Is this the future we want?

Fiu Mata’ese Elisara

Executive Director of OLSSI/Vice President of SUNGO

Address at the P.I.U.R.N Conference  

Ladies and Gentlemen, Talofa lava! I am honored to have been invited to present this address! When N.U.S. invited me I declined saying it will not be appropriate for me to accept because I am not an academic, nor a researcher but a simple Matai from the village of Sili Savaii. 

Yes, I campaign for protection of customary lands, I critique shifting goal posts on sustainable development, I advocate for climate justice! But have done so as a campaigner with a people centered focus, an aspiration for social justice, advocating against violating the rights of those affected by these challenges. My focus has been to expose the ‘other side’ of these discourses not normally pursued by Pacific governments! But not as an academic, or researcher!

Nevertheless I am here today because in my culture it is discourteous to decline a request to reconsider. With that admission, I seek your indulgence that in my failure to deliver plead you be kind to my take and spare the messenger! 

Let me now get on with it! My approach is – to address separately the three areas that underpin this complex topic - customary land principles and practices, development, and climate change.  

I begin with the insincerity to deliver promises on climate change and sustainable development that dominate global negotiations. I argue shifting goals posts on promises are deliberate ploys of developed countries to defend their economic interests reneging on commitments to assist developing countries like those in the Pacific.

Translating sustainable development as ‘sustained economic growth’ and ‘false mitigation solutions’ from global climate debate are, in my view, calculated tactics that create injustices undermining the spirit of Rio principles, violate commitment to genuine and durable partnerships enshrined in the SAMOA Pathway. 

 I end by arguing the demise Pacific countries face protecting customary lands stem from replication of the same deliberate and calculated agenda of developed countries to globalize, dominate and usurp. 

Universities of the Pacific must help guide future thinking, as sources of informed intelligence, agents of transformative changes that better define inter- and intra-generational direction, develop appropriate response strategies, and ensure Pacific fundamental core values stay relevant and non-negotiable.  

A. Sustainable Development is about Sustained Economic Growth: 

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was a landmark event that launched “Sustainable Development”. A balanced translation of three pillars - economic growth, social equity and environmental integrity, into an integrated whole! Cultural diversity, central to Pacific lives, pushed as a fourth pillar! 

Sustainable development has been talked about for more than a half a century! The same time Samoa gained independence 54 years ago! Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring publication first raised it 54 years ago. 

The Stockholm Conference that established UNEP 44 years ago pushed it. UNCED in Rio 24 years ago defined it with Agenda 21 to pursue it. To date, the globe spends much time, immense resources, enormous energy, still talking about it! Many caught up in the concept of sustainable development unprepared 54 years ago, and we find ourselves even today desperately racing to catch up with a tomorrow already made obsolete by the realities of today.

Countries must stop focusing on just profits through pursuit of economic growth, but prioritize people needs and wellbeing, address social justice, push environment protection, maintain ecosystem services and functions, respect peoples’ rights, and enhance cultural diversity as a Pacific reality. Development must be rooted in the Rio principles to replace current economic order steeped in arrogance, inequity, environment destruction, land grabbing, and greed. It should be anchored on genuine and durable partnership!

Pacific governments respond to economic and environmental crisis with policies that force customary lands collaterals for investors. 

These bring finances of industrial production, fossil fuel, and create new markets allowing private sector to trade in world’s ecosystem services. But these approaches are fraught with risks largely untested on social or environmental impacts especially when increased demands extract natural resources, usurp customary heritage and lands. These are products of unsustainable production and consumption for the wealthy elites! Driven by corporations and neoliberal processes of globalization, they ignore limits of the carrying capacity of Planet Earth! They privatize public goods and commoditize global commons! 

