Dear People of the Pacific,
I’m energised by the discussions last week at the 46th Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting. Leaders have embraced an opportunity to tackle a range of important regional issues. There was deep engagement and robust debate.
At the beginning of this year the Secretariat began implementing the Framework for Pacific Regionalism which calls for innovative thinking around some of the big issues we face. The range and quality of submissions reinforced for me the idea that we all hope for a free, healthy and prosperous future and that we share a collective concern around issues of climate, oceans and security.
You spoke about the pain of cervical cancer on our women and girls, a preventable but sadly prevalent illness in the region. You pushed for substantial action towards reducing the impact that climate change is having throughout the region. You shared concern for the Melanesian people living in Indonesia. You recognised tuna as a rich resource and asked for a plan to ensure that it is sustainably caught, provides greater economic benefit, and that improved monitoring and surveillance programmes are put in place. Finally, you imagined a region that is connected to the world through improved ICT infrastructure and services.
In response to these issues raised by you, Leaders last week strongly endorsed a High Level Political Statement declaring that an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would severely exacerbate the particular challenges facing the most vulnerable smaller island states of the Pacific. Importantly, they also agreed that loss and damage be a critical stand-alone element in the Paris outcome for building resilience against climate change impacts. Leaders also called for the Paris agreement to be ambitious and legally binding.
Leaders endorsed a Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Pacific Fisheries, directing that increases in economic return be achieved in five years. Additionally, they agreed to a joint taskforce of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), and the Forum Secretariat to develop a programme to increase sustainable economic returns of fisheries.
Leaders recognised Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Papuan provinces but noted concerns about the human rights situation. They requested the Forum Chair to convey the views of the Forum to the Indonesian Government, and to consult on a fact finding mission to discuss the situation in Papua with the parties involved.
The importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for linking the region into global networks that can provide unprecedented educational and economic opportunities was highlighted in the meeting. Leaders tasked the University of South Pacific and the Secretariat to focus their efforts towards enhancing the existing ICT services and look for emerging opportunities.
And finally, Leaders acknowledged the burden that cervical cancer places on the region. There was agreement that a regional response could help alleviate the great pain and suffering currently affecting so many. We will explore all avenues available to us to ensure adequate resourcing for prevention and treatment options, including the HPV vaccine that has already helped so many elsewhere in the world.
These are big challenges, but they are also the kinds of challenges the Forum was set up to face. I sincerely hope that implementing the initiatives identified through the Framework will move us towards a deeper sense of regionalism and the brighter future we all strive for.
To do so will mean hard work for Governments and the Forum Secretariat. Utilising the wealth of technical expertise within the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) will be vitally important. Forum Leaders have consulted with valued international partners to secure greater political commitments that are aligned to our needs. I’d also like to acknowledge the valuable role to be played by the private sector and civil society, your input and feedback is both important and highly valued. We are accountable to you all and undertake to report back to you annually on the progress we make. Through collaboration and cooperation we can achieve better outcomes for the Pacific together.