U.S. "increases our game" with 'Pacific Pledge'

The United States’ ‘Pacific Pledge’ of an additional US$36.5 million (T$97.4 million) in foreign assistance to the region is about “increasing our game” in the Pacific.

So says Chargé d’affaires, Tony Greubel, about the announcement made in August, continuing the U.S. work in the Pacific, not starting anew.

“We’ve been a long committed friend to the Pacific. They are our neighbours and we promote a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

“We are committed to the Pacific Islands’ future security and prosperity.”

A new boost of foreign assistance could mean a regional state visit from Washington, and Mr. Greubel said he believes that is under consideration.

The new funding will go towards climate change resilience and environmental degradation projects, the conservation of coral reefs and disaster risk reduction and response for extreme weather events, as well as maritime and border security, among other areas.

“A lot of this we are already doing. This $36.5 million is going towards increasing resources, because pretty much everything here, we have already done,” Mr. Greubel said.

Asked why brand the exercise as the Pacific Pledge (joining New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Indonesia’s Pacific Reset, Pacific Step Up, Pacific Uplift and Pacific Elevation, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative) rather than continue with business as usual, Mr. Greubel said it is important to mark a major funding boost.

“It’s about a ten per cent increase of our foreign assistance, and we think that is substantial. We just wanted to give it a title, I guess you could call it.”

He said the Pacific Pledge is not about competing with increased interest in the region, because America has “always been here.

“We really have been, and especially in Micronesia, and in the compact states, we have always given them lots of assistance since they gained independence.

“It’s definitely not true we haven’t been in the Pacific but in Polynesia and Melanesia I think it’s fair to say we could have done more over the last few years, and that this is our way of increasing our game, not only in Micronesia and our territories but also in Melanesia and Polynesia.”

He said America would have invested in the region without the increased attention in the region, because it has always been close. 

“The Pacific Islands feel the rising sea levels are an existential threat and many of them are nothing more than atolls. You would see us increasing our resources throughout the region to overcome this environmental threat.”

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, legal anthropologist from the Australian National University Dr. Siobhan McDonald said the claim does not hold water in today’s diplomatic environment in the Pacific.

“This is what they are trying to pull on right, this historical set of connections. ‘We are not only recently ‘discovering’ the region, we have been here for a longer period of time, we have this long set of relationships.’

“Pacific Island countries are not silly though, they can see the effect of countries that have pulled out and are now choosing very late in the piece to reengage,” she said.

The current administration under President Donald Trump has come under immense scrutiny for cutting federal environment regulations, with 53 cuts made and 32 in progress, according to the New York Times. 

So far, he has cancelled the requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions, and stopped enforcing a rule from 2015 that banned hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases, in air-conditioners and refrigerators, to name but two.

Dr. McDonald said there is a discrepancy between “top level” attitudes and the financial decisions the United States government makes, and that this goes for Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison too.

“At a top level, at a Prime Ministerial level, they are not prepared to accept some of the language attached to the emergency of climate change in the region, but on the other hand they are prepared to put funding into ‘disaster,’ ‘extreme weather event funding,’ or ‘resilience facilities.’

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“The reality however is that Pacific Island nations are increasingly saying to the US and to Australia in particular, you need to step up into this space. 

“You need to acknowledge the Boe Declaration that climate change is the single greatest security threat to the region and we are expecting you to come with action.”

But Mr. Greubel insists his nation is actually decreasing its carbon emissions every year, regardless of the intention to leave the Paris Agreement and any international pledges to that effect (under the Agreement, the targets the U.S set are legally in place until November 2020).

“And the United States, let’s be clear, we are still reaching our targets under the Paris Agreement, we are actually reducing.”

The country targeted reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent of pre-2005 levels by 2025, according to the Climate Action Tracker (C.A.T.), who estimate that reduction target may be more like 22-28 per cent.

But C.A.T. has ranked the U.S’s Paris targets themselves as “critically insufficient.”

The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (E.D.G.A.R.) shows since 1990, the United States has been decreasing its emissions, but still produces 13.92 per cent of the global total, second only to China with 29.71 per cent.

In third is the European Union with 9.13 per cent. 

Mr. Greubel said the U.S is serious about climate change impacts in the Pacific.

“We understand that climate change is the number one priority and we are still looking at ways to help them, providing assistance with climate change finance and ways to access that, helping mitigate natural disasters.”

The “pledge” was announced during the Pacific Island Forum held in Tuvalu in August, and is in addition to the approximately US$350 million the U.S spends per year in the region.

The new funding will go towards climate change resilience and environmental degradation projects, the conservation of coral reefs and disaster risk reduction and response for extreme weather events.

$1.7 million alone is going towards monitoring ground water at Runit Dome in the Marshal Islands to address the nuclear site there.

Within the budget is also a focus on the Papua New Guinea electrification project, alongside Australia, Japan and New Zealand in a bid to held the country read 70 per cent electrification by 2030. 

Maritime security and the fight against illegal fishing is also within the ‘pledge’ remit, and the Department of Defence is mobilising $24.6 million to help the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau with their maritime and border security, transnational crime and drug trafficking issues.

Another $3 million is going towards the Pacific Islands Good Governance Initiative to “boost citizen participation and promote transparency and accountability in elections and government” (check yourself guys). 

Mr. Greubel also said he considers it important how much funding the U.S.A has directed towards the region through multilateral organisations, and for a long time.

So while the bilateral assistance budget might look small in comparison to other powers, there is no lack of “American taxpayer” money in Samoa.

“We are the largest shareholder in the World Bank, we are tied with Japan as the largest shareholder in the Asian Development Bank, and the United States alone pays 22 per cent of the entire U.N budget,” he said. “The country that is number two is not even close.”

That number two is Japan, with 9.68 per cent. 

“The United States often doesn’t get credit for what we have done for Samoa, and that is fine because we put our assistance through multilateral institutions to make sure it’s spent efficiently. 

“I am proud of the money we have spent in this region… we do deserve some recognition.

“If people say the US isn’t doing anything in the region, I fight back at that, and I remind them of what we do through multilateral institutions.”

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