Sep 21, 2019 Last Updated 3:13 AM, Sep 21, 2019
August

August (11)

World class cocoa

Pacific cocoa contenders at global awards

Three SouthPacific cocoa operators have been named amongst the top 50 cocoa producers from around the world and will participate in the prestigious International Cocoa Awards (ICA) in France in October. They are Manoa Raika Farm from Savusavu, Fiji and two Papua New Guinea producers: Solita Cocoa Farm from Kundiawa and the Charis Cluster Group from Poro.

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A Solomons doctor in Cuba
THE journey of Pacific Islands medical students who study in Cuba can be difficult. One such graduate, Solomon Islander Priscilla Druscilla Kana, is currently completing a two-year internship program at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara. Priscilla hails from Nusa Roviana in the Western province and from Ro’one in the south of Malaita province.
 

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Whispers

Fiji’s show of support for Lam Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was in the midst of dealing with massive protests against Hong Kong residents opposing her extradition bill as we went to print, but still had time to meet Fiji’s Trade Minister Premila Kumar. Kumar met Lam on August 15, and reassured her of Fiji’s support for the ‘One China Policy’ and ‘One Country, Two Systems’ for Hong Kong. There’s no sign that the protests will abate at this point, and the political troubles have led to the cancellation of two conferences that were due to be held in Fiji as organisers were not willing to risk participants having to transit through Hong Kong airport.

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Jeers, not cheers Texan brewers, the Manhattan Project Beer Company have come under fire for naming a beer ‘Bikini Atoll’. Marshall Islanders continue to live with the legacy of US nuclear tests on the atoll, and say the name is insensitive. The company has defended itself by saying it didn’t mean to trivialise the nuclear tests and “is creating awareness of the wider impacts” of nuclear test programs, although it’s hard to see how that aligns with the endless photos of artistically-placed beer cans and bikinis that populate its social media channels
 

Movers and shakers

Leo A. Falcam Jr. has been named as the Federated States of Micronesia’s Chief Negotiator for the upcoming Compact negotiations. Falcam is Chief of Staff to President David W. Panuelo and has now served in that capacity for three consecutive FSM Presidents.

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Fiji’s Ambassador to the United States, Solo Mara is the incoming Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Development Forum. Fiji’s PM has said Mara will be charged with turning PIDF into a more efficient, intellectual and ambitious organisation.

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Gilbert Tyuienon of the pro-independence Caledonian Union is New Caledonia’s Vice President. He was elected with the support of the ministers of the anti-independence Future with Confidence whose candidate for presidency Thierry Santa was elected last month. Tyuienon is a former Mayor of Canala.

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ANZ’s Country Head in Kiribati is Australian Greg Edwards. Edwards has worked in banking for 29 years and has held senior roles in Melbourne and PNG with Westpac and National Australia Bank.Marshall Islands Chief secretary Ben Graham has returned to the Asian Development Bank after a productive stint with the Marshall Islands government. At his official farewell, Graham was praised by RMI Government officials for being a remarkable leader with integrity.
 

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Lifting the anchor

Can more risk make state-owned banks more relevant?
A new Asian Development Bank report says Pacific state-owned banks need to change their attitude to risk if they are to fulfil their potential to improve competition and deepen the credit markets of Pacific island nations. The Finding Balance 2019 report profiles the roles, performance, market context, and regulatory framework of 13 state-owned banks in 10 Pacific island countries. It finds that as a group, these banks generated a very low financial return on their investment for their shareholders, and that the “underlying pressures on profitability need to be addressed if these banks are to play a longer term role.”
 

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A story in progress
Prologue
In 1999 David Schindler, an ecologist, wrote, “To a patient scientist, the unfolding greenhouse mystery is far more exciting than the plot of the best mystery novel”. I wonder how he would describe the mystery novella today, twenty years later. Once you have read this condensed version of the updated story, you can decide if the mystery has deepened, or has been solved. 
 
Chapter 1. In the Beginning
An exciting mystery begins by introducing the foundational characters. Originally there were two such characters in the climate change story. In 1824 Joseph Fourier pioneered our understanding of the role of the atmosphere in warming the Earth. He discovered that something in the atmosphere made the Earth warmer than he had previously calculated. A few decades later, in 1861, John Tyndall identified that “something” as what we now refer to as greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor and hydrocarbon gases such as methane. Tyndall proved these to be extremely efficient absorbers of radiant heat energy, in comparison to the more common constituents of the atmosphere, namely oxygen and nitrogen. Tyndall went on to speculate that changes in the concentration of the former gases could have an impact on the Earth’s climate.

