The Pacific is the most dependent region in the world on imported fossil fuels with imported petroleum products accounting for on average 40% of Pacific Island Countries’ (PICs) GDP. 1.3 billion litres of fuel were imported into the Pacific in 2011 at a cost of US$$873 million. Such reliance represents a major drain on economies, a major barrier to development and a source of vulnerability. Fossil fuel dependency has a crippling effect on national budgets and revenues, particularly affecting fisheries, agriculture and tourism.
The Transport Sector is the largest user of fossil fuels in Pacific Island Countries accounting for some 70% of all fossil fuel use. Fuel used for transport can be broken down into air, land and sea. For all PICs sea transport is a significant user, for some representing 75% of all fossil fuel used, and for extremes, such as Tokelau, this could be as high as 90%. Electricity generation is, in comparison, a minority user. To date most attempts to reduce fossil fuel dependency have focused on electricity generation. Now it is time to address the transport sector – without doing so the Pacific’s use of fossil fuels will not be sustainable.
The Pacific’s transport issues are unique: tiny economies scattered at the ends of some of the longest transportation routes in the world and arguably the most challenging network to maintain per capita and per mile given the small resource base available to support it. Providing adequate, efficient, and reliable transport is one of the most difficult challenges for PIC governments. Long distances, high fuel costs and low economies of scale make the cost of developing and maintaining transport infrastructure high.
Transport is vital for socio-economic development. Reliable, affordable and appropriate transport is essential, providing access to markets, education, health services, and for social and cultural connectivity. It is an essential component of developing blue/green economies. On a global level, there have been significant improvements in energy efficient and renewable energy technologies for the transport sector, yet in the Pacific, there is currently no regional or co-ordinated approach to tackling the issue.
The Pacific Green Business Centre would like to see and support improvements in all transport sectors – land, sea and air transport. However sea transport is a priority for this Oceanic region and the many communities living on islands scattered over this vast ocean.
Sea transport is the only form of transport available for most small, island communities, with many islands simply being too small for air and land transport. For many, existing maritime transport services are increasingly unaffordable and unsustainable. Ships are often old, poorly maintained and inefficient. Fossil fuels represent a significant proportion of operating costs for shipping operators (with reports of up to 80% of total costs) resulting in a cycle of old ships being replaced with old ships, and the need for larger ships being used to achieve economies of scale. This combined with narrow reef passages, small harbours and small cargos and numbers of passengers leads to many routes being unviable and uneconomic. Governments are often required to subsidise servicing these routes if communities are to have access to sea transport.
Through the Oceania Centre for Sustainable Transport (OCST), PIDF, IUCN Oceania and USP intend to make some inroads in the sector in the Pacific region. The portal of the OCST is under development and will be available in the coming months. Additionally a Micronesian Centre for Sustainable Transport has been established in Majuro, Marshall Islands, housed at the USP Majuro campus. This is supported by the German Government through GIZ.