Pacific peoples watch climate change reap havoc on our lands, homes, villages, food sources, agricultural plantations, native forests, infrastructures, ecosystem services, cultures, and peoples. Is this the sustainable development we want? Businesses, corporations, private sector, donors, and companies occupy the driving seat of this kind of market driven development - Sustained economic growth! They focus on profits, making money! Yet the burden is shouldered by the poor, the marginalized, and the majority that make up Pacific populations. Is this the future our Pacific peoples want? After ravaging the resources of Mother Earth for longer than history, we are beginning to realize how little we know about what we have done to ourselves! The enemy is us! Humans! It is our collective responsibility we avoid being the enemy within.   

Let me say this. One shifting goal post is the transition the MDGs to the SDGs. An ambitious and overriding commitment to “Leaving No One Behind”! The focus shifts from ‘developing’ countries in MDGs to ‘all countries’ needing development in SDGs! It is now universal! The key equity common but differentiated responsibilities principle conveniently ignored! Calculated and deliberate! The rich negotiate developing countries into submission to their agenda of insincerity, injustice, reneging on promises. Here is another! The World Bank this year no longer distinguishes between ‘developed’ countries and ‘developing’ ones. 

It eliminates the term ‘developing country’ from its development indicators and data vocabulary! It marks an evolutionary thinking about the geographic distribution of poverty and prosperity. The United Nations doesn’t even have an official definition for what a ‘developing’ country is, despite slapping this label on 159 nations! The effort by rich countries and institutions they control to run away from commitment is far too powerful to ignore! These are now universal, all countries needing development! 

Lamentably, developing countries fail to stay the course pursuing rich countries deliver commitments on new, predictable, sustainable, and additional finance resources meeting their aid target of 0.7% of GNIs.  It is hard to witness Pacific governments enmeshed into this agenda of economic dictate. 

The Pacific is arguably in the best position to preach sustainable development! We have lived it all our lives! And more! People are at the center! It is imperative the world moves from ‘sustainable development’ to ‘sustainable human development’! Putting poor people first; enlarging their opportunities live long healthy lives; to be educated; to have employment needed for a decent standard of living. It means generating rather than degrading the natural resource base; provide present and future generations with sustainable livelihoods. 

Development which does not improve the lives of the poor has no soul; one that impoverishes the environment has no vision; one that fails to empower individuals and communities has no anchor; one that fails to enlarge opportunities of people has no future! 


S.H.D. is an outright rejection of development models which generate growth but fails to distribute benefits equitably; one that destroys the environment in the name of development; one which marginalizes people rather than empower them! 

Sadly the shifting goal posts of the rich are realities of today. They point to dictating the lives of developing countries, the Pacific included! And they do it deliberately, for their convenience!  


B. Climate Change – A Specific Pacific Issue

The discussion on climate change is not just a theoretical issue discussed in these meetings!  We live through it every day! The negative effects on terrestrial and marine resources as fundamental basis of our daily lives are real! For many of us, it is a matter of life and death! It is urgent! In many cases we are forced to leave our ancestral homes and live in foreign lands that we do not identify with. It is about climate justice!

As sovereign peoples, this should be our unconditional call. Our rights to exist as sovereign states are protected under the Charter of the United Nations! Climate change violates those rights! Culprits responsible must bear responsibility and held accountable for our demise! We lose our cultures, face forced alienation of customary lands, our traditional lives are trashed, and we are denied freedom to exist as sovereign peoples and countries. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, if climate change is the defining human development challenge of the 21st century, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that this can be addressed on the cheap! Dealing with crisis of climate change is expensive! Sometimes bloody! In human terms invariably late! It is humane and cheaper to act preventively and focus on climate mitigation threats upstream rather than having them confront us as adaptation crisis downstream! 

On another important point, it is time the Pacific fundamentally reviews its ‘debt obligations’ through the prism of climate change. Many countries are still paying for infrastructural investments no longer viable, effective lifespan severely curtailed by climate change. Rich countries must account for ‘ecological debt’ owed developing countries from historical extraction of our resources, exploitation of our lands and peoples for generations. All references to ‘debts’ against Pacific countries must be unconditionally cancelled! We must sustain the struggle for debt relief, if not outright debt cancellation. The debt question has become too much of a powerful instrument of oppression and control!