And that’s how the opening lines of the story read for well over 100 years.
 
Chapter 2. A New Character
The story line had to be rewritten in 2011, when a scholar by the name of Raymond Sorenson published an article which identified a third foundational character. Sorenson highlighted that in 1856, three years prior to Tyndall's first report, the research findings of Eunice Newton Foote were presented at an annual science meeting in Albany, New York. Not by her, but on her behalf, by a Professor Joseph Henry. In that era it was very unusual for a woman scientist to be given the opportunity to present her own work, let alone publish a paper. As a result, her work is known today only from a journalistic summary published in the annual review of world-wide scientific achievements in 1856.

Eunice Foote was not only a pioneering American scientist but also a well-known inventor and women's rights campaigner. Sorenson’s summary highlights the significance of the experiments conducted by Foote. Her most notable achievement was to demonstrate enhanced absorption of radiant heat energy by CO2. She also showed the potential for atmospheric warming due to rising CO2 levels. Significantly, this year (2019) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Eunice Foot.
 
Chapter3.Optimism
From then and through the first half of the 20th century the prevailing thinking of the scientific and wider community was, in hindsight, overly optimistic. Since there would be only a slow increase in the Earth’s population, the resulting increase in CO2 emissions would also be slow. The consequential warming would be even slower, due to the uptake of both heat and CO2 by the world’s oceans. And, finally, such warming would be overwhelmingly beneficial.

How wrong this proved to be, on all counts.
 
Chapter4.WinWinTurnstoLoseLoseLose
From the 1950s on there was a flurry of studies, catalysed by the growing realisation of the many widespread and serious consequences of global warming. The far-reaching significance of these findings was facilitated by comprehensive and authoritative assessments conducted by bodies of independent experts, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC published its first assessment in 1990, and continues to report its findings on a five-yearly cycle.

In 1850 the Earth’s population was around 1.2 billion. It is now over 7.7 billion. This growth, along with industrialisation and increases in per capita production and consumption, has driven the increasing concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

While the Earth’s population increased 6.5 times since 1850, global CO₂ emissions are now over 150 times higher than they were back then. At that time the United Kingdom was the top emitter of CO₂, with emissions nearly six times those of the country with the second-highest emissions, the United States. France, Germany and Belgium completed the list of top five emitters. Now China is the world’s largest emitter, followed by the United States, India, Russia and Japan. Significantly, while the United States has ranked as the world’s second-largest emitter from 1850 to today, its emissions have grown almost twice as fast as the increase in global emissions of CO2. Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher than for at least the last 800,000 years, and the rate of increase is unprecedented in the Earth’s history.

As anticipated, at least in qualitative terms, the oceans have indeed absorbed CO2 – around half of the global emissions since 1800. But even this saving grace comes at a cost. The absorption results in ocean acidification, thereby slowing the growth of calcareous organisms such as coral, while also reducing the rate of further CO2 uptake by the oceans.

The oceans have also taken up much of the additional heat initially trapped by the atmosphere. Indeed, more than 90% of the Earth’s energy imbalance between 1971 and 2010 has been stored as heat in the ocean. But once again, this has come at a cost. The additional heat in the ocean caused 40% of the global mean sea-level rise between 1993 to 2010. A warmer ocean further slows the rate of CO2 absorption, seriously impacts marine organisms and ecosystems, and has wider and serious negative consequences for natural and human systems, both terrestrial and marine.

The consequences of atmospheric and oceanic warming and acidification cascade through and impact all terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric systems. The changes are so pervasive we now use the umbrella term “climate change”, as opposed to the much narrower expression of “global warming”.
 
Chapter5.ImplicationsforthePacific,andBeyond
The consequences are equally far reaching, and overwhelmingly negative, for natural as well as human systems. This is so for the Blue Pacific, the world’s largest oceanic continent, which is core to the region’s way of life, shaping the cultural, spiritual and historical identity of Pacific peoples as well as the economies of Pacific Island nations and territories. Blue Pacific captures the Pacific’s transformation from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to Big Ocean Sustainable States (BOSS). They, and indeed the world, have much to lose as the climate changes. Over 50 percent of the world production of tuna is from the western and central Pacific
Ocean. Fish protein makes up 50-90% of animal protein consumption in rural areas of the Pacific, and 40-80% in urban areas. Pacific Ocean-based fishing and tourism alone provide USD 3.3 billion to the economies of Pacific Island countries and territories, amounting to 10.5% of regional GDP. More specifically, Melanesia's ocean economy has an estimated worth of USD 548 billion, or USD 5.4 billion annually.

