The Pacific Islands Forum is a political grouping of eighteen member governments in the Pacific islands region. The Forum membership is quite diverse, ranging from a developed country, Australia with a population of 23 million, to a Small Island Developing State, Niue, with a population of 2000. Geography is also quite diverse. Papua New Guinea has a large land area of half a million square kilometers, and a population of 7 million, while the Republic of Kiribati comprises 33 islands, with a combined land mass of 800 square kilometers, dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean, and a population of 100,000.
As such, there are stark differences between the development challenges faced by different Forum Members. Some Members face greater vulnerabilities to external factors due to their size – such as small land masses spread over large areas of ocean – while others face greater challenges with high population growth rates, rapid urbanisation, low economic growth, and the commensurate societal issues that arise in these conditions.
It is against this diverse backdrop that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and other regional and international organisations, have sought to support Forum Members achieve their development aspirations. This includes under the Mauritius National Plan of Action, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway, also known as the SAMOA Pathway, and now the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development/SDGs. At the regional level these strategies are underpinned by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which forms the principal mandate for the Pacific Islands Forum.
Experiences from implementing the MDGs and Mauritius Plan of Action
Notwithstanding the fact that the different countries in the Pacific face different development challenges, as a Pacific region we have learnt important common lessons from implementing various development agenda, particularly the MDGs, which coincidentally were not uniformly achieved in the Pacific.
One of the key lessons we have learnt is that global indicators for development should consider and reflect local contexts. We also found that there are significant human resource, institutional and statistical capacity issues in the Pacific, which impact implementation as well as reporting. This was not helped by the fact that national, regional and international development strategies and goals were being implemented and monitored in parallel to each other, thereby increasing monitoring and reporting burdens at national levels.
We also found that there were multiple and uncoordinated streams of financing which had the effect of skewing prioritisation in favour of donor priorities, as well as the fragmented delivery of aid, with too many projects and country missions, and excessive demands on limited national resources to report and/or attend external meetings and trainings.
At national levels, we found that there was fragmented coordination amongst line ministries, and with the central agencies, and ad hoc responses to emergencies that were unplanned and unbudgeted. There was low use of country systems, and national governments faced challenges in engaging with the private sector and civil societies.
Lessons learnt going forward
Our experiences with implementing the MDGs have provided us with some important lessons going forward, which will inform our implementation of the 2030 Agenda. From our experience we identified the need for strong national institutions, systems and capacities to deliver on national priorities and policies. The development of strong country systems is in turn dependent on strong country leadership and ownership of the agenda. To advance the use of national systems, it is critical therefore that development partner support is aligned to country leadership and country systems. We have found that mutually accountable and results based partnerships reinforce country ownership, and the use of country systems.
Regional level support for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
At the regional level, last year Pacific Islands Forum Leaders committed to the full implementation of the SDGs, SAMOA Pathway, Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework, and Addis Ababa Action Agenda, giving particular attention to the unfinished business of the MDGs. In recognition of the need for the global SDGs indicators to better reflect the Pacific context, Forum Leaders called for an open and inclusive process to identify regional indicators that account for national priorities. Regional indicators should also be used to jointly monitor progress on the suite of development strategies adopted, using existing work streams to avoid duplication, and reduce reporting burdens. Significantly, Pacific Leaders directed that the implementation of actions to achieve the SDGs should be country led and regionally supported.
A Pacific SDGs Taskforce has been established to give effect to these directives. The Taskforce consists of representatives of Forum member countries, Pacific regional intergovernmental organisations, the UN and multilateral agencies, bilateral partners, non-state actors and regional research/academic institutions. This inclusive grouping will ensure an open, consultative and country-driven process to develop a systematic, coordinated and integrated means of implementing, monitoring and reporting on the SDGs, SAMOA Pathway and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
The Pacific SDGs Taskforce has developed a preliminary outline of a Pacific SDGs Roadmap, to guide national responses to achieving the SDGs. The Pacific SDGs Roadmap would be for the duration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. The Roadmap will be implemented through five interlinked components:
The draft Roadmap itself is being widely consulted with the intention to have the final product endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders next year. That is not to say that implementation will not commence until after the adoption of the Roadmap. Rather this outlines steps to support processes already underway in many cases, by national governments, regional and multilateral agencies, NGOs and businesses, to streamline the SDGs into planning, work programming and activities.
It is evident therefore that the Pacific region is already making headway in terms of realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Furthermore, we see the global agenda as opportunities – opportunities to ensure coherence in policy development and resource allocation at national level; opportunities to strengthen our own national prioritisation, budgeting, public financial and accountability mechanisms; and opportunities to strengthen our national statistical systems, to mobilise more and coherent financing to support our development aspirations.
Going forward we have chosen to focus on the Means of Implementation – to ensure we have the right financing, capacities, systems, and institutions to deliver the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and Samoa Pathway. Despite our limited capacities and resources, we can and have been able to support and help each other as Pacific neighbours. The Pacific has pioneered peer reviews of country systems that the UN system and UN Secretary General has acknowledged as good practice. To strengthen our capacities to deliver the ambitions of SDGs, SAMOA Pathway, and the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, we call on our development partners to resource peer learning and south-south cooperation.