Feb 25, 2020 Last Updated 4:57 AM, Feb 25, 2020

In January at the height of the Australian bushfires, I received a message from James Walau, a ni-Vanuatu Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) team leader, informing me that he and his team of 47 had left Batlow due to the impending fire. Since September 2019, Australian firefighters have been battling bushfires and it is estimated, currently, that over 12 million hectares has burnt. Among the many affected are farmers and workers participating in the SWP. This blog discusses the impact on a group of 48 ni-Vanuatu SWP workers evacuated from Batlow in the New South Wales Riverina region. It is in no way intended to neglect or downplay the experiences of the thousands of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and those who have lost their lives and loved ones. Rather, this blog is part of a larger discussion on experiences of SWP workers in Australia.

In the first few days of 2020, the community of Batlow was told to evacuate. It was predicted that the fire would destroy the township, which was declared to be ‘undefendable’. The team of ni-Vanuatu workers had only been in Batlow since late November 2019, five or six weeks into their six to nine month stint working on orchards with apples and berries. For many, this was not their first SWP season, and knowing the area proved to be advantageous in their evacuation. As Walau informed ABC’s Pacific Beat, ‘We are lucky, we have so many friends that helped us. We know the area with the two seasons we already have, so easier for us to move.’

The group, all men, evacuated Batlow – their workplace and home – on 31 December. In preparation for the evacuation, workers had been informed to pack all essential documentation and their bags. They did not know what the fate of the farm would be, only to prepare for the worst. A packhouse for berries had already been destroyed by the fire.

Initially, the group took refuge at the Batlow RSL Club; however, it was clear this was not going to be a safe option. After discussion, Canberra was ruled out and the next plan was to travel the 25 minutes to the Adelong evacuation centre. Once they arrived in Adelong, they realised the centre could not accommodate everyone, so the decision was made to travel further again, another hour away to Wagga Wagga where they could all be accommodated together.

When they got to Wagga Wagga, they notified their labour hire company of their safe arrival and their employer transferred money into a bank account for the workers to purchase food and supplies. The group were welcomed into the township of Wagga Wagga and received excellent support from the community. In a video clip, that’s since gone viral, workers showed their appreciation to the host township too. The group also became involved in community fundraising activities through a local church to assist with donations for those affected by the bushfires.

Fundraisers are a normal part of life in many Pacific countries. In previous work I have documented how seasonal workers have contributed funds to assist with responses to natural disasters in their respective countries, but also those in their host countries. Workers in New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (RSE) raised funds for Christchurch after the tragic 2011 earthquake. SWP workers not only fundraised, but also assisted in evacuations and the clean-up process in response to various floods in Queensland. Colin Foyster, an avocado farmer in northern New South Wales, also praised his workers from Papua New Guinea for helping to fight the fire on his farm. Support from Pacific workers for the communities in which they live and work during their time in Australia has always been valued.

We’ve seen generous support for Australia from Pacific nations for the bushfire disaster too. Papua New Guinea deployed 100 military personnel on 13 January. Vanuatu donated 20 million vatu (approximately A$240,000). And there are stories of grassroots fundraising for the fires from communities across the Pacific.

Back to business as usual?

Walau and the group returned to Batlow on 12 January and started work again the next day. The orchards where they are employed only suffered minor damage. Walau told ABC’s Pacific Beat,

‘We prayed for our farm to be protect [sic] so we could have jobs … now we can go back to our jobs … We are so lucky our orchard is safe and our camp is safe. When I let the guys know, they just praised God and [started] singing, because they feel they are going to have a job again.’

They were lucky in comparison to other farmers in the region. On 11 January, ABC Canberra spoke with Batlow apple farmer Malcolm Stein reporting that, ‘thousands of trees were lost at his orchard in Batlow after fires swept through the Snowy Mountains’.

The season for SWP workers is short. With the workers having only resided in Batlow for approximately five to six weeks when the fire swept through, there is a high chance that they would have only just paid off the debt associated with participation in SWP. Some may still owe money, as depending on the season’s work it can take up to two months before workers begin to start earning money over and above their participation costs. Time not working is time and money lost.

The Batlow example had a good outcome. But has it been the same for other SWP workers in similar positions?

Unable to obtain data on the number of SWP workers affected by bushfires, it is unclear what the impact has been. A recent Radio New Zealand article citing Vanuatu’s Labour Commissioner, Murielle Meltenoven, stated, ‘there are 480 workers who are not in danger or [are] unlikely to be brought back to Vanuatu’. What, then, is the total number of SWP workers affected? How many SWP Approved Employers have endured significant damage? Will this impact the jobs available for seasonal workers in future seasons?

