Leaders commit to collective action for a strong Pacific

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor. Picture: FT FILE

LEADERS of the Pacific Islands Forum have reaffirmed their commitment to working together for a strong Blue Pacific region that is secure, peaceful, and prosperous, enabling its people to live free, healthy and productive lives.

The 2018 Forum Leaders Communique, released after the Forum Leaders Retreat in Nauru, commits the forum to working for sustainable development in the region on its own terms and in ways that recognise its rich culture, national circumstances, and oceanic resources.

The communique identifies regional security, climate change and disaster risk resilience, fisheries, ocean management and conservation, and childhood obesity as the priority areas for collective action by the region.

Regional security In response to the region’s increasingly complex and evolving security environment, forum leaders endorsed the Boe Declaration on regional security. The declaration highlights climate change as the greatest threat to the security, livelihood, and wellbeing of Pacific people.

Building on, and complementing the Biketawa Declaration (2001) and other regional security declarations and policy instruments, the Boe Declaration emphasises an expanded concept of security that includes human security, humanitarian assistance, environmental security, and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change. The declaration is named after the Boe district in Nauru, where the declaration was officially agreed to by the leaders.

Climate change and disaster resilience Forum leaders were very clear about the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change. There was a commitment for sustained, high level representation and collaboration in the lead up to, and during, the 24th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (COP 24).

This collective advocacy will be targeted to ensure the Pacific region’s priorities are heard, particularly with regard to the development of the Rule Book and Guidelines for implementing the Paris Agreement.

The forum leaders called on countries, particularly large emitters, to fully implement their nationally determined contribution mitigation targets. They also requested the UN secretary general to appoint a special adviser on climate change and security, and a special rapporteur to review global, regional, and national security threats caused by climate change.

In recognising that the effects of climate change and disaster will continue to affect Pacific communities, and the need for the region to remain proactive in addressing these impacts, the forum recommitted to the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific.

Through the Pacific Resilience Partnership initiatives will be implemented to address the Framework’s goals of low carbon development, integrated adaptation and risk reduction, and enhanced disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

To further strengthen the region’s resilience, the Forum Secretariat will continue to work closely with the Forum Economic Ministers to elaborate and establish the Pacific Resilience Facility, and prepare a proposal for a Pacific Climate Change Insurance Facility.

Fisheries Fisheries continues to play a central role toward the wellbeing of Pacific people, their livelihoods and national economies. The communique highlights the importance of the long-term sustainability and viability of the region’s fisheries resources.

To provide forum leaders with the latest scientific and economic assessments of important issues such as the adverse impacts of climate change, and illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, there will now be an annual regional fisheries ministers meeting which will look at both coastal and pelagic fisheries.

This is a positive step that will allow for greater information sharing between the forum membership and the regional agencies who engage in detailed monitoring and provide expert advice.

Fisheries subsidies provided by some distant water fishing nations have been harmful to the region’s longline fisheries. This year, forum leaders have called upon those nations, many of whom are forum dialogue partners, to remove these harmful subsidies.

Ocean conservation and management Two issues relating to integrated ocean management and conservation issues were raised by forum leaders in their communique.

Firstly, forum leaders acknowledged the urgency of securing their respective maritime boundaries, and in so doing declaring the outer limits of the Blue Pacific Continent — to ensure the sustainable development and security of our region, and thereby the security and wellbeing of Pacific people.

A number of outstanding maritime boundaries claims remain, which will need to be pursued and resolved by forum members with legal and technical support from the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) in the coming months.

Secondly, the forum’s leadership have called for collective action to advance the region’s position in the negotiations currently underway at the un for a new implementing agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Given the dynamic and migratory nature of the ocean and life within it, these negotiations are particularly critical for the region, to ensure the broader health metrics of our marine environment for now and for future generations.

Childhood obesity Tragically, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now represent the leading cause of premature deaths in the Pacific region. Of particular alarm is the increasing incidence of childhood obesity resulting in NCDs. This will have a big impact on our current and future generations of Pacific people and societies, and our economies.

The Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism highlighted the issue this year and Pacific leaders have committed to leading a whole-of-government and wholeof-society approach to address the issues of childhood obesity, early childhood development and related NCDs.

This commitment will be significant to assist with existing action already underway through the 2014 NCDs roadmap.

Sustainable funding of the forum secretariat A final outcome I would like to highlight is the approval of a sustainable funding strategy that will see forum island countries increase their membership contributions from 26 per cent to 51 per cent of primary budget for the Forum Secretariat over a nine-year period.

This not only ensures adequate and predictable funding for the Secretariat into the future, but also means that there is increased equitable ownership of the Secretariat.

Building a strong Pacific There will be many challenges as well as opportunities for the Pacific Islands Forum as the region goes about the work of implementing all that has been outlined in the Leaders’ Communique.

As we lift anchor and cast off — it would be wise for us to recall the words of Nauru’s President and the incumbent forum chair, Baron Waqa, who in his opening speech for the 49th Pacific Islands Forum, said, “The work ahead may seem daunting, but no more so than when our parents and grandparents began this project to build a strong Pacific several decades ago.

“Like them, we can see the enormous potential of our people. We know our islands have provided us with all we needed to live with dignity for thousands of years, and can continue to do so for thousands more. At this moment in history, we must once again summon our will to lay out a clear vision for building a strong Pacific”.

• The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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