Let me now address the insincerity of the climate process! The Paris Agreement last year was heralded as historic and a great success! Tauted to be the “last chance” to save the world, the Paris climate conference had a grand start with speeches from 130 Heads of States the first two days! Negotiators were given a clear message that consequences of not meeting expectations would be catastrophic! Politically and psychologically! Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity’s survival.  

I have written “Beyond Paris Climate Celebrations, There are Devils in Detail!” supporting goals the UN stands for – peace, human rights, social justice, environmental integrity, cultural enhancement – none can be realized without a human imperative! On climate crisis, the world must learn to live together in new relationships that commit to ‘genuine and durable partnership’! Not domination by those who are rich! Reading statements of leaders in Paris, and what the Paris Outcome delivered, I cannot fathom the immensity of the rhetoric running far ahead of reality! For me, the voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it, but it is also so clear and powerful that it is impossible to mistake it!

Let me say this. The Paris Agreement is market driven and rich centered. Experts reported the Paris Agreement was marred in the final two hours by the US, repeating the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco that imposed a deal struck behind closed doors by a few rich countries. More than 100,000 of us marched the streets and braved the extremely cold temperatures of Copenhagen pleading a sensible and responsible outcome. Yet so disgusted that after two years of negotiations since Bali COP 13 in 2007, the Copenhagen Accord was decided by few rich countries outside of the United Nations pluralistic process! It was worse when the Copenhagen Accord meant a temperature warming of 3 to 5 degrees Centigrade! Amounting to ‘burning’ the Planet!  

Colleagues, allow me present a quick retrospective optic on shifting goal posts of the climate process to support my take - insincerity of developed countries negotiating away their commitments, run from legal responsibilities, contributing to shaping the Paris Agreement. 

In COP 16 in Cancun Mexico 2010, parties committed to reduce temperature increase to below 2 degrees Centigrade and discussed establishment of the Green Climate Fund. A new concept was, however, agreed to replace ‘legally binding commitments’ to ‘Pledges’! Despite protests from developing countries the Cancun Agreement adopted these new pledges. But these were voluntary! Ironically, this was considered the best effort of the world to not burn the planet! Outrageous! 

In COP17 Durban South Africa 2011, more historic changes were made! Breaking from Rio principles, the commitments and responsibilities negotiated under the Durban Platform would now be “applicable to all countries” making legally binding commitments! It was a ploy of culprits to escape responsibilities on climate change! 

In COP 18 Doha Qatar 2012 ends the first commitment period for Kyoto Protocol. Developed countries tried to kill any continuation of the KP, the only legally binding commitment in the climate Convention! Failing this, they shifted focus to the Rio+20 processes, away from climate change, to debate the controversial concept of ‘green economy’! 

COP 19 Warsaw Poland 2013 established the International Mechanism for protection of vulnerable populations against “loss and damage” due to climate change. But it introduced a weaker concept replacing ‘pledges’ to ‘Contributions’! Allowing ‘all countries’ decide for themselves what they can contribute to keep the global target. The exit strategy of culprits was assured! - Avoiding legal and liability challenges on commitment to Means of Implementation. Pacific countries contribute negligibly to the causes of climate change now forced to take commensurate INDC response! Same as the culprits! But ‘contributions’ are voluntary! Intended! No legal obligations to contribute! Rich countries found a way and formula to commit even less!  

In COP20 Lima Peru 2014, it was clear rich countries as historical large scale greenhouse gas emitters, were not making emissions cuts at all! They claim large developing countries already competing with industrialized countries polluting the planet. They have a valid point! But global climate agreements placed responsibilities directly on industrialized countries! With their agreement! Sadly the options became even weaker than “pledged” and baseline year even shifted to 2010 levels instead of 1990 levels, meaning countries increase emissions even more!  

