The role of energy supply in the shaping of development prospects in small and isolated Pacific Island communities -- past, present and future : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Manawatu Campus, New Zealand
The thesis examines the way that energy supply has influenced directly or indirectly the transformation of society in Niue and Tuvalu from the time before the arrival of palagi (Europeans) to the present day. Of particular interest is the vulnerability that this reliance creates in terms of the risk to people’s wellbeing. Most of New Zealand’s South Pacific neighbours have to import energy in the form of oil products. In the case of Niue and Tuvalu, over 90% of their energy is imported, largely paid for through aid from overseas donors. Like New Zealand, people in both countries rely on energy to maintain their livelihoods and lifestyles. There is near 100% electrification and vehicle ownership is high and government and commercial enterprises that provide services and employment rely on continuous and affordable energy, the supply of which is highly vulnerable to economic and political pressures beyond their control, a situation not expected to improve. The thesis addresses four questions: how and why this situation has come about, would these two communities be able to adapt to a much reduced or changed energy supply, what steps are being taken to reduce this dependency before a crisis occurs and whether these steps are likely to be effective.
The research used the sustainable livelihoods approach to develop an integrated research methodology including field methods and a novel, systematic form of analysis. Field research methods involved interviews, conversations and observation. The results of the research are set out in narrative form that reviews changes to livelihoods in Niue and Tuvalu over time from the arrival of palagi to the present day. The narrative is followed by an original sustainable livelihoods analysis, the output of which is a series of livelihood profiles including livelihoods asset pentagons that illustrate changes in livelihood assets. A parallel series of “livelihood energy pentagons” were developed to demonstrate the influence of energy on livelihoods. The same method of analysis is used to analyse an “energy-deprived” future scenario, postulated in order to illustrate the impact on livelihoods in Niue and Tuvalu should the supply of oil-based fuels become severely constrained.
The narrative and the analyses show that the role of energy has changed from having an essential role although limited in form, in supporting people’s traditional livelihoods to one that enables the full spectrum of services on which contemporary livelihoods rely in Niue and Tuvalu. The analysis of the energy-deprived scenarios underlines this reliance by demonstrating the serious and negative impact on contemporary society should imported fuel supplies be seriously disrupted. Current plans by the two governments to reduce reliance and imported fuel supplies are reviewed and this thesis concludes that while proposed measures go some way to mitigating the impact of a fuel supply disruption, the consequences of such a disruption will still be severe. A recommendation is made that both governments prepare strategic action plans that specifically address fuel supply disruption by emphasising a focus on endogenous rather than exogenous energy sources.