Climate change doco highlights Tokelau as world leader in ‘solar revolution’

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An aerial scene from the documentary produced for German TV in September 2015 where it was well received by European audiences. Image: Solar Nation of Tokelau

The Asia-Pacific premiere of a documentary showcasing how the remote island dependency of Tokelau has became the world’s first solar-powered territory was screened this week in Auckland. TJ Aumua reports.

The Solar Nation of Tokelau, directed by Ulli Weissbach, puts the idyllic New Zealand dependency of Tokelau in the Pacific in the spotlight as the first territory to be free of CO2 emissions.

Through the documentary, locals on the dependency, comprising three remote atolls, are able to share with the world how solar-powered energy has provided power to every household, making life easier and creating better education opportunities.

Above all, Tokelau shows how some of the smallest countries are effectively fighting against the global threat of climate change.

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Community members at the premiere in Auckland Meleka Pou-Poasa (from left) with documentary director Ulli Weissbach and Jewel Toloa. Image: Del Abcede/PMC

Positive praise
The documentary received positive praise from members of the Tokelau community living in New Zealand.

Lotu Foua, who moved from Tokelau to New Zealand in 1994, said she attended the premiere because she did not know much about the solar panels on the island.

“I’m proud of Tokelau, for a tiny island like that to be first in the world [to be CO2 emission free] it makes me think about going back and starting another life there,” she said.

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Although it has been 22 years since she has been back home to Tokelau, Foua said the solar panels have made it easier for her to connect with family back home.

“Communication is a lot easier now but it was bit hard in those days. I remember wanting to talk to mum and dad and I couldn’t get through but now I can just reach them easily.”

Staying in touch with family is vital when considering it takes a plane ride to Samoa and then a 20-plus hour boat journey to reach Tokelau’s three atolls.

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Audience members (from left) Takua Ioua and Lotu Foua said they learned something new about their home nation from the documentary. Image: Del Abcede/PMC

Tokelau community member, Takua Iona, who was also at the premiere, said seeing the effects of climate change on her home atolls was “saddening” and it hurt to see how it affected the “old ways and life of Tokelau”.

“I just wish all of the Tokelauans that are here [New Zealand] can see the changes.

“I had no idea what the solar panels were like, but now seeing this documentary I understand how it is helping the Tokelauan people.”

Way of life
Director Ulli Weissbach referred to the documentary as a “mixed bag of issues” saying it grew from being just about a “solar revolution” to weaving in the challenges and beauty of “the way of life in the Pacific”.

The spirit of Pacific people as ocean navigators, their value of community and culture are all captured through personal stories and experiences in this documentary.

“It’s a way of life that you don’t see in the touristy parts of the Pacific Islands. [I wanted to] show people how it was and also how hospitable people are in the islands and how joyful they are, seeing all their sunny faces.

“I would like to thank the Tokelau people for their hospitality. They really made us feel at home and actually shared their homes with us.

“They really supported us a lot and made a lot of things possible.”

The premiere was organised by Devonport Rotary Club and supported by the New Zealand German Business Association (German Trade Office), the German Embassy and the Goethe Institute in Wellington.

The documentary has been made available for viewing online.

The documentary was produced for German TV in September 2015 where it was well received by European audiences. Image: Solar Nation of Tokelau
The bank of solar panels providing power for Tokelau. Image: Solar Nation of Tokelau
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TJ Aumua is Pacific Media Watch freedom project contributing editor for the Pacific Media Centre (2016). She is a recent graduate of Auckland University of Technology with a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) degree and with a BCS majoring in journalism and a minor in screen writing. TJ is also a contributor for the PMC Online and Asia Pacific Report and has been a recent summer research intern with Pacific Journalism Review.