs provided a basis for not only guiding the energy sector at the regional level, but has provided a model that has been used extensively at the national level to develop national energy policies, legislations and strategic action plans both for energy and environment.
With this context, we endorse and acknowledge the importance of implementing appropriate policies and programmes that promote the adoption of an optimal energy mix, energy efficiency in supply and consumption and the integration of appropriate sustainable renewable energy technologies. However, perhaps the most important endorsement must be to continue to recognize and acknowledge the need for a continued high-level support in respect to the energy agenda if we are to aspire to the guiding principles of the Pacific Plan.
In order to deliver against our energy priorities we will undoubtedly need to address the short fall in our own levels of national commitment, ensure that regional coordination mechanism are aligned to provide optimal support to the energy sector, and to look to our development and donor partners, to augment the necessary resources, support and appropriate technology to achieve these.
As we are all aware of, over the past years the crude oil prices continued to rise up to more than US$147 a barrel, which has been reflected in increased product prices over the latter part of 2008. After reaching earlier levels of $US30 a barrel, it has now slowly climbed back up to $US50 a barrel.
The impact of elevated oil prices on our economies is critically significant. Fuel imports are now triple the value of merchandise exports in Kiribati, Samoa and the Federated States of Micronesia. In the case of Fiji, the second largest economy in the Pacific, recently the combined export earnings from three of the country’s major industries, gold, sugar and textiles, only accounted for two-thirds of the country’s total fuel import bill.
These economic indicators clearly demonstrate the serious impact that increases in the cost of fossil fuels have had and will continue to have o Pacific Island Countries.
In acknowledging the impact of sustained high oil prices in the Pacific, efforts towards the implementation of regional cooperation for bulk petroleum procurement remains a priority. To this end, we consider the work implemented to date on the regional bulk fuel procurement initiative to be relevant to Tonga and the region, and we are looking towards endorsing the Framework Agreement approach proposed to implement this initiative.
Pacific Island countries must address the ever present challenge of energy security, and in this regard increasing reliance upon renewable energy, as a substitute for imported fossil fuel, must be fully explored. Outside of being able to address energy security, renewable energy options will also contribute towards global efforts to mitigate against climate change. Other mechanisms that we must consider as we address the challenge of energy regulatory and pricing policies, and promoting energy efficiency and conversation in both supply and consumption.
Therefore, energy and its security are without doubt, a matter of national development, given the negative impact that higher oil prices have had on Pacific Island countries and especially those with less diversified economies that are almost completely reliant on oil-based fuels, for meeting their energy needs. In order to address this issue it is important that countries begin implementing energy efficiency measures, and developing renewable energy resources, to reduce demand for imported oil-based fuels, and it is imperative that dialogue partners support these efforts wherever possible.
Increased attention towards improved delivery of regional technical assistance and donor interventions in the region, through a more strategic and coordinated approaches are also considered important aspects that given the right support through striving for regional harmonization, will lead to better support and benefits to our people.
In light of the Pacific Islands Forum Leader’s decision to rationalize the functions of the SOPAC with the work programmes of SPC and SPREP, Tonga supports either unifying all regional energy units and programmes into one agency, or the co-location of the various energy units and programmes of the CROP agencies, in Forum Member countries. For either scenario, Tonga would like to register its interest as a potential host country.
Honourable Ministers, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the people of the Government of Tonga, once again, I would like to welcome you to Tonga where you will all have the opportunity to participate actively in the Second Pacific Energy Ministers Meeting. The agenda in front of you will not only be challenging but also offer the opportunity for enthusiastic debate. We will be looking forward with great interest to the outcome of your meeting. In particular, we hope that the issues of Energy policy and work programmes integrated into national planning, the need to look for realistic, affordable and sustainable energy solutions, the strengthening of regional energy coordination, and improved donor harmonization.
I would like to wish you a fruitful deliberation and I am greatly honoured to declare the Second Pacific Energy Ministers Meeting opened.