For workers currently in Australia – what have been their experiences of the bushfires, what impact has it had on their earnings, will it affect future job prospects, and do they have any intention of returning for another season? There will be several lessons to be learned from this disaster. In order to figure out what lessons need to be addressed, more research is required. Conversations with labour contractors, employers, workers, local communities and participating government departments, will be necessary to piece together a full understanding of the impact.

This article appeared first on Devpolicy Blog, devpolicy.org, from the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University

Rochelle Bailey is a Research Fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs, ANU.

By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby

THE world has gathered in Madrid, Spain to discuss the existential threat which climate change presents to the environment through rising temperatures and melting ice.

Halfway across the globe, the guardians of Pacific fisheries are seated in an indoor stadium to discuss the impact climate change has had on the region’s most important resource – tuna.

The Pacific accounts for roughly half of the global tuna market which is worth around $USD42 million each year. Fishing companies were paid $USD10 billion for 4.99 million tons of tuna landed on docks around the world in 2014.

That product was worth $USD42 billion after processing.  It has been suggested that the total value of landed tuna to the Pacific is $USD5 billion and $USD22billion after processing.

Much of the Pacific’s tuna stocks of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Big Eye are caught between Papua New Guinea in the West and Kiribati in the East.

But as the Pacific Ocean grows warmer, it is expected that the tuna will begin to move further East.

PNG Fisheries Minister, Dr Lino Tom, told local journalists that Skipjack and Yellowfin stocks in the country’s EEZ could drop by as much as 37 per cent by 2050.

That would mean a market worth $USD128.8 million in 2016 could bring in only $USD81.1 million by the middle of this century.

Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that Skipjack and yellowfin which make up the vast majority of the Pacific catch tend to shift from PNG and the Federated States of Micronesia towards Kiribati and Tuvalu.

But if global temperatures continue their steady rise and an estimate two to three-degree Celsius increase over current levels, even Kiribati and Tuvalu can see the impact on their stocks.

Tuvalu Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, was forthright in his views on rising temperatures.

“As the climate warms, oceanic conditions change to provide more frequent and eventually permanent El Nino conditions,” Taupo said at the 16th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

“In the short term this is good for Tuvalu. There is more tuna in our waters in El Nino years. In the longer term … the main fishing areas are expected to move out of our EEZ and into the Eastern High Seas pocket and eventually into the Eastern Pacific.’’

That would mean a huge loss of income to a small country heavily reliant on tuna for its foreign revenue through licences to fishing vessels which raked in $USD24 million.

Tuvalu’s tuna sales have been estimated at a further US$198 million.

With the looming threat of tuna migration due to warmer oceans, Taupo was clear about the effects of such a move.

“Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused but we are going to suffer the effects,” he said.

But for Tuvalu the tuna migration is only part of the problem faced by its fishery due to climate change. Rising temperatures means rising sea levels.

“If the islands and reefs go completely under water, we may lose our EEZs,” Taupo said.

“Our EEZ is defined by the edge of the reef at low tide. As sea levels rise these baselines move back, reducing the size of our EEZ.

“Warmer water and higher acidity of seawater will result in the destruction of our coral reefs which are the habitat for most of our important inshore food fish.

“It may also affect the success of fish breeding and the growth of shellfish.’’

Tuvalu estimates that on the current trend, production of inshore fishery will fall by 65 per cent by 2100 because of climate change.

Taupo suggested that current global arrangements be changed to prevent what he described as an injustice.

“In fisheries terms this would mean the boundaries of our EEZ are locked in and not changed as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise,” he said.

This would mean Tuvalu’s right to harvest tuna could be retained on the high seas when the fish moved.

Tuvalu has started discussions on changes to EEZ boundary definitions under United Nations conventions, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Driven by rising sea levels and global warming, Tuvalu will press for its boundaries to be defined by degrees of latitude and longitude rather than geographical features which may be lost under water.

The need for clearly defined national borders to exist well after the possible disappearance of the Pacific’s smaller nations is a matter of concern for many.

And some small island developing states believe that there is a need for greater attention to this issue by international organisations and countries outside the Pacific.

Kiribati’s Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara, recognised the threat faced by his island neighbour.

“Climate change is an existential threat to our region, and directly threatens our livelihoods, security and wellbeing. We need action on climate change to be a primary concern in all fields (aspects),” Nakara said.

