Introductory Statement by the Secretary General to the Pacific Islands Forum at the Regional Conference on Securing the Limits of the Blue Pacific: Legal Options and Institutional Responses to the Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Maritime Zones, in the Context of International Law

Introductory Statement by the Secretary General to the Pacific Islands Forum

Dame Meg Taylor, DBE

9 September 2020

The Honourable Simon Kofe, Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu, Excellencies,  Representatives of our CROP Agencies, the Pacific Community, the Forum Fisheries Agency, University of the South Pacific and the South Pacific Regional Environment Program and of course, Ladies and Gentlemen, greetings from your Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

I join the Chair in thanking you all for making the time to participate in this important regional discussion.

I am very encouraged by the high level of interest and attendance from a wide spectrum of  government stakeholders – this is a testament to the significance our Leaders and our nations place on securing our Blue Pacific continent against the threats of sea-level rise and climate change.

 Indeed, this is the defining issue that will underpin the full realisation of the Blue Pacific Continent, as envisaged by the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Our Ocean is what connects us and gives us our identity as people of the Pacific. Our shared history has countless examples where our people have worked side by side to navigate the many challenges inherent in living on this vast ocean. Consequently, the securing of maritime boundaries in the face of challenges such as climate change is integral to our future and that of our future generations – it is our responsibility to work towards securing our Blue Pacific Continent for our people, our place and our prospects.

Now, more than ever, our identity and advocacy as a collective is absolutely vital. The Blue Pacific Continent is geographically centred amidst the world’s largest economic powers and the geopolitical and development context of the Pacific is constantly changing at such a rapid pace. Indeed, the future of this region and its development relationships is being discussed in foreign parliaments and legislatures.

The onus is on us to continually and consistently reflect on where we are and how we can most effectively continue working together. And yes, perhaps the time is now right to leverage the geopolitical interests and opportunities that are available to us to advocate for and secure our maritime interests into perpetuity.

The discussions over the next three days is important to developing a way forward on how we as a region will navigate and ensure the security of our Blue Pacific Continent. We all recognise that the process of developing international law is not straight forward. Treaty-making and the crystallisation of rules of customary international law are meticulous and deliberate processes that require time and patience. Indeed, the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention is a clear example as it took approximately 12 years from adoption to entry into force.

Yes, the discussions today will trigger a long journey which will be long and sometimes arduous but we must remain positive, and continue the hard work particularly in bringing about real progressive development of international law to supplement the rules based order we have all ascribed to, under the framework of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Without this, the enjoyment of rights and jurisdictions in our maritime zones, the protection of our heritage, and our economic development and nation building aspirations, cannot be possible. But the question remains. What does it mean by progressive development of International Law? Is it the status quo or an attempt to fix the inequities?

I strongly encourage you all to use this conference to constructively discuss and debate the issues at hand with a view to agreeing a strategic direction for agreed legal options and institutional responses to the impact of sea-level rise and climate change on maritime boundaries, in the context of international law, and also provide clarity in how we go about doing this as a collective.

It would be remiss of me if I did not recognise the very strong advocacy efforts by the Forum Chair and our representatives in New York on this Forum Leaders initiative and I thank you all your excellencies. You will continue to be our conduit and frontline advocates for this journey and the region stands right behind you.

Finally, many will ask what is next from these three days. The agreed outcomes will be tabled at the Forum Official Committee, and then with the Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting this year. This work will be integrated into the standing work of the Forum, including through the Standing Subcommittee on International Advocacy and Engagement, and it will be driven by members at national and international level through their respective missions.

Chair, Excellencies and Senior Officials, I wish you well in your deliberations over the next three days and look forward to the outcomes.

I thank you.

[ENDS]

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