Ladies and gentlemen.
Today’s side-event shines the spotlight on the Large Ocean Island States of the Pacific, including our values and identity as stewards of the Pacific Ocean. But today is also about a celebration of commitment and effort by many Governments, organizations and individuals in their leadership and dedication to the conservation and preservation of the oceans, and the effective management of the resources therein, in particular, our Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean has provided our island communities their cultural and historical identity and attachment since time immemorial. It has been the major influence in the history of Pacific Island communities. Throughout the region, customary association with the sea forms the basis of present day social structures, livelihoods and tenure systems and traditional systems of stewardship governing its use.
Pacific leaders urge the world to recognize the inseparable link between our ocean, seas and Pacific island peoples: their values, traditional practices and spiritual connections. The invaluable methods and principles passed down from our forebears are key to a sustainable future for our ocean.
In this sea of islands where the ocean exceeds land masses by an average factor of 300 to 1, the Pacific peoples have developed a unique relation with the ocean that has shaped their sense of place, their economies, and their culture. For us, the ocean is both a shared resource and a source of isolation. It helps define the ways communities communicate and are governed, and it continues to be a source of cultural significance and inspiration. It has been the source of enduring sustenance for our Pacific peoples, but it has also daunted us on many occasions with its devastating and overwhelming power.
The relation that Pacific Island people have with the ocean is dualistic. The vast offshore areas of the deep ocean represent the frontier, a region of underexploited resources of high economic and strategic value. Yet for most Pacific Islanders, it is the coastal areas surrounding their islands that provide the food, income, culture, and recreation that are so important to the Pacific way of life. The OCEAN is core and central to our way of life
We are custodians of some of the world’s richest biodiversity and marine resources and recognise that this natural endowment is our greatest asset that must be sustainably managed for the benefit of our present and future generations. A shared Ocean means a shared responsibility and shared benefits for our environment, our economies and our communities. Though separated by vast distances, the Pacific Ocean unites our islands in common purpose – it is our home, and our key to a future of infinite promise. Therefore as guardians of the largest portion of the Pacific Ocean, our leadership matters.
And the Pacific continues to show strong global leadership on oceans through the SAMOA Pathway and the stand-alone SDG on Oceans. In steering our own course to sustainable economic, social and environmental development, Pacific island countries have taken ownership of the responsibility of doing right for the ocean that connects us, and sustains us. As Pacific Leaders we are committed to continue the strong leadership as demonstrated by the Pacific region in calling for urgent action on oceans which led to the adoption of SDG14 and its many targets. It was the steadfast commitment and leadership of Pacific Small Island Developing States that led to the inclusion of SDG 14 in the 2030 Agenda. Again it was the Pacific that demanded a process of accountability so that the world stayed true to the noble aims of SDG14.
For the past four (4) decades, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders have placed emphasis on the unique dependence of Pacific countries on marine resources and, equally, for the protection of the Pacific Ocean. These issues were recurrent themes captured in our Leaders Summit Communiqués and national and regional policies and plans including:
Furthermore, our commitment to managing the Pacific Ocean resources has been illustrated in the declaration and commitment of vast marine protected areas and sanctuaries within the EEZs of Pacific island countries and territories such as Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Palau, Tokelau, Australia and New Zealand, and New Caledonia
All these underscore a strong commitment of Pacific responsibility and solidarity for the effective management and conservation of their marine resources for the benefit of the region, and the broader international community.
The Pacific islands are in the frontline of the impacts of climate change, and in recent years had to endure a number of significant natural disasters including coral bleaching, sea level rise and the growing threat of ocean acidification. While our island communities are naturally resilient and adaptable, the scale, frequency and destructiveness of these disasters are unprecedented and beyond our ability to respond and cope effectively as resource-constrained island nations.
Through listening and learning from our communities’ cultures and traditions, and integrating those lessons in the design of the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, we have charted a more Pacific-relevant course for sustainable development involving oceans. Through effective implementation of the strategic priorities and actions of the Framework, we will be able to bring the knowledge and wisdom of those before us, revisit and revitalize our intentions for the Pacific Island Regional Ocean Policy, and remain true to our role as stewards of the largest ocean continent.
But our journey has not been a smooth one. While activities and initiatives have been undertaken and completed that meet elements of the eight Principles of the regional Ocean policy, cohesive and cumulative successes have not been as numerous as first envisioned. This is not to say that Pacific Island Countries and Territories have not taken strides in ocean resources management – on today’s Panel, we have member governments of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, a group of countries that is setting fishing access in their EEZs along terms that bring better economic benefits to its members; later, the Honourable Prime Minister of Cook Islands will share with us how declaring their national marine park, Marae Moana, has led them further along the path of integrated ocean management.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Against this background, let me share some reflections on the concept of “The Blue Pacific”, the focus of this high-level event.
