Regionalism and the blue Pacific Ocean

The theme of this week’s 48th Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting could not have been more fitting. “The Blue Pacific, our Sea of islands, our Security through Sustainable development, management and conservation” sums up quite well the challenges facing the leaders and delegates who are gathering in Apia today.

When it comes to the Pacific Islands Forum Meeting, these gatherings are premised on the belief that together we are stronger and that with one voice, we can influence better and bigger changes where it matters.

Which is what regionalism is about. The concept is based on the notion that we have something in common to share. And sharing is at the heart of the Pacific Way. We might not have much by way of money and resources, but we are family oriented and we share what little we have.

The challenge in advancing regionalism is cementing the kind of unity required to drive what needs to be done so that the benefits of sharing are evenly distributed. There is also the challenge of finding that one voice given that everyone coming to the table has an agenda.

Understand this, while we are all islands with different flags and coconut trees, each one is sovereign. At these meetings, they are coming with their own needs and challenges. They have their instructions depending on who is pulling the strings and that makes the goal of regionalism almost impossible.

The one thing all Pacific countries share is the Blue Pacific Ocean. 

Which is why we say the theme of the meeting could not have been more fitting. It is the Pacific Ocean that connects us all. Despite the boundaries between our exclusive economic zones, when you remove those lines one could easily swim or paddle from one island to another. 

That connection through the ocean brings positive and negative consequences.

When the going is great, everyone benefits. 

But when the state of the ocean is threatened, we all suffer. Today, it is fair to say our Blue Pacific Ocean is under tremendous threat. Our fisheries resources are being exploited; climate change has the ability to turn our biggest natural resource into a deadly weapon threatening to bury us all alive. 

Which raises the question about sustainability and the future. These are the challenges of our time and as custodians of our land and oceans, we have a moral responsibility to come together, work together and make decisions that are needed to be made for the sake of the future.

For the meeting in Apia this week, the lines have been drawn and the leaders know what to do. As the host of the meeting, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has already set the tone in his welcoming remarks.

“In March this year the region met in Suva, Fiji to prepare their position for the inaugural United Nations Ocean Conference to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, held in New York in June 2017,” Tuilaepa said. 

“The Conference, co-hosted by the governments of Fiji and Sweden, aimed to mobilise global action for the protection of the ocean for advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During the Conference, I had the privilege of launching the theme to the world. 

“The Blue Pacific our Sea of islands, our Security through Sustainable development management and conservation” recaptures the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean based on an explicit recognition of our shared ocean identity, ocean geography, and ocean resources.  No doubt, the discussions planned and organised for the Forum Week from 4th-8th will enrich and guide our journey forward.”

According to Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor, the issues on the table this week are “of vital importance to the people of the Pacific.”

“Samoa’s choice of The Blue Pacific: Our Sea of Islands – Our Security through Sustainable Development, Management and Conservation as the theme for the 48th Pacific Islands Forum and its related meetings, is timely and inspirational,” she said. 

“Not only does it build on the Honourable Prime Minister, His Excellency, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi’s keynote address at the Global Oceans Conference held in New York in early June, where he said that “an endorsement of The Blue Pacific is a commitment to a new narrative for collective political action in the Pacific, and to acting together as one Blue Continent”, it also frames the substantive items for discussion and decision at this year’s Leaders meeting.

“At their Retreat this year, Leaders will discuss The Blue Pacific within the context of advancing the Framework for Pacific Regionalism, which has and will continue to provide the platform and process for a renewed, reinvigorated regionalism. 

“The Agenda will allow for important deliberations on key priorities for achieving sustainable development, including Leaders’ priorities on Oceanic Fisheries as well as the requisite Pacific Resilience Partnership Arrangements to ensure we build our resilience to climate change and disaster risks. 

“Furthermore, Climate Change and the upcoming COP23, PACER Plus, Radioactive Contaminants in the Republic of Marshall Islands, the priorities of Smaller Island States will also be considered. With the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in June, Leaders may seek to reflect on the experience and lessons learnt. 

“In recognition of the impetus of Agenda 2030 in progressing the region’s development aspirations and the related need to ensure coherent regional support to Members in the achievement of this, Leaders will consider the Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development and the findings of Analysis of Regional Governance and Financing. 

“The latter reminds us that if Forum Leaders are at the apex of regional decision making and set regional priorities at the highest level, then a consistency and commitment of Members and their administrations to follow through on Leaders’ decisions across the regional system would lead to an appropriate allocation and alignment of resources to address and achieve our region’s ambitions and aspirations.”

Well with that said, we once again welcome all the leaders and the delegates who are in the country for the Forum. We wish you God’s blessings for your deliberation. Have a wonderful Tuesday, God bless!

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