As for COP21, Paris Agreement failed to be the expected fulcrum to address climate justice and fell far short of becoming the pivot point for sustainable development. Given the role US played in the Paris discourse, I am reminded by President Abraham Lincoln, asked in one of his debates with Senator Stephen Douglas - “How many legs does a cow have? Four! And if you call the cow’s tail a leg, how many legs does a cow have then? Five! – No! said Lincoln – the cow has four legs! Just calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg! 

Climate crisis is urgent and apocalyptic! Paris Agreement may have been ‘tauted’ a resounding success for now, but the ‘now’ takes on a different meaning clothed in garments of conflicting national, regional, and global agendas. As I submit, Beyond the Paris Celebrations, Devils in the Detail are indeed real. It failed to realize a human imperative! Despite calling the Paris Outcome a success, it fails the visual evidence of climate change reaping havoc around the world! 

Yet Science is clear! Limit increase of global temperature to 1.5ºC! This means legally binding cuts! Not pledges! Not contributions! Not carbon markets! If this decade is lost, climate chaos is assured!

Listen to this! UNDESA 2009 World Economic and Social Survey estimated 500-600 Billion USD needed every year by developing countries to adapt and mitigate climate change! The original demand of developing countries was climate finance at least 1.5% of rich countries’ GDP by 2020. This is small change compared to what is spent by financial speculators! And wars! The US government itself spent trillions bailing out Wall Street and the Banks!

The global adherence to capitalist system and perpetuation of corporate profits drive climate negotiations. False mitigation solutions such as REDD+, bio-fuel, bio-energy, ocean fertilization, atmospheric manipulation, other techno-fixes and geo-engineering, carbon markets, etc. do further harm the planet! 

Friends, for the future of our children, we need to break away from current systems of over-exploitation, unlimited land grabbing, over-consumption, over-production and over-extraction. In their place, many solutions continue to exist in the methods and systemic alternatives of the Pacific – in local village communities, indigenous peoples, women, small farmers, fisher folks - that secure food security and sovereignty, enjoy holistic living, buen vivir, agro-ecology, environment conservation, rights of nature, spiritual connectivity, and cultural integrity. Changing the system is our hope to reclaim our future!

C. Customary Land Tenure Evolving Principles and Practices – Let the Pacific Peoples Speak to us!

For me, the point of departure for Pacific countries pressured into premature agreements that paper over fundamental disagreements, as in the case of customary lands, are inextricably linked to insincere and deliberate co-option by globalization and corporate control. Customary lands related principles and practices are particular targets of foreign interests and national investors! But be warned, Pacific peoples see it coming! Do not mistake it! Their Voices are clear! Let them speak to us now!    

The Case in PNG – Steven Sukot – Pacific Land Conference 2008

Papua New Guinea (PNG) Customary Land tenure system covers 97 percent of total land mass, is life support for 80 percent of total population. Land is Life! You take land away from people - you take away their Lives! Land means everything to us, more than money can ever buy. It is the essence of our lives. 

Our peoples depend on land for food, hunting, fishing, cultural practices, medicine, housing etc. There are spiritual and cultural connections between land and people. Our culture and traditions are neatly interwoven with land. This connection is not easily noticeable, poorly understood by non-indigenous peoples. Land is one’s identity; it is one’s existence; it is our birth right.

The intimate association between people and their land is threatened by globalization and imperialism easily accepted by our government.  PNG is beautiful and blessed with rich natural resources. However, it is sad the development path pushed by our government puts indigenous land rights and our natural beauty at stake. Government push development models that result in social dispossession, cultural extinction, alienation of land, and people struggle to maintain control over ownership right to land from dominant, powerful, globalized and imperialized economy alien to us – the peoples of the land!   

