Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Dame Meg Taylor's opening remarks to the Sustainable Ocean Initiative/Pacific Ocean Alliance Regional Workshop for the Pacific Islands

  • Associate Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Hon. Taefu Lemi
  • Members of the Diplomatic Corps; High Commissioner Sue Langford
  • Representative from member countries and territories
  • Representatives from member organisations of the Pacific Ocean Alliance, including from sibling CROP agencies
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

This Regional Workshop is particularly timely as it comes against the backdrop of welcome advances by the international community on the question of our collective responsibility to the world’s oceans - which are indeed the Common Heritage of Mankind. As a result of these advances, securing inter-generational equity is now not only a moral responsibility for the peoples of the Pacific, but a quasi-legal obligation committed to by the Community of Nations.

The goal of preserving our ‘common heritage’ for future generations is being increasingly shaped by the emergence of a multi-layered and complex web of international norms, codes of conduct, soft-law and binding international Convention. The re-framing of the international community’s commitment to the oceans has found concrete expression and is now embodied in a series of global commitments continued in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – and Pacific island countries must be recognised for their leadership toward ensuring a standalone goal – SDG14, for Oceans and Seas.

We must now determine the appropriate balance between preserving our ‘common heritage’ for future generations and attending to the present responsibility bequeathed to our peoples to harness and share the benefits within and from our ocean. The hard won progress on issues relating to oceans’ sustainability, now being celebrated by well-meaning and far-flung organisations and the global intelligentsia, is neither novel nor new to the Pacific. Indeed, our peoples have peaceably coexisted with our ocean and sea of islands for millennia. And for endless generations the question of sustainability was neither asked, nor relevant, as we lived within the means of our natural resources.

This Pacific value was aptly expressed by our Leaders in September this year through their Pohnpei Oceans Statement, which declares:
The inseparable link between our ocean, seas and Pacific island peoples has been illustrated by their values, traditional practices and spiritual connections. The invaluable methods and principles passed down from our fore bearers are key to a sustainable future for our ocean”
Regrettably, it was the introduction of external influences and methods that decisively shifted our priorities and actions towards practices that do no justice to the sustainable management, use and conservation of our Oceans.

It is the recognition of this - our responsibility to secure a balance between the imperatives of sustainability and our own development - that has led this region to play an outsized role in progressing a global policy architecture that seeks a more equitable approach to the ecological and commercial imperatives attached to the world’s oceans. It spurred Leaders to initiate the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, which they endorsed in 2010, then their Ocean: Life and Future declaration in Palau in 2014, and of course deliver the Ocean statement this year in Pohnpei.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen;
My nomination as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner and the establishment of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, is in large measure a response by our Leaders to our acknowledged commitment to finding a new equilibrium between our present rights and future obligations to the Pacific. It is indeed the responsibility of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner to assist Pacific island countries and territories to find common cause within the multitude of competing interests, on the path to sustainably unlocking the benefits of our common heritage.

In this regard, it would be remiss of me not to, in the case of the Pacific Ocean Alliance event, express our gratitude for the contributions received by the OPOC from Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Convention of Biological Diversity Secretariat (CBD Secretariat). Without these support of our Ocean Alliance partners it would not be possible to continue our work to support implementation of the Framework for Pacific Oceanscape (FPO).

The existential questions of: ‘where are we now?’ and ‘where do we go from here?’ are pertinent ones that should help inform and guide our discussions over the next few days.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen;
As indicated earlier, the international community has agreed a raft of new multilateral commitments relating to the Oceans. Of particular relevance to the Pacific is SDG 14 which commits us to “Conserve and Sustainably Use the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources.” Another building block of the emerging global policy architecture is continued in the outcomes of the ‘SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (Samoa Pathway)’. And finally, the ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’, secured under the auspices of the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity. These form three complementary building blocks that seek to govern our relationship with, and commitment to, our Ocean and Seas.

In generalising the consensus that has emerged from the targets embedded in these global frameworks, the international community has stepped back from over-emphasising management and conservation at the expense of the commercial potential of oceanic resources. As a consequence, the international policy environment that now informs regional and national actions concerning the world’s oceans, is sufficiently nuanced so that it supports conservation and construction of ecological resilience, while at the same time catering for our current economic needs and those of future generations.

To their credit, our Leaders have sought a balanced approach towards the management and development of our oceanic resources, particularly in the fisheries sector. In Port Moresby in 2015, under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, Leaders affirmed the importance of increasing the economic returns from our fisheries and ensuring their sustainable management. Since then, a joint Task Force composed of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and Forum Secretariat have developed a Programme to Increase the Sustainable Economic Returns from Fisheries. Drawing inspiration from the findings of the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries, it lays out targets and against which progress and success will be measured. It articulates how we will meet the goals set by Pacific Leaders of seeing increases in the economic returns from the fisheries sector within five years – or by 2020.  

The approaches laid out by Leaders and through the Programme, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR) and ocean-related regional policy and planning instruments such as the 2002 Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy (PIROP) and the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, are similar to other international oceans policy frameworks in that they variously seek to balance the imperatives of management, and stimulate economic returns from the ocean based resources.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen;
In pursuit of the balance that we seek, we must challenge ourselves to assess and re-assess the relevance and currency of the conventional wisdom that informs our decision-making. As a region, we must look to, and beyond fisheries, to the limitless potential of our oceans, and their almost infinite range of under-explored and un-tapped resources. The potential returns from these sectors, far exceed the developmental impacts that can be realised from the fisheries sector.

Have we sufficiently explored or made necessary investments in deep sea mineral resources? Have we quantified the economic potential that can be generated from marine bio prospecting? What is the value of latent and untapped energy sources that can be derived from beneath the seabed, as well as wind and tidal energy? Have we considered or explored the full monetization of our oceans as a vector for tourism and tourism services?

Introspection and analysis is critical in the fisheries sector. The region must seek to look beyond harvesting and processing, to the strengthening and scaling-up of new and existing value chains. The relationship between value generation and harvest must be assessed.

To safeguard our common heritage the region must seek to increase the value and value proposition of its fisheries through branding and strategic market related decisions.
The uncomfortable truth is that not all Pacific Island Countries possess the structural and competitive advantages to become fisheries hubs. Considered analysis must be given to the prospects and viability of some of us specialising in onshore value added services that support offshore fisheries and ocean based commercial activities. Given the vastness of our oceanic resources, policy makers and officials should explore backward linkages to bespoke value adds such as specialised maritime: financial services; insurance and indemnity services, environmental and ecological services, dry-docking and transportation services, including transshipment.

We must look beyond the now; we must look beyond today and our immediate horizon. The Oceans are OUR opportunity and OUR future. We need to release ourselves from a limited view of the resources available to us. We must pursue innovative and disruptive business models and public policy approaches that give full expression to what has now become the accepted reality of our time. The Oceans Economy is NOT a zero sum proposition we can and must preserve our common heritage for yet unborn generations but it is our responsibility, indeed our duty to sustainably harness the full potential and bounty of our Pacific Ocean.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen
Let us jointly roll-out our voyaging canoe from its hut, take our paddles from their rack and let us paddle together as one, seek new sails, and navigate through the challenges of managing and developing the resources of the ocean that has provided for us and bound us together since time immemorial.
I thank you.



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