Keynote address by Dame Meg Taylor to the Workshop on the Establishment of an Earth Observation Platform

SG at Earth Observation Platform workshop

SG at Earth Observation Platform workshop

Keynote Address

Dame Meg Taylor

Establishment of an Earth Observation Platform to Support Pacific Island Nation Environmental,
Climate and Livelihood Needs – Consultation Workshop


Brisbane Convention Center


Thursday, 11 October 2018

Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Representative of Pacific Island Countries
Development Partners
Ladies and Gentlemen
I wish to celebrate and acknowledge the First Australians, the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today. I pay my respects to their ancestors, the current and the future generations.
I am a firm believer that we must seize every opportunity to make a difference for our Pacific peoples, our present and future generations!
In this vein, I am very pleased to be here with you all this morning. We come together to consult, engage and discuss the establishment of an earth observation platform to support the environmental, climate and livelihood needs of Pacific Islands.
It my intention to provide you with a broader regional context to frame your technical discussions over the next two days.

Regional context

Colleagues, the challenges we face as a region are stark – from the daily challenges we face because of climate change to the increasingly multifaceted and competing geostrategic interests in our region. This, coupled with the ongoing development challenges we face with governance, growing disparity and inequality, eroding traditional and cultural practices and increasing transnational organised crime place us in a growingly dynamic regional environment.
Notwithstanding all of this, the Pacific is and has always been a region of great potential and opportunity. However, I also note that the self-deprecating demeanour of Pacific people generally means that we, ourselves, may not always recognise our own potential or the strength of our capacity as obviously as we perhaps should.
In 2017, Forum Leaders endorsed the Blue Pacific narrative as the catalyst for deeper and stronger Pacific regionalism through strengthened collective action, leadership and commitment to act as one Blue Continent! As custodians of the world’s largest ocean, we carry the responsibility of ensuring its sustainability for future generations. It is in recognition of this, that I have accepted this invitation to be here with you this morning.

Broader regional policy interests and expectations of the workshop

Advancements in technology, the world over, has redefined globalisation in this day and age. Similarly, this workshop provides an invaluable opportunity to discuss the type of support our region can elicit from earth observation platforms and the data it accumulates. Equally important for me is to understand how this information can be used to inform broader regional policy discussions, including oceans governance and security.

Maritime Boundaries

In the past year I have had the opportunity to be briefed on the range of satellite and other earth observation tools utilized and offered by the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division of the Pacific Community, especially in the area of maritime boundary mapping.
An issue of critical concern in this regard is securing our maritime boundaries. The 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories manage 20% of the world’s ocean in their Exclusive Economic Zones. There are 47 shared boundaries in the Pacific and 33 treaties have been signed since 1974 between countries.
The settlement of maritime boundaries provides certainty to the ownership of our ocean space, which is vital for our Pacific cultures and critical for managing our ocean resources, biodiversity, ecosystems and fighting the impacts of climate change.

Regional surveillance

I have also had the opportunity to see the Regional Surveillance Picture that forms a central part of the FFA’s regional surveillance, and appreciate how it may also usefully complement our regional efforts to fight trans-national crime in the maritime domain.

Regional Climate Center

I have had the opportunity to be briefed by SPREP on the new climate center that is being established in Apia, where meteorological and broader climate related data can be gathered and analyzed to help us better understand the regional oceans/climate interface. I understand that USP is also engaged in monitoring earth observations of both the maritime and terrestrial areas of the region.
Access to earth observation data and information from satellite, airborne, land and ocean data are critical for understanding and managing the resources we have today. Earth Observation can support evidence-based decisions, inform policies and focus investment actions by our national Governments because it relates to terrestrial and coastal zone observations and the wider ocean area and related activity.

What are the current challenges we face with earth observation in the Pacific?

However, this work is not without its challenges. Two consistent challenges faced, include:
Island countries continue to face challenges with cost and connectivity to access high resolution satellite imagery. Furthermore, timely access to requested imagery from internationally owned and operated satellites poses a concern; and
Whilst some countries have capacity and capability to store, catalogue and maintain spatial data, the majority of our Pacific Island Countries do not. Relatedly, there has been a consistent decline in support by development partners in building capacity and skill in this area.

Why do we need an earth observation platform?

As we all know, the issue of climate change is a fundamental existential issue for Pacific Island countries. The Boe Declaration on regional security cooperation places Climate Change as our central and most critical regional threat.
I would urge that we use the opportunity of these discussions to understand how earth observation platforms can help us to better understand the systemic dynamics that most affect the productivity and weather changes of our PIC region, but also, very importantly, to understand the local dynamics and impacts of on our communities in their different locations.
That knowledge can help us to craft spatial use policies that would allow us to better cope with future climate changes, food security and disastrous weather events.
Similarly, with regional security. The region’s geography is a daunting challenge for our law enforcement, security and defence agencies.
With a combined ocean area of 37 million square kilometers to monitor and patrol, the porosity of our borders has seen increasing amount of drug activity that is impinging upon our islands. Smuggling and illegal harvesting of natural resources, such as timber and reef resources, is another area of illicit activity over which we seem to have little effective oversight.
While illegal oceanic fishing in this region is deemed to be within reasonable control, we know that we cannot be complacent in our efforts to fight IUU fishing. All of these criminal activities not only pose a threat to our communities and to public order and good governance, but they are also an affront to our sovereignty.

A Pacific Earth Observation Framework

An earth observation framework specifically designed to meet the unique needs and requirements of our region is timely and necessary. It should provide us with data and information that is both accurate and of high quality. Data and information should be as complete as possible to provide a comprehensive picture of what needs to be known. Importantly, it must be consistent in terms of accessibility, reliability and availability bearing in mind the differing capacities across the region.

Issues to think about

Whilst I have this opportunity, I am curious to know what information about our region is being collected and generated by other countries in terms of earth observation and to what end. What can we as the Pacific gain from this? Are these other observations and applications of use to us in the Pacific Islands region? Are they addressing questions and issues that are important to us Pacific Islanders?
May I also reaffirm the matter of capacity. The regional issues that require observation and analysis, and the sophistication of the observation tools and platforms are becoming increasingly complex. Are Pacific Islanders being trained in their use, application and development? How relevant and cost effective is this technology for PICs to use, and to sustain, especially when external funding may cease? The ownership of relevant science and research is a key goal of SDG 14, and I would urge that this be a key part of what is addressed in this workshop.
These questions have become more relevant and critical as the Forum region sets about to give fulfillment to the concept of the Blue Pacific. The key policy question for Leaders in our region is; how can we better understand and secure our Ocean Continent? I came here to join this workshop because I recognize that the technology and expertise of the earth observation sector can and needs to be better harnessed to address this overall issue.
I see this initiative as a vital component of securing our Blue Pacific. It is therefore incumbent of us to ask the hard questions and really understand what is required by the region. This will hopefully ensure that the proposed Pacific earth observation platform is truly reflective of what the Pacific needs and requires – and not driven by the agendas of others or what others deem to be what we need.
I thank the CSIRO for this opportunity to address you this morning and for bringing Pacific experts together to discuss such an important initiative for these times.

I thank you.

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