LAMAP DECLARATION 2009 - by over 100 chiefs, youth, women and communities at the National Land Meeting - Lamap, Malekula, Vanuatu 

We voice our deep concerns over the rapid alienation of land in the country by foreign investors and those with cash. Considering Ni- Vanuatu beliefs rooted in land, understood as a Mother and Source of Life - We resolve that land belongs to family, tribe or clan and not an individual; Government Land Reform program must concentrate only on leased lands, allowing chiefs to take care of customary lands; land in Vanuatu has no commercial value; any development that takes place on land requires indigenous custodians to have control and fair share of takings; we reject land registration program in Vanuatu to safeguard future generations and indigenous population.

The Buala Declaration 2016: MILDA (Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Fiji, Kanaky, Papua New Guinea, Maluku, Solomon Islands, West Papua, and Vanuatu)

In response to increasing threats to customary land and sea systems, posed by land reforms, deep sea exploration, seabed mining, and foreign agendas of aid agencies, international financial institutions, governments and elites within our countries. 

We re-affirm commitment to indigenous control of customary land systems and seas in relation to Melanesian ways. We unite to defend the control of Melanesian communities over land, sea, water, air and ancestral heritage. We re-assert sea systems and customary land are the basis of community life in Melanesia and committed to protect our indigenous land - from ground surface to centre of the earth, under the sea, including ecosystems, biodiversity, cultural heritage, waters of our rivers, streams and air.

The Melanesian definition of land is collective and inclusive of the sea. Land has and always will be the highest value to lives of our peoples, and so it will be for generations to come. Land is a non-alienable, it cannot be parted with and our relationship with land and sea is special and unique, and cannot be replaced by foreign value systems. We are custodians of the land and sea since time immemorial.

Samoa Villages Consultations – Matafa’a  April, 2005; and Tiavea  May, 2005: 

Land to us is special. Land is our life, identity, culture, tradition, source of our language, medicine, and our connection with the land is spiritual and natural. It is our most valuable asset - everyone owns land, uses it, eats out of it, and is buried in it upon death. Any transfer of right in land is understood as temporary regardless of the provision in laws. Land dealings by government without free prior informed consent and agreements of customary land owners are not valid. 

Home is more than people. It connects people to land, plants, animals, the human community of the living, the unborn, the living and dead. The inter-relatedness of the community is expressed in a variety of ways. Symbolically at the beginning of life is the burial of the new born child’s umbilical cord in the earth. At the end of life it is the burial of the person on the land. 

A major instrument to deprive the poor of land was introduction of individual property rights and land titles so land could be sold when people become indebted. To ignore communal land ownership and introduce new land title is colonial rule. Land must remain with families and communities that inherit it. 

Uprooting people, making land available for investors continue today, in the name of ‘development’. It benefits transnational companies, allow them to freely access and exploit our natural resources. It relocates people as an adaptation response to climate change, and force resettlements on those in coastal village communities.

Friends and Colleagues, The Peoples of the Pacific have Spoken Clearly! They speak truth to Pacific core values and fundamental rights of citizens in regard customary lands! Who dares challenge that? What is our responsibility to safeguard and protect them?


Challenges on Customary Lands under Development and Climate Change:  

A local legal expert said…”…foreign system of land registration and ownership shall wreck and destroy the customary lands principles, practices, and ownership inherited over generations, and with it, the traditional changing values of our cultural democracy. The principle of ‘indefeasibility’ of title in the Torrens System will ensure this. Pacific governments have borrowed extensively from donors and Institutions for decades and they will do whatever lenders demand...” 

AusAID Pacific 2020 advocated “…the challenge for governments in the Pacific is to steer changes in land tenure arrangements in support of economic growth…” AusAID White Paper 2006 recognized the ‘Pacific Land Mobilization” pushed under ‘Accelerating Economic Growth’ pose a most serious concern for the Pacific with more than 80% of cultural ownership of resources! 

