Carbon neutral in the Cook Islands

Port of Avatiu Harbour
Port of Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga. Photo: CMS
Avatiu Harbour
Aerial view of Avatiu Harbour. Photo: Rarotonga Ports Authority
Avatiu Harbour
Avatiu Harbour. Photo: CMS

The Ports Authority of Rarotonga has begun a carbon assessment programme to reduce emissions. Michele Witthaus finds out what this means for sustainable cruising at the port

The Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean contribute only 0.00012 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, yet the government has committed to moving from fossil fuel energy generation to renewables, with a target of 100% renewable energy by 2025. Progress toward this goal includes investments in solar energy and battery storage. Wind energy investments are also being considered, while the outer islands are already 100% carbon neutral, having deployed solar panels (except Aituitaki, where physical installation is underway). Now Rarotonga, the main island, is moving in the same direction.

The Board of the Ports Authority of Rarotonga engaged New Zealand carbon advisory specialist Carbon Market Solutions to carry out a carbon assessment, which ran from November 2018 to February 2019. The aim of the assessment was to enable the port to begin to address those areas where emissions reflect higher cost implications, such as in power usage or fossil fuel usage. The project involved working on site to collect data related to Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and then undertaking an assessment of the various greenhouse gas abatement options that could be implemented, going forward, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The carbon assessment project is significant for the country because not only is this is the first carbon assessment carried out by the Ports Authority, it is also the first to be carried out by a Government organisation in the Cook Islands.

The Ports Authority Board approved the carbon assessment late in 2018 and it was carried out in early 2019. The CEO of the authority, Nooroa (Bim) Tou, said: “This is a good start for us to understand our carbon footprint in the Cook Islands, although this first exercise is focused only on the main port at Avatiu. We have not yet looked at the footprint from our operations on the island of Aitutaki but we now have a pretty good idea about where the majority of our greenhouse gas emissions are coming from.”

Making sense of data

The major takeaways from the assessment so far are that the overall carbon footprint of Scope 1 (mainly from diesel usage from heavy equipment) and Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (from staff travel, including international air travel) are the most significant and that Scope 2 emissions, from use of electricity, are very small, making up only 5 tonnes of CO2e per year. Primarily, this is because the usage of electricity in port operations is limited to mainly lighting and use of appliances such as air conditioners, with heavier use of power consumption for reefer containers often for less than 24 hours and only a few days per month.

In addition, reductions of Scope 2 emissions will occur naturally over time as the grid mix of Rarotonga moves away from diesel and towards renewable energy (in particular solar PV), moving from its current status of 76% diesel energy generation towards a goal of 100% renewable by 2025.

Tourism is the number one revenue generator in the country, with at least 10-12 times the population visiting the country by air, and utilising goods and services, thus placing strain on the country’s infrastructure and even services such as fresh food supplies, waste and sanitation. Acknowledging that carbon neutrality is something that can be used to promote tourism, the Ports Authority will market its efforts in going carbon neutral with the goal that the private sector and other government agencies in the Cook Islands (including the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation) will follow suit.

Ready for cruise growth

The cruise industry currently does not account for a high proportion of the total tourism component of Rarotonga’s emissions, with most cruise ships conforming to a pattern of
short-term stays in port. This is dictated by the lack of infrastructure available for longer-term berthing, which means that typically in the Cook Islands and the two main ports on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, ships are only berthed for one day. Consequently, the impact of cruise tourism on the carbon profile is small compared to other activities, but further growth is expected over time. The Port Authority says that the carbon assessment fits within the overall operations of the entire port itself, including cruise ship visits, and that it will assist with the promotion of such visits in future.

Markus Vencatchellum, a research analyst at Carbon Market Solutions Ltd, said: “We are pretty excited to have carried out the first carbon assessment ever of a Government organisation in the Cook Islands and help them as they move towards going carbon neutral. This shows a strong vision and commitment on behalf of the management of the Ports Authority and we are very pleased to have been involved.”

In order to track emission reduction trends over time, the Port Authority is keen to repeat the carbon assessment process on an annual basis, especially given that costs should be significantly reduced as data collection improves. In general, measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as installing solar panels on the roof tops of port buildings should mean that there is a downward trend for greenhouse gas emissions.

A solar-powered future

The assessment of various greenhouse gas options for the Ports Authority revealed that there were several actions the Ports Authority could take to speed emissions reductions. These include investing in roof top solar PV with battery storage on unused shed space owned by the Ports Authority and installation of shore power facilities.

Shore power is likely to be implemented at the same time as the Ports Authority invests in and installs rooftop solar power systems. The goal is to be ready for future regulations that may require all ships berthed in port to turn off their diesel generators and to connect to land based power for electricity. For cruise ships equipped for shore power connection, this will be good news, made even better by the fact that the source of the electricity will be zero-emission solar power. The corresponding decrease in the consumption of diesel will in turn lead to decreased greenhouse gas emissions.

In future, once it has implemented priority options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Ports Authority will explore offsetting its carbon footprint by purchasing verified carbon units (VCUs) for recognised registered projects.

Overall, the Government is ensuring climate change is an integral part of the policy settings for its development agenda. The country’s Climate Change Policy outlines how all stakeholders can address climate change in the context of mainstreaming, but also within the context of ‘climate-proofing’ the country’s critical infrastructure assets, such as ports, airports, roads and buildings, with the goal of developing more climate-resilient infrastructure.

The Government of the Cook Islands is currently working with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to develop new project ideas that deal with climate change adaptation and help to address the risks and sustainability challenges posed by rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and extreme weather patterns.

As part of its overall efforts to address climate change adaptation issues, the Ports Authorities is looking at installing gutters on the rooftops of all Ports Authority buildings and sheds to direct rainwater to water storage tanks (4 x 25,000-litre units). This water will then be collected and purified and placed in storage tanks with a total capacity of at least 100,000 litres. This water can then be used by the Ports Authority for its own needs and in times of drought.

“It is the intention of the Ports Authority to repeat the assessment of the carbon footprint, once per year, in order that it will be possible to view how, with the measures being implemented by the Ports Authority, it is reducing over time.”

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