But studies suggest that by 2050 there will be a 20% decline in coral reef fish production in some Pacific Island countries. For 75% of Pacific Island countries and territories coastal fisheries will fail to meet food security needs by 2030, due to a combination of population growth (exacerbating unsustainable extraction), climate change and inadequate national distribution networks. Moreover, nine of seventeen Pacific Island countries and territories could experience declines of over 50% in maximum catch potential by 2100.
 
Chapter6.FromHindsighttoForesight
When using hindsight to provide foresight it is useful to add insight as an intermediate step. This framing of the climate change story is illustrated by way of two examples of great importance to the Pacific Islands region.
 
Example1:FutureofCoralReefs
 
Hindsight tells us that coral reefs are capable of growing vertically at rates faster than those projected for sea-level rise this century. They have survived both higher sea levels and high rates of sea-level rise in the past. But insight reminds us that these capabilities are severely compromised if the reef is unhealthy, for example, due to high pollution loads from land-based sources of pollution, physical damage caused by snorkelers, divers and boat operators, or because of coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Foresight tells us that with 1.5°C of global warming, the ambitious target in the Paris Agreement, the Pacific region is facing a loss of 70– 90% of reef-building corals compared to today. With 2°C of global warming 99% of the Pacific’s corals will be lost. The demise of the corals is not just because of the synergistic effects of increases in ocean temperature and ocean acidification. These combine with local threats such as sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, disease, over-exploitation and physical damage. Pacific nations and territories can do little other than lobby others to keep global emissions below the 1.5°C target, and hence limit the rate of increase in ocean temperatures and acidification. But they can do much to prevent the local threats to their coastal ecosystems. 
 
Example2:FutureHabitabilityofPacificIslands
 
The second example concerns the future habitability of Pacific islands. This is an equally important issue, but it is also highly contentious, scientifically and politically. Recently we have seen in highly reputable scientific journals papers with titles such as “Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding”. Despite being a much more balanced assessment, the paper with the title “Patterns of island change and persistence offer alternate adaptation pathways for atoll nations” still attracted the ire of some Pacific politicians. A major tension exists between those whose agendas are served by studies which invoke the likelihood of climate-induced migration, and those who recognize the strong and enduring relationship that Pacific Islanders have with their land. For the latter, any talk about forced migration is an anathema.

Hindsight informs us that over recent decades, and despite the Pacific experiencing some of the highest rates of sea-level rise globally, over threequarters of the 394 Pacific atoll islands included in the study were stable in area. Importantly, nearly 20% of the islands increased in size, usually due to a combination of natural and human factors. The areas of less than 10% of the islands decreased in size. The finding that atoll islands affected by rapid sea-level rise did not show a distinct behaviour compared to other atoll islands is of even greater significance.

Recent physical modelling experiments of a reef island add credence to the above findings. The experiments demonstrated that overwash processes provide a mechanism to build and maintain the freeboard of such islands above sea level. Thus these islands have the capability to respond to rising sea level, through island accretion.

The above findings can be complemented by several important insights. The coastal areas of high islands, where people and built assets are usually concentrated, face levels of risk similar to those of atoll islands. Land tenure, infrastructure and other land uses limit the option to retreat in the face of sea-level rise, more damaging storm surges and other coastal hazards. And we all need to be reminded that there are multiple determinants of atoll and high island habitability in the longer term, not just sea-level rise.

In response, the Pacific is demonstrating considerable foresight. For example, the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific was endorsed by Pacific Leaders in 2016, and came into effect at the beginning of 2017. The Framework is a global first, where the Pacific seeks to reduce exposure to climate and disaster risk, support low carbon development and improve disaster response and reconstruction. It reflects an understanding of the need to manage climate and disaster risks as an integral part of development. The Framework promotes a “development first” approach, where the desired development outcomes are identified first, and then assessed to determine how climate and disaster risks may affect their achievement. As a result, identification and prioritization of investments relate to the overarching goal of resilient development, where the two goals of sustainable development and building resilience are achieved through a joint approach.
 