ADB Governance of Co-Option in Borrowing Countries: Shalmali Guttal wrote:  ADB’s approach to governance poses serious threat to autonomy and sovereignty in national policy making. Good governance provides ADB with a window to institutionalize reforms needed to establish market capitalism in borrowing countries - involves writing new laws and regulations, developing new administrative and management systems, creating new positions and roles within government, institutionalizing new decision making processes, doing whatever is required to ensure borrowing countries stay firmly on the path of market-led economic growth!

Questions have been raised in ADB’s Board of Directors about Bank conduct in formulating, processing, and implementing projects in the Pacific - reveal that its commitment to good governance is at best a lie! At worst, antagonistic to meaningful consultation, accountable structures and mechanisms!


The Samoa - ADB Targets Customary Lands 

2002-2004 - Insecure Land Tenure…makes it difficult to transact domestic and international business – these are constraints to private sector development...the Government… will devise a strategy to improve access to customary land….and use of customary land as collateral, a complex and sensitive issue, will take time to build community awareness, and acceptance for this concept and implementation. 


Complaints Submitted to ADB by Samoan Matais 29 August 2014 

Four of us village chiefs filed a complaint objecting to a series of ADB-backed reforms that could lead to alienation of customary land and gravely concerned that reforms, carried out without meaningful consultation of Samoan people, could individualize control over land throughout the country, ultimately placing large tracts of land in the hands of Investors and Banks.   


“We object to ADB’s dispensing of our customary laws and systems, which have successfully safeguarded the interests of the aiga for millennia - benefits will flow not to local communities, but to foreign investors and national elites… Meanwhile, members of our aiga face dispossession from…large-tracts of land..

Under series of projects - Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land, ADB has driven land and financial reforms in Samoa to make it easier to lease customary land and use those leases as collateral for loans, creating a system which a single authority can unilaterally lease out customary land, without consulting other members of the aiga. Under reforms, the lease agreement could be used by leaseholder to access credit from a bank, but if leaseholder is unable to repay the loan, the bank can take control of the lease, covering large tracts of customary land for decades. 


Outcome of Complaints Review Panel Investigation:

CRP confirms there is prima facie evidence that non-compliance on ADB to its own policies and procedures is likely to cause direct and material harm to the complainants and those affected by the project. More than 80% of land in Samoa is customary lands dear to Samoans in terms of their close relationship with it and see it as intrinsic part of their cultural identity and way of life. Customary lands cannot be alienated or disposed of by anyone, but held in perpetuity by the family and transmitted from generation to generation...members die, born, and travel abroad, but these lands have been the natural resources upon which the Samoan civilization was built over thousands of years. There is prima facie evidence that customary land rights were respected even when Samoa was under colonial rule.   

When Samoa became independent in 1962, the rule customary lands could not be alienated was entrenched in its Constitution. Leasing and licensing of customary lands has, however, been practiced in the past. The Alienation of Customary Lands Act 1965 (ACLA) regulated these leases and licenses entered into by the matai on behalf of all his customary land owners with their consent. Under ACLA, leases and licenses of customary lands could be granted only by the Minister responsible for lands… 

When ACLA was passed, Samoa had a Deeds registration system where deeds executed with respect to land had to be registered - But registration did not convey an ‘indefeasible title’ as in the Torrens system where ‘indefeasible title’ is ownership that cannot be defeated, revoked, or cancelled by reference to any past event, error or omission in the title. 

CRP finds as a result of three TAs funded by ADB – their advice, recommendations, draft Bills, consultant papers developed – Samoa government enacted Land Titles Registration Act 2008 (LTRA) introducing for the first time in Samoa, the Torrens system of land title registration - requiring leases and licenses of customary lands granted under ACLA, to be made under LTRA - but registration of these in the name of the Minister undermines common ownership of customary lands - Torrens system which conveys ‘indefeasibility’ of title or interests upon registration is incompatible with customary land ownership attributes, practices and principles.     


