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Trees, wind and coconuts – Samoa’s zero carbon target

The Pacific island state Samoa strives to be carbon neutral by 2020. The country goes for energy from wind and coconut oil. One million trees should be planted to offset carbon emissions. Also  the tourist sector explores unconventional ideas to reduce the carbon footprint. An example for a carbon neutral world.

Carbon neutrality as a question of survival

Pacific islands carbon footprint is insignificant relative to global carbon dioxide emissions. They contribute to less than 0.01% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless the Pacific is working to minimise their emissions through renewable energy actions. Samoa followed the example of the Maldives and proclaimed the objective of “a carbon neutral economy” by 2020. Carbon neutral means that emissions are calculated in a transparent process and reduced by a shift to renewable energy. By offsetting the residual emissions, the net carbon emission balance of the country will be equal to zero. Policymakers of Samoa and Maldives know that their carbon neutral policy will not reduce global emissions in a significant way. But for the islands it is important to send a signal that a carbon neutral world is possible. Since Maldives and Samoa are severely affected by climate change, it is for them a question of survival.

Coconut energy replaces diesel

Samoa’s roadmap to carbon neutrality focuses on the energy sector. Samoa has one of the highest electrification rates in the Pacific region; approximately 98 per cent of the population has access to electricity (Liu et al., 2013). But the problem is that most energy is produced by diesel. This creates high import costs for a remote island state. A plan to get ride  off diesel serves to reduce the high import costs as well as the carbon emissions. Samoa focuses therefore its carbon neutrality plans on replacing diesel by bioenergy technologies. Biofuel generators and bioethanol cars are developed on commercial and household scale on the basis of coconuts oil. The plant is locally abundant so that no energy has to be imported.

Intelligent wind farms

The islands can also benefit from the strong coastal breeze. In 2014, Samoa has inaugurated its first wind farm. Two huge 55 meters high turbines dominate now the landscape and are expected to supply people with 1,500MWh of power each year. Due to falling winds the International Renewable Energy Association identified the Pacific as a region where renewable energy provides the most cost effective source of power (Murray, 2014). Six further wind farm projects in the region are expected to replace 1.5 million litres of diesel fuel. The clue of the Samoa wind turbines is that they can lowered and locked in place in less than 1 hour. Since heavy cyclones are abundant in the region this collapsible design is an intelligent solution to avoid damages from storm events. The project is considered as showcase for clean technologies for other island countries.

Planting of 1 million trees

The agroforestry plays an important role in the plans of Samoa of becoming carbon neutral. Reforestation actions help to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it on long term. Samoa plans to plant a million trees in the next decade to meet carbon neutrality (Ward and Atatagi, 2011). New National Parks are approved by the government to increase forest area. It also planned to restore indigenous forests which are harmed by commercial logging and invasive species. The country adopted the UN program REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) to offset carbon emissions. With this policy, Samoa seeks to get access to funding opportunities of the carbon offset programs the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). 

Becoming a carbon neutral holiday destination?

Samoa strives also to become a carbon neutral holiday destination. This is probably the most contradictory issue. Samoa’s tour buses and tourist transportations are switched to biodiesel. But luxury resorts that attract premium rich holidaymakers are energy intensive. Not to talk about the carbon emissions of a long distance flight required to reach the remote islands. During the Small Islands Developing States Conference in September 2014, the country developed a ‘Plant a tree’ carbon offset campaign to compensate the energy used for the thousands of plane journeys of the delegates. But as all carbon offset programs, they are contested because they do not lead to an absolute cut in emissions. Samoa Air took another pathway: It is the first airline which charges passengers based in part on weight. What sounds like a discrimination for obesity is rather a carbon tax. The price is based on the passenger’s total weight plus luggage. In aviation, a higher weight means more used fuel for the transport. With this policy, the airline would like to encourage passengers to carry less freight so that the carbon footprint of the flight gets smaller. And if this encourages people to lose some pounds, this has also a good side effect for public health.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.

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