Epilogue
The end of this climate change story lacks a dramatic climax worthy of a mystery novel, but it does give cause for reflection. A key message is the importance of not oversimplifying, or excessively politicizing, the climate and related challenges facing Pacific Island countries and territories. Some have described climate change, and especially sea-level rise, as an “existential threat” to the region, creating “climate refugees” and the need for “migration with dignity”. But as new scientific evidence comes to hand, resulting in fresh and widespread understanding, such rhetoric and policy is increasingly giving way to that of “stay and fight”. This involves relying on achieving more resilient development, including through adaptation and emissions mitigation efforts.

Does all this mean that, 20 years on, Schindler would have a different view of the “unfolding greenhouse mystery”? This condensed version of the story would suggest not.

While the plot has changed from solving the science to clarifying island and human futures, multiple objectives, tensions and maneuvering are enduring features of the climate change story

InDepth: Data driven

A portal to better decision-making
CONNECTING decision makers with data, information and knowledge is the aim of a new initiative of the Pacific Community SPC, the Pacific Data Hub. The hub responds to the fact that across SPC, and within the region, there have been many data portals and websites disseminating data, as well as enormous quantities of data sitting on office hard-drives. This data is sometimes inconsistently managed, doesn’t always adhere to metadata standards, and most of all is hard to find. Sioeli Tonga is the Lead Solutions Architect/Acting Program Manager for the Pacific Data Hub. He sat down with Islands Business in Noumea to explain why we need the hub, and how it might improve the lives of Pacific peoples.
 

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JULIAN Agnon of Blue Ocean Law recently penned ‘Enduring Colonization: How France’s Ongoing Control of French Polynesian Resources Violates the International Law of Self-Determination.’ The paper however is silent on the other French territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. For New Caledonia, its route to independence is mapped out under the Noumea Accord and the laws impacting its resources may vary from those of French Polynesia. Wallis and Futuna has no equivalent accord. But all are listed under Part Four of the Treaty establishing the European Community as France’s overseas territories.

Such a claim of violation by France is likely to hit a raw nerve in the psyche of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members, particularly of Forum Island Countries (FICs) that are actively galvanising for French decolonisation at the United Nations. The legal verification of the violation, tendered by Agnon, will add fuel to the decolonisation process in the Pacific.

PIF, in the first place, has to manage the situation presented here. At first, when French Polynesia and New Caledonia became PIF members, by way of a consensus resolution which was subsequently acknowledged as being political, it was envisaged by some that this might undermine decolonisation efforts in the Pacific. This was concluded because once those two French territories were let into the PIF, it would lead to increased presence of metropolitan France in regional affairs of the Forum and the dynamics of regional decisions could change to accommodate the French voice.

However, the concern generated by the Agnon paper is fundamental to the whole question on the decolonisation process and is likely to raise strategic complications on how PIF members should accommodate this French voice. How can FICs, for example, persist at the UN to push for decolonisation when the prospects of increased French influence as a development partner, are increasingly being programmed into regional activities? How can they support Pacific churches who have recently raised their call for decolonisation of French Polynesia in particular?

As can be expected, the clash between bilateral and regional considerations will, inevitably, come into play. Geopolitics will intrude. How can PIF members, especially PICs, reconcile these considerations? There are those, supposedly, that can compartmentalise these considerations and make judicious regional decisions. It may not be easy. But it is doable.

However there are those who will find it difficult. Australia, for instance, had sought French engagement in the Indo-Pacific geostrategic framework and continued to do so, as reported by The Australian last June. Australia, therefore, may not rock the French boat. New Zealand is likely to do the same given it had indicated its acquiescence to Australia when both had consulted prior to the imposition of Indo-Pacific.

Papua New Guinea can be capricious. When its former Prime Minister had a state visit to Paris in 2016, he was reported to have said that he “would like to see PNG become a significant hub for France in the Pacific.” That bilateral sentiment that frames national issues can get in the way of decisions to grow and unite Pacific regionalism under its current Framework (The Framework for Pacific Regionalism).