While Nakara’s call for action was directed at the WCPFC and the Forum Fisheries Agency, he deftly linked the fisheries climate change problems to COP25 in Madrid.

“It is fitting that on the other side of the world in Madrid, the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is convening this week.  How wonderful it would be if this commission could adopt the climate change resolution as a contribution of the WCPFC to addressing this matter,” he said.

On two sides of the world, leaders meet this week, their discussions linked by climate change.

If the COP 25 meeting in Madrid does not take credible steps to reduce global warming, efforts by the WCPFC delegates to control and maintain tuna stocks may be in vain.

By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby

CLIMATE change threatens Tuvalu’s national survival through direct impact on tuna stocks.

The small atoll state told members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that tuna was its most important natural resource.

Tuvalu’s Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, told the WCPFC’s 16th Regular Session that they must address equitable solutions to climate change impacts on tuna.

“The climate change emergency is an issue that threatens the very survival of Tuvalu as a country; and the evidence now shows that it will have severe impacts on our most important natural resource – the tuna resources of our Exclusive Economic Zone,’’ Taupo said.

“Tuvalu urges WCPFC to take a strong stand on the issue of climate change.’’

Forum Fisheries Agency Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, recognised calls from Tuvalu and other member states for stronger action on climate change.

“Members are calling for stronger action by the (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries) commission, specifically looking at full recognition of impacts of climate change on fisheries, food security and livelihoods,” Tupou-Roosen said.

“(We must ensure) that the commission actively considers those impacts and they deliberate on the development of conservation management issues, again looking at the carbon footprint estimate.’’

Tupou-Roosen said member-states had called for a strong course of action.

“We must meet this challenge head on - it's clear from our leaders,’’ she said.

“So, we will need to look at what it is in (our) activities and provide options for how to offset or reduce the carbon footprint.’’

Tuvalu indicated that it would be open to further discussion in an effort to reach consensus on issues including climate change.

“It is in all our interests to reach agreement and strengthen the management of our oceanic fisheries resources,” Fisheries Minister Tupou said. 

Forum Fisheries Commission Chair, Eugene Pangelinan, said it was important to have a starting point on discussions.

“I think we need to understand and climate change is happening to us and as the minister highlighted, we need to start the process here,” Pangelinan said.

Climate change and the Pacific

  • Feb 26, 2020
  • Published in August
A story in progress
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.
Chapter  3.  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.
Chapter  4.  Win  Win  Turns  to  Lose  Lose  Lose
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”.
Chapter  5. Implications  for  the  Pacific  and  Beyond
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.
Chapter  6.  From  Hindsight  to  Foresight
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.
Example 1:  Future of Coral Reefs
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. 
Example  2:  Future  Habitability  of  Pacific  Islands
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.
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

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

In a marathon leaders’ retreat that continued well into the night, with often heated debate, the Pacific Islands Forum has issued a joint communique and a new declaration on climate change.

Throughout this week in Tuvalu, the Australian delegation has defended a series of negotiating red lines against strong pressure from island leaders, seeling more urgent responses to the climate crisis from the largest Forum member.

During the final development of the Forum’s annual agenda, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke and Australian officials insisted on the removal of references to coal, establishing a target below 1.5 degrees Celsius for global warming, and being required to announce next year a strategy for zero emissions by 2050.

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 Green Climate Fund. 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.” The GCF Secretariat is actually in Incheon, South Korea, which he should know, given Australia was previously co-chair of the global climate fund.

Tense arguments in the retreat

In the end, however, all Forum members agreed to the “Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now - Securing the Future of our Blue Pacific.”

Forum host Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu and Prime Minister Morrison presented a united front at the post-conference press conference (delayed until Friday morning after leaders debated long into the night). But this diplomatic façade could not belie the damage done to Australia’s reputation and Morrison’s relationship with some leaders.

Sopoaga acknowledged that there were heated moments during the leaders retreat: "We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and Scott. I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries.’”

“That was the tone of the discussion. Please don’t expect that he comes and we bow down or that.

“We were exchanging flaring language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and other leaders: we need to save these people.”

There were two occasions where the meeting almost broke down without agreement, but after a 12-hour marathon, a final compromise on wording was achieved. Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has used his Twitter account to express concern about the final compromises by some fellow Forum Island Countries, tweeting: “Watered-down climate language has real consequences – like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

After the meeting, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said: “Everyone had to shift their positions. It was very fierce and very frank, and some people just didn’t want to move. But in the end, everyone had to move a bit.”