For many countries, the ocean and Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life Under Water” may be of marginal importance for their political and development ambitions, but for Pacific Islands Forum members, the ocean is crucial, and SDG 14, a critical catalyst for placing the ocean at the heart of the Pacific’s 2030 Development Agenda through the concept of “The Blue Pacific”.
The “Blue Pacific” seeks to re-capture the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean based on an explicit recognition of our shared “ocean identity”, “ocean geography”, and “ocean resources”. It aims to strengthen collective action as one “Blue Pacific Continent” by putting “The Blue Pacific” at the centre of the policy making and collective action for advancing the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Vision for our Region.
This inaugural ocean conference is timely because it will inform the theme “The Blue Pacific” of the next Pacific Islands Forum Leaders to be hosted by me and my government in Apia, Samoa in early September. With the current global uncertainty associated with shifts in geopolitics and globalization, it seems pertinent to re-assess our region’s collective engagement with the world and with each other – and to reassert our collective Pacific Regionalism as “The Blue Pacific”
The Blue Pacific in Action
Throughout the history of the Pacific Islands Forum, our Leaders have expressed a common sense of identity and purpose in a way that is consistent with “The Blue Pacific”. For example, the opening words of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, endorsed by Pacific Leaders in 2014, state,
“Pacific peoples are the custodians of the world’s largest, most peaceful and abundant ocean, its many islands and its rich diversity of cultures”.
That same year at their meeting in Palau, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders pronounced the “Palau Declaration on the Ocean: Life and Future”. The opening paragraph of the Declaration states, and I quote,
“As Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, we have and will continue to play a central role in the stewardship of one of the greatest natural endowments in the world – the Pacific Ocean. It is the lifeblood of our economies and societies and is crucial to global climatic and environmental stability. It is the fabric of unity upon which we have woven individual and collective relationships and agreements on sustainable development, now and into the future. The Ocean is our Life and our Future. The people of the Pacific Ocean are a living testament to that truth. Our way of life, our culture, our direction and our actions should reflect that truth, as it is our very identity: People of the Ocean”
Building on this Oceanic identity, there have been clear examples when the region has acted as one Blue Pacific. Perhaps most notable here is the establishment of the Rarotonga Nuclear Free Treaty in 1985. In the Treaty, Leaders expressed their determination to ensure that the bounty and beauty of the land and sea in their region shall remain the heritage of their peoples and their descendants in perpetuity to be enjoyed by all in peace. In doing so, Leaders asserted their shared ocean geography to establish a nuclear free zone across the South Pacific. More recently, in 2015 Leaders also called for increasing the revenue from our shared fisheries resource.
International law and instruments confer rights on Pacific Island communities relating to the use of the ocean and its resources. With these rights come responsibilities, especially for sustainable development, management and conservation of the ocean’s living resources and for the protection of the ocean environment and its biodiversity.
Pacific Island communities have established national laws, based on international principles and customary practices, which provide for responsible management and use of the ocean and its resources within their areas of jurisdiction.
The Pacific communities will work with other partners to promote the application of compatible policies by those partners in areas subject to their jurisdiction and surrounding waters, and with all other countries having interests in the region.
The Pacific Islands Forum has also been instrumental in advocating the protection and recognition of the Pacific Ocean at the global level such as the recent championing and adoption of SDG14 as a stand-alone goal in the Development 2030 Agenda. In earlier years of the Forum, Leaders engaged globally on The Law of the Sea and on driftnet fishing, in order to advocate for the protection of their shared ocean resources. These examples show that exercising a common sense of identity and purpose linked to the ocean has been critical for protecting and promoting the potential of our shared Pacific Ocean. However, the appeal to an oceanic identity and using it as the basis for action has perhaps occurred simply “as needed” or in consideration amongst other policy issues and opportunities. In contrast, The Blue Pacific calls for placing our shared ocean identity, ocean geography and ocean resources at the core of Pacific Regionalism and policy making of the Forum.
The Potential of the Blue Pacific would need to include consideration of a
On the global scale, there are a range of tensions around the Pacific Rim that if they were to escalate could have significant implications for our islands and region. While the Pacific may become an unwilling actor in such conflicts by virtue of its geography, as was done with the Rarotonga Treaty, it may be pertinent to ask how the region can assert its geography as the basis for promoting regional and global peace.
In closing, I am hoping that my peers – the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders that will be joining me in Samoa in September – will agree with me that SDG14 is a catalyst for many things including the placement of The Blue Pacific at the centre of Pacific Regionalism. This would provide the new narrative that we need, the new opportunities that we seek, and the stronger coordination and required regional governance and financing arrangement that would enable us to advance and realise the full potential of The BluePacific.