ADB support to the government also enacted the Customary Lands Advisory Commission through the CLAC Act 2013 to promote the greater economic use of customary lands for development of Samoa. 

A consequential amendment in the last section of CLAC Act enlarged the scope of leases and licenses of customary lands…extending the meaning of ‘an interest’ in customary land lease or license to include “mortgage of the interest of lease or license” and required the process of registration and discharge of mortgages in the LTRA to be applied to such mortgages! 

This use of leasehold rights over customary lands as a collateral to raise funds through a secured loan was new to Samoan customary land laws! The effect of this 2013 amendment further erodes the inalienability of customary lands! 

Complainants fear mortgage of leases could be granted by the Minister without the consent of customary land owners and subsequent assignments of such mortgages for default put customary lands in the hands of unknown third parties.

CRP supports these fears – government recognizes these dangers and is now proposing legislation amendments to address these concerns – require written consents of customary land owners before a leasehold interest could be mortgaged, protect the rights of customary land owners to refuse consent to an assignment of mortgages and to ensure moneys recovered by the mortgagees on a default would be applied to outstanding lease rents as a first priority. Legislation amendments proposed by government will place mortgages of leasehold rights of customary land owners under a distinct and separate regime established by regulations under LTRA 2008. 

CRP supports the reluctance of complainants to lease customary lands or consent to mortgages of leasehold rights under current laws - lack of adequate safeguards, give no assurance that leased lands will remain with the original contractual partners of the lease agreement - There is prima facie evidence that legal and policy changes of leasehold interests without the consent of land owners lead to unknown third parties acquiring rights of possession over lands, too risky to lease customary lands under the current legal regime…

Ladies and Gentlemen, What do you make of these? For me, it is a zero sum game - winner take all scenario - likened to the optic – the threats in the past were like a broken leg, It was sharp, painful, but specific! And it was clear what was needed to fix it! Today, it is more like a virus affecting the blood system! Much more complex and pervasive! 

As Universities of the Pacific, you must be our indispensable asset, fashioning appropriate Pacific response to these challenges, safeguarding our future!  


I premise my address arguing - the shifting goals posts are deliberate ploys of developed countries to defend their economic interests, reneging on commitments to assist developing countries. Economic development pressures underpin redefining sustainable development to ‘sustained economic growth’ and the ‘false mitigation solutions’ from global climate debate are calculated tactics to secure this - creating injustices, undermine Rio principles, violate aspirations for genuine and durable partnerships. I also argued the demise Pacific countries face protecting customary lands, is a replication of the same deliberate and calculated agenda of developed countries to dominate and usurp.

Industrialized countries are the cause of a disproportionately large share of the world’s problems. They account for a fraction of the world’s population but their economic appetite consumes a huge amount of the world’s resources, land grabbing a clear part of that exploitative agenda. This unsustainable consumption and production result in environmental decline, social decay, and cultural erosion of an unimaginable scale. For the Pacific, customary lands alienated, related principles violated, daily livelihood of indigenous communities and traditional practices undermined, climate crisis worsened, profits dictate. The danger is all the more pernicious because shifting goal posts and insincere partnerships the culprits engage the Pacific do not always confront us or governments directly. It becomes enmeshed in the institutional machinery that infiltrates the State apparatus and in many cases gain the complicity of government officials. 

As a simple chief from Sili, I ask you, Is this the Future We Want? Will this ensure ‘No One in the Pacific is left behind’? I urge you, in your collective, integrated researches, and academic pursuit for genuine and durable partnership, for sustainable human development, for climate justice, and protection of customary lands - Let the spirit of George Bernard Shaw remind us - “This is the true joy in my life, being used for a purpose recognized by oneself as a mighty one… that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. Life is not a brief candle for me. It is a splendid torch I have got hold of for the moment, and want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handling it on to future generations”! Thank you, and God Bless! 

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