Renewable Energy in Tonga
Renewable energy in Tonga is essential for long-term economic growth as the nation will rely on sustainable and dependable resources instead of unsustainable and environmentally harmful energy sources, like fossil fuels. In 2018, the Kingdom of Tonga took second ranking as the
“most climate vulnerable country in the world,” a situation that the country’s reliance on non-renewable energy resources has exacerbated.

The Situation in Numbers

In 2015, 28% of Tonga’s population lived under the poverty line of $5.50 a day. In 1994, 80% of Tonga had access to electricity, a percentage that rose to 100% in 2020. However, in 2016, just 59% of the population had access to clean cooking fuels. Furthermore, 100% of the electricity in Tonga came from fossil fuels in 2020. The social and economic development of the island is at risk without sustainable energy, but there are plans for the Government of Tonga to reach its goal of “poverty alleviation” through access to reliable electricity for all.

Current Risk

The small island’s land size is 748,5 km²  with a population of more than 105,000 people. Geography, size and susceptibility to natural disasters make it more challenging for the country to transition to renewable energy, however, change is already taking place.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly came up with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” across the world by 2030. Tonga is looking to achieve SDG 7, “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, ” through the introduction of renewable energy sources, which will, in turn, improve the living standards in the country.

SDG 7 urges movement away from diesel and fossil fuels as these are not environmentally or economically sustainable. Tonga is one of the “first countries in the region” to establish a roadmap in order to achieve SDG 7 by 2030 with an emphasis on renewable energy that will help all aspects of the country.

Economics of Renewable Energy in Tonga

Tonga can mitigate poverty through a shift toward renewable energy in Tonga. According to ARUP, approximately 80% of Tonga’s energy comes from diesel, which stifles the growth of Tonga’s economy. In 2012, fuel accounted for 10% of the GDP and 25% of imports by value. These percentages make Tonga vulnerable as diesel is not a reliable source and will not serve to improve social and economic growth.

Low-cost, green and dependable energy is essential for a better future on the island. Oil prices are volatile, hence a sudden increase in price can hurt Tonga’s economy. The reliance on diesel prevents long-term and stable improvements. The lack of reliable energy also prevents businesses from growing. Without reliable, accessible and sustainable energy, Tonga cannot truly make strides in poverty reduction.

Policy as a Solution

The SDG 7 Roadmap for Tonga has several specific policy step recommendations for Tonga’s future.

  • Access to clean cooking is one of the main areas where improvement is necessary. Around 35% of the island’s population does not have clean cooking technology. The purchase of $100,000 worth of liquified petroleum gas cooking stoves subsidized by the Government of Tonga is recommended for Tonga to reach universal access to clean cooking by 2030.
  • The most cost-effective choice for the future is to avoid diesel-fired power and switch to renewables.
  • Greater investment in solar and wind energy will help Tonga’s transition to renewable energy-based electricity production.
  • Energy improvement surpassing SDG 7 is possible for Tonga and can prevent fuel import reliance. Through low-cost actions like changing to electric transport, using efficient lighting and better fuel economy practices, Tonga can see speedy returns on investments.


The transition to renewable energy in Tonga is in progress, with the island’s government setting the goal of 50% renewable energy reliance by 2020 and 70% by 2030.

The Green Climate Fund approved the Tonga Renewable Energy Project in October 2018. The 25-year-long project is currently under implementation, with the goal of moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy. On the main island, “the project will deliver utility-scale storage systems to provide base load response and grid stability.” On the outer islands, green mini-grids will undergo installation. Through this process, the project has already avoided more than 265,000 tonnes of emissions. According to the Green Climate Fund, “While stabilizing the grid, this project will particularly address the intermittency of variable renewable energy sources, thus laying the foundation for private sector investments in renewable energy in Tonga.”

Looking Ahead

Renewable energy in Tonga is possible and can significantly impact the future of the economy. Reaching 100% access to electricity is a major feat, so keeping up the progress with renewable energy is essential. In effect, renewable energy will lower the poverty rate as renewable energy is abundant and less expensive after the initial investments.

