The University of the South Pacific and IUCN have joined forces to launch an Oceania Centre for Sustainable Transport.
For a number of years, IUCN, through its Oceania Regional Office, and USP have campaigned for the need for sustainable sea transport in an ocean of islands where fuel is expensive and island transport is often inadequate.
The development of sustainable sea transport will reduce the reliance on imported and expensive fuel and thus open up sea routes that today are considered unprofitable to service. This will greatly contribute to the economic development of communities who could access markets with products such as copra, seaweed, handicrafts and even fruits and vegetables.
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research &International) Professor John Bythell said the Centre aims to provide a one-stop shop for research, policy support, capacity building and practical trials of projects that will deliver sustainable transport solutions appropriate to the Pacific and its island communities.
Leader of the Sustainable Sea Transport Research Programme at USP, Professor Biman Prasad said the Centre is a culmination of several years of effort by the two organisations.
“It is exciting to finally see the establishment of the Centre considering that despite access to appropriate and affordable sustainable transport being essential for social and economic wellbeing there has been little regional focus on this issue to date,” he said.
Regional Director of IUCN Oceania Regional Office Taholo Kami said the Centre would be a critical regional institution which will provide tools for advancing the vision expressed by the Pacific leaders at the Pacific islands Development Forum (PIDF).
In their communique at the inaugural meeting of the PIDF, hosted by the Fiji Government in August this year, Pacific leaders endorsed “ten things” that must be done in order to achieve Blue-Green Economies.
One of these “ten things” was to “prioritize alternatives to existing petroleum driven land and sea transportation that significantly reduce fuel imports. Sustainable sea transport approaches are to be promoted and adopted as an alternative to provide effective services for remote island communities.”
The Oceania Centre for Sustainable Transport will promote and support sustainability in air, land and sea transport, initially focusing on sea transport, where, it is felt, the need is greatest.
“This is an area where we can achieve rapid progress and substantial results that will make a big difference to many people in the region. It opens up opportunities in a number of other areas such as better access to education and health, where for many years we kept hearing the same complaints about the high cost of reaching outer island communities. A region made up of small isolated islands needs sustainable sea transport as the backbone for all other kind of developments,” Mr Kami said.
The IUCN Oceania Regional Office, based in Ma’afu Street, Suva, and the Pacific Centre for Environment & Sustainable Development (PACE-SD), based at the Lower Campus of USP, will run the Centre with the hope that others with an interest in sustainable transport will join over time.
The Fiji Islands Voyaging Society (FIVS) is one such group that has been actively involved.
FIVS's Colin Philp said FIVS has a role to play in providing training and capacity building for seafarers interested in learning the use of renewable energy, such as sails for sea transport.
He said being part of the Centre made sense to FIVS as a means of ensuring collaboration to achieve a long-term vision of sustainable transport for the islands.