Regional Policy Update On The State Of The Pacific Ocean

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Regional Outreach Event

University of the South Pacific
Saturday, 7 October 2017


delivered by
Shiu Raj, Director Programme & Initiatives,
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Distinguished Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this morning to speak on issues of growing importance to our region. Allow me to firstly convey the regrets of The Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, who is also the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, currently attending the High-Level Oceans Conference in Malta.

Our Leaders met just a month ago in Apia, Samoa to focus on The Blue Pacific, our sea of islands, our security through sustainable development, management and conservation. OurLeadersareconcernedabout the health of our ocean, and the associated climate change nexus. Climate Change is the single biggest threat to the Pacific Islands.

Leaders endorsed The Blue Pacific identity as the core driver of collective action, as well as the new narrative to act as one “Blue Continent”. In considering the shifts in the global and regional contexts, Leaders recognised the opportunity of The Blue Pacific identity to reinforce the potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean and reaffirm the connections of Pacific peoples with their natural resources, environment, culture and livelihoods.

It is against this backdrop that I will spend the next few minutes to highlight important issues for your consideration.

Recent Disasters
The link between the ocean and weather patterns is not a new one - weather is determined by the relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere. While this phenomenon has sustained human, animal and plant life in this our biosphere, the impact of climate change has altered the nature of this relationship – with sometimes catastrophic effect. It is unfortunate that there are still some who challenge what most scientists and serious observers accept as established fact.

The Pacific is at the center of the new reality driven by climate change. Permit me to share with you the impact of this new normal. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2016 marked the third consecutive hottest year on record – 2016 saw the hottest average surface temperature recorded since record keeping began over 135 years ago. That year, Cyclone Winston, a category-5 storm with wind gusts reaching 300km/h, struck Fiji with catastrophic effects.  Winston was among the strongest tropical cyclones to make landfall in recorded history - and the strongest recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

The year 2017 is the first yearsince records have been kept that the Atlantic Ocean has hosted two category 5 storms at the same time. Since 1851, only 33 storms have reached category 5 strength – in a period of 10 days in August - two such storms ravaged the Caribbean.

For the Pacific, the threat of intense weather events is likely to become the new normal. A recent study by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme projected an increase in the frequency of high intensity category 4 and 5 storms over the next century. These findings are directly related to increased anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and the warming effect of those emissions on the earth’s surface temperature.

The impact of climate change on the Pacific is not only felt in the intensity of cyclones but impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems. For example, coral bleaching and ocean acidification, two externalities associated with climate change, compromise natural coastal barriers such as reefs, leading to coastal erosion, making island states more vulnerable to tidal surges. Adding to this, sea level rise can have devastating effects on coastal communities. This is our new reality. WeurgetheIPCC andthescientificcommunitytoboosttheir work in these areas, tailored to the Pacific region.

SDGs and COP23

In the face of these challenges we have not stood still. The region continues to be a leading global advocate on both Sustainable Development Goals, particularly on SDGs 13 and 14: Climate Action and Life Below Water. The region has also sought to highlight the twin challenges of climate change and the resulting impact on the oceans to the international community at every opportunity including at the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Indeed, ahead of COP 23, the question of the oceans – climate change nexus has been frontloaded as a critical discussion point during the UNFCCC process. But we have also taken concrete actions at the national and regional level. Many Pacific Islands have taken account of the oceans in their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) as well as assumed Voluntary Commitments within the context of SDG 14 on issues that touch and concern the ocean – climate change nexus.

Some of these commitments include the expansion of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a means of conserving and strengthening marine ecosystems but also to strengthen the regulating ecosystem services that can mitigate against anthropogenic pollution.

At the regional level, Leaders have endorsed the Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development that also addresses the risks and co-benefits that can accrue to the oceans from effective climate action.

As mentioned earlier, Leaders at the 48th Pacific Islands Forum endorsed the Blue Pacific approach that places our ocean at the center of our developmental, political and social agenda. Of course, this takes full account of climate change and the attendant threats that it poses to our ocean and our people.