Vanuatu, on the other hand, can be a fence-sitter on regional issues and decisions aimed at circumscribing French engagement in Pacific regionalism. Ni-Vanuatu are beneficiaries of a new French initiative to travel visa-free to New Caledonia. Furthermore, considering the country’s condominium history involving France and Great Britain and the remnants of the colonial shared power structure on ni-Vanuatu and their culture, it can be envisaged that their balancing act of fence sitting can topple on the side of the metropolitan player that happens to be the flavour of the month. This can be favourable or unfavourable depending on the issue being discussed.

In retrospect, however, such undermining of Pacific regionalism is not new. The sapping of PIF’s foundation through the preponderance of national and bilateral sentiments

over regional ones has frustrated PIF for years since its inception. A careful and systematic political and economic analysis of PIF, under various popularly-used analytical lens including, for instance, ‘Actors, political elites, agency and incentives’, will verify this.

That is one question, albeit a critical one, that the Forum and its Secretariat, PIFS, will have to address. There are others, equally vexatious.

French decolonisation, by virtue of its particularity in the context of Pacific regionalism, is considered a bilateral issue – that between PIF members on one side and France, on the other. The subject matter may not be relevant for the collective Forum Dialogues partners. PIF/PIFS may need to programme a specific bilateral, or a series of bilaterals with France, to raise the matter. In the same way PIF/PIFS needs a special bilateral with Indonesia to raise the issue of West Papua.

The French voice in regional matters has become more vocal since the membership of French Polynesia and New Caledonia in 2016. There have been reports of French insistence to be heard in matters relating to the authority and management of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of those two PIF members. The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is grappling with this matter when it comes to related regional fisheries management.

Furthermore, the use of the French language in regional meetings apart from those of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has been raised. It appears that this comes across with a carrot on a stick. It is reported that the new PIF members would even pay for the introduction of the language and for all the concomitant facilities this requires. The offer of payment however has attracted unsolicited speculation: that this would
amount to resources being directly disbursed from the treasury of the metropolitan.

When all is considered, the French language is already a language of the Pacific, and of Pacific regionalism. SPC is a member of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP), chaired by the PIFS Secretary General and it uses French as one of its two working languages. It can be envisaged therefore that inclusion of the French language to all other PIF meetings is possible but complex and costly in terms of staffing, equipment and logistics.

However, linguistics aside, in the context of still-raw French colonial and post-colonial sentiments, this appears like a red rag to a bull. It is debated in some circles that if French is added as a lingua franca, why not any of the national languages of the Pacific Island Countries? Or why not one of the existing patois?

Another vexatious question confronting PIF/PIFS is how to manage logistically the negotiations for a post-Cotonou agreement. The Pacific ACP (PACP) States have started their negotiations with the EU on a Pacific-EU Protocol. Neither French Polynesia nor New Caledonia is included in PACP States that negotiate directly with the EU despite their PIF membership. They cannot therefore sit with PACP States during the negotiations.
They do however sit as members of PIF and could have access to sensitive information about the negotiations. Management of such information by PIF and also by the Forum Secretariat staff plays a critical role here.

To date, French territories have always had their separate provisions under various ACP-EU agreements since Lome 1. How will French Polynesia and New Caledonia be treated now that they are members of PIF?

The author is a former Fijian ambassador and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.

Trouble in the family

Climate divides Forum….again

JUST before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, the Wallabies thrashed the All Blacks 47-26 in the first game of the Bledisloe Cup. As a rugby fan, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison might have taken this as a good omen, as he headed to his first Forum leaders’ retreat in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Bad mistake.

Straight after the Forum, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama rushed home to watch the broadcast of the deciding game at Eden Park. After a tense week in Tuvalu, one suspects the Fiji leader, a confirmed Wallabies fan, was cheering for the All Blacks. They thrashed Australia 36-0.

It’s an appropriate symbol for the thrashing of Australia’s climate policies in the 18-member regional organisation. In Funafuti, the score was 17-1.

Much of the media coverage has focussed on Australia’s efforts to censor the language of the final Forum communique, as if this is new or that Australia is the only country pushing its own agenda (shock, horror, the sky is blue!) But despite the watered-down language, there are elements in the final Kainaki II climate declaration that will horrify Morrison’s conservative backbench.

Communiques come and go, but the key feature of the leaders’ retreat is that it provides a chance for Presidents and Prime Ministers to meet face to face, build friendships, or at least come to a practical working relationship. On this basis, Morrison’s actions in Tuvalu were a disaster.

