“We can dream all we want but it is what we do that we get”

Well, there you go ladies and gentlemen. The 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting is now officially underway.

It follows a very colourful opening ceremony at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum last night, where our visitors were accorded the best of Samoan hospitality with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi welcoming everyone.

During the next few days, the region’s leaders will engage in discussions and bilateral and multilateral meetings as part of their collective effort to ensure a healthy, safe, and prosperous environment, mainly related to the Blue Pacific ocean, as we’ve been talking about quite a bit over the past couple of days.

The tone has been set and judging from what’s been said so far, working regionalism and unity, in terms of presenting a united Pacific voice to the world in response to challenges we are facing, are key goals.

“The Blue Pacific is a strong expression of Pacific Regionalism,” said the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor.

“It’s about reclaiming that identity that we are ‘one oceanic continent’ -- and that as Big Ocean Stewardship States, we can do more together than we can alone. 

“It encourages us to see the collective potential of harnessing the energy and opportunity that lie both above and below our Pacific Ocean. 

“It is an empowering identity that can spur us to greater ambition when it comes to building the secure future our people pray for. It also puts forward a clear portrait of Pacific regionalism that our people and partners can see and interact with. 

“I am sure the leaders and our many stakeholders will explore the myriad possibilities of the Blue Pacific as the week unfolds and I look forward to hearing the fruits of those discussions.”

Well, we all share the same hope. After all, we don’t want these meetings to be waste of time now, do we? Keep in mind that the irony of all this is that these forums happen every year and from where we stand, we just cannot be confident enough to say the Forum knows where it wants to go.

All we’ve seen are meetings after meetings and plans to plan more meetings. Where does it end? Perhaps that’s a question for another day.

That said, I received a letter from a well-informed source yesterday. The source does not want to be identified but having been involved in the discussion around the Blue Pacific and Sustainable Development over the years, he wanted to share this message -- we hope all the leaders in Samoa this week, and their officials, take time to read it.  Titled “Blue Pacific and Sustainable Development,” it reads:


“We have heard much about the theme of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting this week ‘Blue Pacific, our Sea of Islands, our Security through Sustainable Development, management and conservation’.  

The one thing we haven’t heard much of this week is the draft Pacific Roadmap on Sustainable Development (S.D.G.).  The leaders asked for this in P.N.G., during the 2015 Forum, to focus and streamline the implementation and reporting of S.D.G.s in the Pacific.

The first important thing the draft roadmap says is that we should be ‘using accessible, simple and clear language to ensure the concepts that underpin sustainable development are easy to understand.’    

On what we should do to achieve the Blue Pacific, one suggestion reflected in the 132 S.D.G.s indicators accompanying the roadmap, is to stop ourselves from dumping our rubbish, including plastics, in to our Pacific waters. We’re also asked to stop killing and acidifying the ocean. 

There is a strong focus in the 132 S.D.G. indicators on ways to reduce the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is our other ‘blue’ Pacific. By the way, while we tend to think of blue economy as ocean economy, the initiator of the Blue Economy approach, Gunter Pauli, was really promoting blue sky thinking. This is not confined to oceans, which makes perfect sense since most of what pollutes the sea, especially humans, come from land. 

As we’ve heard this week, the Pacific seeks an increase in the benefits of tuna fisheries to small islands, which the roadmap supports by including the S.D.G. indicators on stopping illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.  

But colour coding can confuse us, as a former Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat warned us years ago, when we were advocating green economy and green growth.  

At a recent Blue Economy conference in Suva, the Solomon Islands Fisheries Minister asked to do something about the ‘blue’ boats out of Vietnam, which are pillaging the waters of Micronesia and Melanesia.  

Adam Wolfenden in PACNEWS this week was pleading with Forum leaders to prioritize development instead of P.A.C.E.R-Plus, a major trade deal which has gone ahead without Fiji and P.N.G.  So it’s good the draft roadmap indicators are prioritizing things like increasing the trade share of small islands and aid-for-trade, while generating more decent jobs to reduce poverty, and tackle diabetes.

Earlier in the week, Fiu Mataese Elisara was critical of the way customary lands are being handled. He was also critical of the S.D.G.s for shifting attention away from developing countries and for ignoring the principle of equity.

Actually, it’s clear from the indicators of the draft Pacific roadmap that the Pacific knows where it wants to focus its attention, some of which I’ve noted above. It’s also clear that responsibility for development assistance and emission reduction sits with developed countries and major emitters, not small island developing countries. 

On the issue of customary lands, I like what the Pacific draft roadmap on S.D.G.s has to say on customs and equity. Governments should be looking at having legal frameworks (including customary law) which guarantee women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control. 

Equity and inclusiveness begets sustainability and security. The draft Pacific roadmap brings with it 132 success indicators, some of which mentioned here, to which we ought to pay more attention if we are to know what it is that we should do. For as one of my favourite bloggers said this week, we can dream all we want but it is what we do that we get.”

What do you think? Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone, God bless!

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