Regenvanu told Islands Business that overall Vanuatu was happy with the final Kainaki II climate declaration, which will be presented to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in September. Leaders will call on Secretary General Antonio Guterres to urgently appoint a Special Adviser on climate change and security.

“I think the wording is strong,” Regenvanu said. “There’s reference to 1.5 degrees throughout, there’s reference to the IPCC report throughout, there’s references to achieving net zero emissions, eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and a just transition away from fossil fuels. Most of the key language we want to be included that has not been included in the past is there.”

Leaders noted (but did not endorse) the proposal for a United Nations General Assembly Resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.

Climate demands

Despite the deletion of most references to coal and wordsmithing to give flexibility to all parties, the language of the declaration may cause some grief at home for Scott Morrison. His conservative Liberal/National Coalition government contains many people who are resistant to the Pacific’s ongoing call for urgent action on climate, including the closure of coal mines and reduction of fossil fuel exports.

In the face of ongoing climate denial in Australia amongst conservative members of the government, the Kainaki II declaration states: “The science is non-negotiable. Urgent action by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical to keep us on the 1.5°C pathway.

“Right now, climate change and disasters are impacting all our countries. Our seas are rising, oceans are warming, and extreme events such as cyclones and typhoons, flooding, drought and king tides are frequently more intense, inflicting damage and destruction to our communities and ecosystems and putting the health of our peoples at risk. All around the world, people affected by disaster and climate change-induced displacement are losing their homes and livelihoods, particularly the most vulnerable atoll nations.”

Forum leaders welcomed the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stating that it “remains the authoritative scientific body on climate change and is regarded as providing governments the best available science on climate change. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C indicates that in model pathways with no or limited overshoots of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, global net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.”

Important provisions of the declaration call on “all parties to the Paris Agreement to

meet or exceed their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in order to pursue global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this is critical to the security of our Blue Pacific.”

They called on G20 countries to formulate and communicate mid-century long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies by 2020; rapidly implement their commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies; and accelerate support for the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

New vision for Forum

Key decisions from the final communiqué include plans for the development of a vision statement on Pacific regionalism for coming decades, and a range of initiatives on Forum governance.

Leaders endorsed the development of the “2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which must ensure social, cultural, environmental and economic integrity, sovereignty and security in order to protect people, place and prospects of the Blue Pacific”.

The Forum Secretariat is tasked to prepare a draft strategy for leaders’ consideration at next year’s Forum in Vanuatu. However, at their July meeting, Foreign Ministers stressed that there needed to be a mid-term target of 2030, with clear objectives set out over the next decade in line with the period of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Leaders endorsed the concept for the establishment of the regionally owned and led Pacific Resilience Facility, although there were some reservations from Fiji. Samoa has offered to host the new funding facility for resilience initiatives by island government and communities.

There were a range of decisions on oceans and fisheries policy, including moves towards a regular Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to conclude negotiations on all outstanding maritime boundaries claims and zones, although there are many ongoing disputes between member states over conflicting claims.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Sopoaga confirmed: “We spoke very strongly against the leakage of nuclear waste into the Pacific and about the need to address them as urgently as possible.”

Leaders expressed concern “for the significance of the potential threat of nuclear contamination, World War II wrecks and unexploded ordnances to the health and security of the Blue Pacific her people and prospects, acknowledged the importance of addressing the long-standing issues of nuclear testing legacy in the Pacific and called for the operationalisation of the provisions of the Rarotonga Treaty, as necessary.”

To support Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, who has pushed the issue of nuclear and toxic contaminants throughout her term, the Forum agreed to commission “a comprehensive, independent and objective scientific assessment of the contamination issue in the Pacific, including in the nuclear test site at Runit Island in the Marshall Islands”.

Leaders agreed to request a meeting with US President Donald Trump to discuss the current and emerging issues of the nuclear testing legacy in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and in the Blue Pacific.

The Forum endorsed an Action Plan to implement the Boe Declaration adopted at the 2018 Forum meeting in Nauru, and agreed to set up a Sub-Committee of the Forum Officials’ Committee on Regional Security.

Reflecting the multiple, conflicting positions on climate change during the week, and the demands of Smaller Island States (SIS), leaders “endorsed with qualification, the Summary of Decisions of the 28th Smaller Island States Leaders Meeting and directed the Secretariat to institute a process for tabling the SIS Leaders’ decisions at Leaders Meetings.”

For a full wrap up of the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, subscribe now for the next edition of Islands Business magazine 

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