Listening to post-retreat comments from Pacific leaders and officials, Morrison’s ham-fisted interventions on climate policy have alienated many of his island counterparts. Having seen off successive Australian Prime Ministers over the last decade – Rudd, Gillard, Rudd again, Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison – old-timers like Samoa’s Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi don’t take kindly to being lectured by a first-time participant. Speaking to The Guardian newspaper around the grog bowl after the retreat, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama blasted Morrison as “very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship.”

“After yesterday’s meeting I gathered he was here only to make sure that the Australian policies were upheld by the Pacific island nations,” Bainimarama said. “I thought Morrison was a good friend of mine; apparently not. The Prime Minister at one stage, because he was apparently [backed] into a corner by the leaders, came up with how much money Australia have been giving to the Pacific. He said: ‘I want that stated. I want that on the record.’ Very insulting.”

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, in contrast, kept her head down. As leaders entered the retreat, she strolled alongside Bainimarama and sat beside him during the meeting. The Fijian leader later tweeted: “When combatting climate change, it’s good to have an ally like New Zealand in your corner. Together we can save Tuvalu, the Pacific and the world. Vinaka vakalevu for the passion you bring to the fight.”

Point noted in both Wellington and Canberra. Morrison’s favourite radio shock jock Alan Jones said the Australian Prime Minister should “shove a shock down her throat” (after an advertising boycott, Jones later grovelled and apologised to the NZ leader).

In the past, Forum leaders used to hold back on their public criticism of Australian and New Zealand behaviour at the Forum, recognising that we are all bound together by geography and history. Those days are gone. As Australia “steps-up” and New Zealand “re-sets” their engagement with the region, the old paternalistic rhetoric about working with “our backyard” and “the Pacific family” doesn’t wash anymore.

In the new geo-political context, Forum Island leaders are being wooed by a range of old friends such as Japan and the European Union, as well as new partners: China with loans and infrastructure; Cuba with medical training; India with technology transfers; Germany with technical assistance and funding for development – this list goes on. Today, Australia and New Zealand are not the only game in town and Pacific leaders have learnt to leverage these alternatives. Canberra wants to be the donor of choice, but China has deep pockets.

A week before the Tuvalu summit, a PNG press release citing Prime Minister James Marape said that Port Moresby was seeking to refinance its national debt from China. Marape later walked back from the statement, but the point was made. A flurry of cables between Canberra, Tokyo and Washington will help PNG negotiators talk to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and get a much better deal to address PNG’s debt pressures.

Community support
The Forum meeting in Funafuti was also important for host Enele Sopoaga, who faces national elections in September. Tuvalu hasn’t hosted the leaders’ meeting since 1984 and the whole community had turned out to assist the international delegations. It was a very positive and enthusiastic welcome to the atoll nation. It follows the unprecedented visit to Tuvalu last May by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Stopping off as well in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Zealand, Guterres was photographed for the cover of Time magazine, with water lapping around his legs. At the Forum, island leaders were pushing for the strongest possible language in the final communique and climate declaration, to take to next month’s UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York.

Last year’s Forum in Nauru was marked by tense exchanges, including a Chinese walkout of the Forum partner dialogue, American bluster from the US Secretary of the Interior, the police detention of a NZ journalist for talking to refugees and more. This year the tone was more low-key, despite ongoing disputes over China/Taiwan and Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Indonesian delegation was disappointed that all Forum leaders backed Vanuatu’s call for stronger action by Indonesia on human rights abuses in West Papua, encouraging Jakarta to set a date for a visit by the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

Australia’s big announcement in Tuvalu was a pledge of A$500 million over five years from 2020 to help island nations invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience. But Forum island leaders are angry that the pledge is not new and additional funding, but simply drawn from existing aid funds.

Australian aid to the Pacific has been “stepped up” under the Coalition government - but only by slashing aid to Africa and South East Asia. Australia’s official development assistance (ODA) is currently 0.22 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) and will continue to fall in coming years. Ewen Macdonald, the new head of the Office of the Pacific within Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told a Senate Estimates Committee last year: “In terms of volume of money it is not the lowest, but in terms of GNI, it is the lowest since records were kept in 1974.”

Speaking after the Smaller Island States meeting in Funafuti, Sopoaga welcomed Australian financial support, but stressed: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing – that is, cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine told Islands Business: “We’re discouraged and disappointed at the fact that Australia is still actively using coal for their own power generation, and it looks like that is something that is going to continue into the future.”

