Troubles in the Coconut Grove

Could rising sea levels undermine the potential for islands to produce biofuels from coconut oil?

Tonga’s sea level monitoring programme has registered a 10 mm rise in recent years, and the trend is likely to continue.

Coconut groves in brackish water.

The scenarios in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change project sea level rises ranging from 18 to nearly 60 cm. Such local effects of global climate change will have important implications for the people of island nations and their lives and livelihoods, including the energy alternatives that are available to them.

Coconut oil (copra) is widely being considered among island nations of the Pacific as a potential replacement for imported diesel used for power production and transport. Locally produced from existing plantations, which have recently suffered neglect as a result of declining global prices, copra could help island nations save considerably on petroleum imports.

One recent report (Liquid Biofuels in Pacific Island Countries – SOPAC Miscellaneous Report 628, April 2007) estimates that, with anticipated investments in improving coconut plantations, copra could replace as much as 23 million litres of imported diesel by 2025.

But the picture is not so clear. Palm trees don’t produce coconuts when they are growing in brackish water. Low-lying island nations which are likely to lose land to the sea in the coming years, may see their coconut groves disappear and production decline.

Island nations are engaged in processes of designing and investing in more sustainable and equitable energy futures. These deliberations and decisions about energy futures need sound information about how natural systems underpin energy alternatives and what changes those natural systems may face as a result of climate change and other impacts.

IUCN urges ministers participating in the 2009 Pacific Energy Ministers Meeting (PEMM2009, 20-24 April 2009, Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga) to ensure the appropriate frameworks are in place to safeguard the environment and people in the context of expanding energy systems.

For more information about IUCN’s position statement to PEMM2009 please click on the link to the right.


Work area: 
Climate Change
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