Vanuatu

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VANuATu is A country located in the South Pacific Ocean, composed of an archipelago of 83 volcanic islands with a population around 220,000. It has been a global leader in the development of renewable resources for sustained energy.

Vanuatu is governed by a parliamentary democracy, with the prime minister, elected by Parliament, being the leader of the government.

Its economy is primarily agricultural, with 80 percent of the population engaged in agricultural activities. Coconut is by far the most important cash crop, making up more than 35 percent of the country's exports, with petroleum fuels making up the majority of its imports. Interestingly, Vanuatu is a tax haven and international financial center. Despite this, Vanuatu is still a country in need of substantial foreign aid.

Vanuatu is also member of Alliance of Small Island Developing States, which is a progressive force in the United Nations for initiating climate change protocols.

In 1999, coral reef scientists reported massive coral reef death directly attributed to global warming. This, along with the high price of importing oil, led Vanuatu to commence switching from reliance on fossil fuels to becoming dependent on renewable energy economies based on hydrogen fuel technologies.

Thus, in September 2000 at the Eco-Asia conference, the chairman of the conference, Vanuatu Parliament member and former prime minister Maxime Carlot Korman challenged top scientists in the field to find realistic solutions for sustainable resources.

Korman proposed that his country would be the testing site for these solutions because of a variety of social and economic issues. First of all, the country had an electricity consumption of around 35 GWh (by comparison, in 1998, California used 570,000 GWh), all of which produced by fossil fuels, which is an amount that could feasibly be replaced by renewable resources. Second, this project would need to be funded by pri vate investors, and Vanuatu's status as a tax haven provided incentive. Finally, the combination of reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil at the same time it was bringing in foreign investors would help the country reduce its need for outside aid.

The plan was to primarily use geothermal and solar energy to produce hydrogen to be used in hydrogen-cell-powered generators. In addition, this would be supplemented by directly converting wind and water currents into energy and storing them in batteries. The endpoint was to stop importing fossil fuels by 2010 and by 2020, to eliminate remaining internal combustion engines. Some privately funded projects currently being undertaken include Pacific Energy installing solar panels to supply energy to schools, Unelco using Vanuatu's natural resources and producing a coconut oil-diesel fuel blend, and the VAN-REPA research company installing wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity for local schools and a solar still to desalinize ocean water.

Although it appears imminent that, as of 2007, Vanuatu appears to be heading toward failing to meet its objective of independence of foreign oil by 2010, the country has made tremendous strides in becoming a green nation. Despite this, Vanuatu was listed as the world's happiest nation in 2006 by the Happiest Planet Index, a New Economics Foundation index based on human well-being and environmental impact.

sEE ALso: Climate Change, Effects; Global Warming.

BIBLIoGRApHY. "An Index of Human Well-Being and Environmental Impact," www.happyplanetindex.org (cited August 2007); Seth Dunn, "Islands of Hope in Hydrogen: Clean Hydrogen Energy is Just Around the Corner... If Governments Have the Guts to Take on the Oil Barons ," New Internationalist (December 1, 2002); Gavin Evans, "Alternative Fuel Grows on Trees: South Pacific Islands Rely on Coconuts to Cut Diesel Imports," International Herald Tribune (January 4, 2006); Jolanka K. Fisher and Timothy P. Duane, Trends in Energy Consumption, Peak Demand and Generating Capacity in California and Western Grid 1977-2000 (University of California Energy Institute, 2001); "Presentation to EcoAsia 2000," www.vanuatu-government.gov.vu (cited September 2007).

Robert Klever Independent Scholar

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