Let me now provide some background on the regional oceans architecture:

  • In 1999, Pacific Island Leaders called for the development of a regional ocean policy. Endorsed by Pacific Island Forum Leaders in 2004, the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy defines the ocean in a broad sense to include the waters of the ocean, the living and non-living resources and the seabed, as well as the ocean interfaces with islands and atmosphere, including the adjacent high seas.
  • While remaining the most comprehensive ocean policy guidance in the region, the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy does not define an adequate coordination or resourcing system.
  • Recognising this, Leaders endorsed in 2010 the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape (FPO), to operationalise the vision of the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy.
  • The Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape has 6 core strategic priorities including Jurisdictional Rights and Responsibilities, which encourages the delineation and declaration of maritime boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). This priority needs urgent attention and action by all Member states as advised by the United Nations Division on the Oceans and Law of the Sea, for legal claim under international law - UNCLOS.
  • Under the strategic priority for Good Ocean Governance, Leaders established a Pacific Ocean Commissioner to ensure dedicated advocacy and attention to ocean priorities and support decisions and processes at national, regional and global levels. Recognising the importance of inclusivity and partnership, the Pacific Ocean Alliance, comprising a broad stakeholder base made up of private, public and civil sector representatives was formed to progress integrated ocean management, such as supporting Forum Island Countries on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) and SDG 14.
  • Underscoring the need for genuine and durable “partnerships for action” Leaders endorsed in 2014 and 2016, the Palau Declaration – On the Ocean Life and Future; and the Pohnpei Ocean Statement – A Course to Sustainability – atestament of Leaders recognition of the Ocean as a priority for our region.
  • Coordinating the regional approach to ensure integrated ocean management is a major task but necessary to ensure cost-effectiveness and dissemination of good practise.
  • These regional instruments and initiatives have advanced implementation of a world-leading, shared approaches to ocean management with a focus on coordination, collaboration and integration - the ideals of which are embedded in the Framework for Pacific Oceanscape.
  • More recently and in accordance with Leaders directives, the OPOC supported the coordination of the region’s preparations ahead of the United Nations Oceans Conference through co-chairing the regional steering committee with Fiji. Detailed efforts aimed at strengthening and coordinating regional positions in a manner that advances and promotes collective priorities under mandate were achieved.
  • However, implementation remains a challenge. This is caused by a number of factors, including: (i) strategic divergence and institutional fragmentation in dealing with regional issues, (ii) a lack of durable and sustainable partnerships to facilitate implementation and up-scaling, and (iii) an inadequate scientific and technical evidence-base and limited capacity to use this for optimal decision making.
  • With geopolitical fluxes in the region bringing further dimensions to consider in ocean governance, there is a need for the region to strengthen and further harmonise its ocean governance mandates for sustainable ocean development, as well as for more incisive ownership by member countries of the Pacific.
  • Going forward, we need to rejuvenate ocean governance in light of these contemporary pressures and to move away from some weak areas of implementation of the past. This, however, challenges governments, CROP agencies and other partners in the region to harmonise, mobilise and strategise in an increasingly more integrated and coherent manner moving forward.

I trust this brief tour de table has provide you with additional insights on both the concerns related to the oceans – climate change nexus as well as the regional architecture on oceans.

Let me conclude bystating that just a month ago, the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders reiterated their support for existing regional ocean policy and declarations, and strengthening of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner for coordination and advocacy of cross-sectoral ocean issues.

Leadersalso called for the commencement of the negotiations in the UN for a new Implementing Agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity on Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.

These are extremely important bodies of work that will seek to protect the future of the Pacific islands and its people. As a region, we have already taken practical approaches to managing our resources through key policies and good practices such as the fisheries management effort by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, the declaration of Marine Protected Areas, and establishment of the World Shark Sanctuary.

I therefore urge you to be innovative in your thinking and look at ways in which the Pacific as a region can do better through collective efforts. If you have new game changing ideas, that is backed with sound research and capacity to implement, I encourage you to submit it as an initiative under the Framework for the Pacific Regionalism when the calls open later this year.

In conclusion I urge IPCC to continue relevant assessments to support the work on oceans in the Pacific region, including on fisheries. We count on IPCC  to also equip the work on the Oceans Pathway Partnership from COP23 with good solid content.

Thank you.

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