Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Deputy Secretary General Cristelle Pratts remarks to the Sustainable Ocean Initiative/Pacific Ocean Alliance Regional Workshop for the Pacific Islands

Agenda Item_ II:  Regional Context: Sustainable Priorities for Sustainable and Productive Economies

  • Associate Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Hon. Taefu Lemi
  • Our Pacific Ocean Commissioner and Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum
  • Representatives from member countries and territories;
  • Representatives from member organisations of the Pacific Ocean; Alliance, including from sibling CROP agencies
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

The concept of ‘sustainability’ is often misused and misapplied. It is so often the catchall that usually qualifies future economic, social and environmental conduct. ‘Sustainability’ typically implies to conduct that which will not unduly compromise future value or resources. For us in, and from Oceania - the nexus between ‘sustainability’ and the ‘Our Ocean and Seas’ is one that demands actions that secures inter-generational equity – ensuring that our policy-decisions ‘today’, do not undermine our collective future. In the context of our discussions this week, the term and its underlying meaning will be unpacked and interrogated to determine what it means to the Pacific and its peoples.

What however is a base reality is that the term by itself does not imply virtue or value. For example, from a corporate standpoint, an overemphasis on ‘sustainable’ growth may lead to un-sustainable environmental and resource management practices. From an ecological standpoint, an overemphasis on ‘sustainable’ management and use, may lead to slower rates of economic growth or a patchy path towards development. The challenge for our region and our region’s policymakers, is finding the right balance between satisfying current needs with the preservation of our patrimony for future generations.  

Equally, sustainability is not and should not be a zero-sum game dominated by any one side of a dynamic conversation. Achieving ‘sustainable’ and productive economies requires ongoing conversation and dialogue that takes account of the legitimate interests of all.

It is worth reflecting on the words of Epeli Hau’ofa - Our Sea of Islands – one of his selected works in his book “We are the Ocean” – I quote “No single country in the Pacific can by itself protect its own slice of the oceanic environment; the very nature of that environment prescribes regional effort and to develop the ocean resources sustainably, a regional unity is required.” Unquote.

The region must therefore seek to lead a dialogue on the role of the private sector and civil society, of national governments and administrations, authorities, regional and multilateral agencies and development partners - focused on how the full benefits of our marine resources can be harnessed while not bringing into conflict equally meaningful priorities. For that to be achieved policy coordination is critical. A policy coordination that does not lead to any ‘position’ co-opting the dialogue but one that takes a big Fale approach wherein all legitimate positions and interests are considered, vetted and interrogated in a coordinated and constructive way. The outcome of such an iterative process should be owned by national authorities, industry partners and interests, civil society, and indeed, all of the peoples of our region.

The regional public policy process which is centre-point to the Framework for Pacific Regionalism is an opportunity to identify Ocean-related regionalism priorities and wherein such interactive processes would be needed to effectively implement and achieve their objectives, and which are intended to - ultimately - enable Our region and Our peoples to realise the Leaders Vision of  “a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity so that all Pacific people can lead free healthy and productive lives.”

What we however are looking for from this Workshop are approaches that  seek to sustainably develop, manage and conserve our ocean and its resources, while being conscious of the rapidly changing environment that we must adapt to – requires of us to assess emerging issues, manage risks and identify and explore new opportunities.

So allow me to quickly cover some ground that may offer a glimpse into our almost limitless potential.

The technology to explore new avenues to generate sustainable energy is now at hand. Beyond the facilitating impact of new technology and the diffusion of new practices, our region has critically bound itself to regional and multilateral commitments that require concrete steps towards complying with these obligations. Therefore, consideration should be given to the mainstreaming of renewable ocean based energy sources. This will require both national and regional planning and commitment to retool supply and diversify our energy mix. The potential exists to explore the feasibility of energy conversion from offshore wind, wave, tidal and (deep ocean) thermal sources, as well as the conversion of algae biomass into fuel.

Such efforts to diversify our energy mix aimed at production and export is also critical to improving the economic competitiveness of our region. One of the key ocean currents/headwinds that frustrate inward investment is the region’s almost uniformly high energy costs given our heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels. If the region is successful in exploring its vast ocean based energy potential the results could be transformative. Tapping these latent sources could lead to the secular decline in energy costs, improve current account balances due to a lower fuel import bill and stoke investments in new energy technologies. In a sense, the sustainable use of ocean based energy can provide cross-cutting developmental gains and benefits for the region. This however will require us to consider our options and take steps to create and implement a policy framework conducive to achieving gains from the region’s oceans based energy sources. 

Another untapped opportunity for our region is in bio-prospecting of marine genetic resources. The vast unexplored genetic potential offers tantalising opportunities for benefit-sharing and the creation of scientific capacity. Moreover, the commercial applications and value of these unseen and unmapped resources hold tremendous upside opportunities in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food production sectors.

Yet another area of immediate potential can be harnessed from the strengthening and up-scaling of services value chains connected to the oceans. While there is almost an infinite list of avenues, allow me to share in just a few. There is potential to link the extension of fiscal incentives to non-nationals, such as those that could be engaged in investments in the fisheries sector, to domestic financial services including risk financing and insurance.

  • Policies could be established that require foreign flagged vessels to utilise local financial and insurance services as a condition for the granting of licenses.
  • Current incentives for ship registration could be better leveraged by linking them to financial and ship classification services.

Additionally, there is potential for the development of regional maritime or multimodal hubs that also enable the provision of incidental services. Sustainable and reliable transport, including trans-shipment services, could assist in addressing some of the challenges faced by the region as it relates to maritime transport and improving trade and person-to-person connectivity. In fact of the 5 priorities identified in the recently endorsed Strategy for SIS, by SIS and PIF Leaders, for collective effort by the SIS – 2 are directly ocean related being: the sustainable development, management and conservation of their oceanic and coastal fisheries, the potential benefits and risks of DSM, and the need to invest in science and research to sustain and preserve coral reefs of the SIS); and secondly the need to address the challenges of ensuring mutually beneficial air and sea transport services to the SIS.   

Finally, sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism, can have a significant impact on the recovery and conservation of maritime ecosystems.

Critically, tourists are now demanding higher ecological standards and certification. These demands apply not only to the destination and its tourism infrastructure, it also applies to the hotels, tours and other tourism based activities.

Policy efforts directed at sustainable tourism can be introduced as part of sustainable investment and infrastructure policies. The impact of sustainable tourism could be systemic and cross-cutting given that the policy could be linked to the provision of other services including renewable energy; water treatment, including of wastewater and of some of the services already discussed earlier.

We should not allow perfection to become the enemy of the good. We should seize the opportunity presented to achieve our goal of satisfying our current needs while securing the future. And while we have a vested interest an obligation and commitment to chart our voyage to achieve SDG14 for Oceans & Seas – Life Below Water – we must think about its implications for Life Above Water and vice versa. As well its implications and linkages across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs.

Ladies and Gentlemen - I thank you.


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