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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

2050: Net zero emissions for Marshall Islands

A roadmap for RMI power decarbonization

The Marshall Islands aims to reduce electricity emissions by over half in seven years, with further reductions leading to net zero emissions by 2050 — or sooner.

David Paul, Marshall Islands minister for environment, launched the Marshall Islands Electricity Roadmap at the global climate summit COP24 in Poland on Dec. 11.

Dubbed “Tile Til Eo,” which means "Lighting the Way" in Marshallese, the plan would slash emissions in the transport, energy and waste sectors.

The Marshall Islands is calling for ambitious action by all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was one of the first countries to prepare and submit a long-term decarbonization pathway under the Paris Agreement.

“We continue to lead the way with the release today of our long-term Electricity Roadmap which once again shows how even the smallest of nations can take ambitious action to create a safe and prosperous future for all people,” Paul said at the masterplan.

“The Electricity Roadmap is easy to understand and shows how other countries large and small might also make the decarbonization journey,” he said.

Just 70 square miles in area, Marshall Islands is located in a rich fishery in the North Pacific. While the capital of Majuro and the atoll of Ebeye are heavily urbanized, small populations are dispersed across the country’s outer atolls.

The Marshall Islands’ energy sector is led by the Ministry of Resources and Development, while the provision of electricity is the responsibility of two state-owned utilities. The Marshalls Energy Company supplies Majuro, Jaluit and Wotje; and the Kwajalein Atoll Joint Utilities Resources, a water and electricity utility servicing the Kwajalein atoll, including the densely populated Ebeye island.

Approximately 75 percent of the Marshall Islands population has access to grid electricity; 92 percent in the urban areas of Majuro and Ebeye, and 32 percent in the rural outer islands. As of 2012, supply is 99 percent diesel based. In 2009, the Marshall Islands adopted its National Energy Policy and Energy Action Plan setting a 20 percent renewable energy generation target for 2020. The Marshall Islands’ nationally determined contributions under the Paris climate accord commits the Marshall Islands to reduce its emissions from power generation to 55 percent by 2025 and 66 percent by 2030.

Paul said the new Electricity Roadmap presents a well thought out, costed, technically sound pathways for the electricity sector to help achieve the Marshall Islands’ ambitious climate change targets for 2025, 2030 and to have net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. “To achieve these targets, it falls to the electricity sector to do most of the heavy lifting and quickly. Over the next seven years, the Marshall Islands will go from a very modest 2 percent renewables, to over 50 percent renewables, cutting diesel use by half. This will come at a cost of around $170 million,” Paul said.

The shift to renewables, he added, means reducing energy losses in the diesel generation and distribution network, improving energy efficiency and building large-scale wind and solar farms on the main islands of Majuro and Ebeye.

For other small island countries, Paul said, there are significant costs and challenges in decarbonizing. “While the Marshall Islands is blessed with steady trade winds and abundant sunshine, these are intermittent and can’t be switched on when they are needed,” he said. “This leads to the need for increased battery storage. Our islands are remote, which means there is a lack of access to equipment, technicians and training facilities. In addition, at high levels of renewables, the grid stability services traditionally provided by diesel generators need to be replaced with other technologies.”

The Roadmap also describes strategies to build a renewable energy workforce, encouraging the best Marshallese talent to train and study to work in the sector.

“Through this challenge, we can see a cleaner, brighter future for our people,” Ben Graham, chief secretary of the Marshall Islands. “To achieve our energy goals, we need the women and men of the Marshall Islands to become engineers, technicians and managers. With these skills we will also be in a better position to navigate the other challenges climate change brings of drought, storms and sea-level rise.”

James Shaw, New Zealand’s minister for Climate Change, said New Zealand’s support for the Marshall Islands’ development of the Electricity Roadmap “not only sets an example that other countries may wish to follow, but shows that all countries, large and small, can, in fact, map out pathways to a low-carbon future.”

New Zealand and the Marshall Islands co-chair the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, a coalition of 19 countries whose goal is to develop ambitious climate strategies to meet the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement.

In September, the Marshall Islands was the tenth country and the first island nation to submit a long-term decarbonization plan to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as called for under the Paris Agreement.

The Marshal Islands’ goal toward obtaining clean energy is backed by international donors. On Dec. 13, the Asian Development Bank and Marshall Islands signed project and grant agreements for an ADB-supported Energy Security Project which will boost energy security and clean energy in the Marshall Islands.

ADB is providing a $12.7 million grant from its Special Funds resources. Marshall Islands is contributing a $3.1 million grant, and the Marshall Islands Energy Company will provide a $1 million grant to the project.

“The Energy Security Project will help the Marshall Islands improve energy security and transform their diesel-based power systems to sustainable renewable energy generation sources,” said Michael Trainor, ADB energy specialist for the Pacific.

The project also aims to reduce the safety and environmental risks associated with the handling and storage of refined petroleum products and ensure the safe and reliable operation of the existing fuel tank farm is sustained and supply of fuel to power generation facilities throughout the country is continued.

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