Climate funding
British Prime Minister Boris Johnston once claimed that the United Kingdom could “have our cake and eat it” through Brexit, as it negotiates Britain’s departure from the European Union: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”

Pacific island leaders also want to have their cake and eat it. They welcome the support – financial, human, diplomatic and technical – from Australia, New Zealand and other development partners. But they also want Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern to respond to their concerns about the existential threat of climate change.

Many Forum island countries clearly welcome direct, bilateral support for climate adaptation and resilience initiatives. Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor also wants donor support for the new Pacific Resilience Facility, adopted at the Tuvalu summit. But island leaders think globally, as well as locally. They see Australia backing the Trump administration by refusing replenishment funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The declaration from the Sautalaga Climate Dialogue, held the day before the official Forum, noted “the significant role that the GCF plays in supporting developing countries in their efforts to address climate change. We call for a prompt, ambitious and successful replenishment of the GCF.”

Islands Business asked Prime Minister Morrison if the pleas of island leaders had persuaded him to change his government’s policy, refusing to make further financial contributions to the GCF. He replied: “No, it hasn’t, because I just want to invest directly in helping the Pacific family here. I don’t need to send a cheque via Geneva or New York or wherever it has to go.”

Given Australia was previously co-chair of the global climate fund, Morrison knows very well the GCF Secretariat is actually in South Korea. But abusing the United Nations and multi-lateral agencies plays well to conservative members of his own party and panders to Australian voters who support Pauline Hanson’ One Nation.

Pacific family
Scott Morrison is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is stepping up efforts to maintain Australia’s long-standing policy of strategic denial in the islands. Members of Canberra’s hard-headed security community are worried a hostile power (i.e. China) could gain the political or economic influence that might open the way for island states to shift support from the Western bloc, or establish a military base that would transform regional security.

Morrison has made personal visits to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and now Tuvalu and the Prime Minister often repeats the slogan that Australia is part of “the Pacific family.” But regardless of the “step up”, the Funafuti Forum exposed many policy rifts between Australia and its island neighbours.

Successive Coalition governments elected since 2013 have badly damaged institutions that play a practical role in engagement with the region. The gutting of Radio Australia has allowed China to use their shortwave broadcasting frequencies. The takeover of AusAID by DFAT lost a generation of development expertise, which is only now being rebuilt through the Office of the Pacific. Volunteer programs lost funding; then newly announced funds came with increased DFAT micro-management. The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology lost climate-related funding, vital for research on cyclones and disasters.

After the Forum, former Kiribati President Anote Tong revived the debate on whether to shun Australia within the Forum: “Should there be sanctions imposed? I think that’s a question that leaders are no doubt asking themselves. I think these things have got to be expressed. It’s not only in my mind, I’m sure it’s in everybody else’s mind. I’m surprised Australia is not seeing this, or they’re ignoring it, which is the height of arrogance.”

Australia won’t be going anywhere, but the next three Forum leaders’ meetings will be hosted by Vanuatu (2020), Fiji (2021) and Kiribati (2022). If Morrison hasn’t got the climate message in Tuvalu, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to understand in the next few years.

nicmac3056@gmail.com

We say

Reporting SDG progress
OUR islands of the Pacific are truly heaven on earth if the reading of their recent reporting to the United Nations on progress made on advancing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is to be believed. Most, if not all of them, reported achieving universal access to education and health for their people.

Palau for instance, told the UN High Political Forum that its citizens enjoy universal access to water and a lot of strides have also been made towards reducing poverty amidst a growing economy. Meanwhile Vanuatu told the UN forum that it has introduced a number of national policies that aim to enforce gender equality, promote disability inclusivity, enable child online protection and mainstream gender and women’s empowerment.
 

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Hope on Nauru

Human rights lawyer takes the helm
Hope it seems was what the voters of Nauru took with them to the polls on 24 August and hope was what they got in return. Out went age and experience, as Nauru’s 7,000 voters opted for youth and change.

Baron Waqa, the man who has been president of this small island republic in the central Pacific forthe last six years is now gone, and the man who he groomed to be his successor, David Adeang has been relegated to the opposition benches.

Overwhelmingly, voters in Nauru voted for change during the 24 August elections that saw Waqa lose his seat in the Boe constituency, one of eight constituencies in the island republic.
 

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