– Ann Shick
Photo: Flickr

Senate Appropriations Committee Pushes Through Action on Green Climate FundThe Green Climate Fund, an “operating entity of the financial mechanism” of the United Nation’s Framework for Climate Change Convention, is a critical component of the successful outcome of the Paris climate negotiations in December. Without it, an agreement is “impossible,” says French President Francois Hollande.

The fund, headquartered in South Korea, is essentially a financial intermediary between developed and developing nations. Developing nations — many of which stand to face harsher climate-related incidents — are not keen on signing a climate deal to cut emissions.

Their rationale is that economic development, which is badly needed, is difficult in the absence of hydrocarbons and abundant, cheap energy. A global deal on cutting emissions would hurt the poor countries more, which are the same countries that have historically contributed substantially less greenhouse gas emissions than the developed nations.

Instead, they are demanding reparations and assistance from developed countries in exchange for signing onto any binding climate deal. The money will go toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries and helping them to build resilience to future climate shocks.

Some developed countries including the United States have, until recently, been balking at the idea of giving developing countries money for climate-related disasters and paying for them to reduce emissions. This stance has thwarted previous climate talks and threatens the COP21 negotiations.

However, the Senate Committee on State and Foreign Operations has pushed through action on funding for the Green Climate Fund. Although the legalese wording in the subcommittee document effectively blocked funding by requiring that a subsequent act of Congress was needed to approve funding, the wording was removed during the Full Committee Markup.

The bill includes an unidentified amount of “limited funding” for the Green Climate Fund. The president’s $500 million request represents one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget. The United States is now one of more than 30 countries that have dedicated money to the Green Climate Fund.

John Wachter

Sources: Green Climate Fund, The Hill 1, The Hill 2, RFI, Sierra Club, United States Senate 1, United States Senate 2, United States Senate 3
Photo: Flickr

The breakthrough collaborative announcement by the United States and China on curbing greenhouse gases has sparked a global movement on climate change. For many years, international climate talks have been ignored by those who caused the problem of climate change. The United States and China remain the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, and have now pledged to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. With India on board with the global change, the movement would spark continual momentum.

A critical question is whether India will join the United States and China’s side in climate talks. India has become the third world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The world needs India to join many other countries to help alleviate climate change; without India, efforts to tackle global climate change will be difficult. India must consider its investment in developing clean and renewable energies, and reconsider its investment on coal.

India and China share a common domestic problem; fossil fuels that cause climate change also create major air pollution. Over the years, air pollution has risen to harmful levels. The World Health Organization monitors for air pollution, and has stated that China and India’s cities failed the organization’s test for satisfactory levels of airborne particulate. This microscopic matter is believed to be one of the most deadly air pollutants for the human health. More than half of these cities also fail to uphold to their own specific standards.

The pollution shortens lives and is costly to China and India’s economic growth. As a result, many Chinese citizens have called for change. China’s leaders have responded by taking big actions on the global climate change, and should motivate India to do the same before the problem poses a bigger threat.

India could possibly follow China. India’s Prime Minster, Narendra Modi, has publicly acknowledged the recognition of the country’s severe pollution problem. Modi made a public announcement on his objectives to make air quality data accessible to the public. India has a reputation for investing huge amounts on coal. In the last five years, India has increased its coal power capacity by 73 percent. Moreover, India plants to double domestic coal production to one billion tons a year, by 2019, to fuel new plants and boost imports.

India’s air is among the world’s dirtiest, with largely unregulated and unmonitored coal plants. Unfortunately India’s decisions to invest big on coal plants kills up to 115,000 Indians a year, and costs the Indian people about $4.6 billion annually.

Many climate change advocates in India have expressed doubts following India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s, choice to not attend the United Nations Climate Summit to speak about the change.

The Green Climate Fund, which operates to redistribute money from the developed world to the developing world in order to assist developing nations in adapting to climate changes, have risen close to $10 billion in funds. Pledges to the fund come from the government of 22 countries; four developing countries were among the contributors.

If India makes amends to follow other nations in pledging towards helping the change, this will make its mark in history as one of the largest movements in confronting climate change.

Sandy Phan

Sources: WHO, UNFCCC, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Photo: LA Times