Ball is in the court of Pacific leaders

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The geopolitical landscape places large ocean states of the Pacific Islands at the forefront of the impacts of climate change due to the self interest of industrialised nations, plundered fisheries from tuna-hungry but distant nations and a growing presence of the war on terrorism catapulted into our part of the world. This is of course escalated by imposed global trade standards, new health threats, border security issues, political challenges and regional worries on sovereignty.

Never has the Pacific region been so vulnerable as it is now. Just last/earlier this month our visionary Pacific church leaders met in American Samoa equally concerned about climate change impacts and the regional fisheries. The following week, the first Pacific wide tuna indystry forum in PNG made it clear that sustainability is key to the future exploitation of tuna stocks (was that the Forum or us?). Rather than entice new players into the region's fisheries we need to be cutting back drastically as catches and stocks are at all time lows globally.

Thus the future of our fisheries and the effects of climate change form an undercurrent for two very important meetings happening in the Pacific. The Pacific Islands Forum officials are meeting in Tonga to decide on an agenda for the discussions for the leaders in late October. At the same time at Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) at the Technical meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), fisheries officials, industry players and NGO partners from the Pacific and around the world will make important decisions on management and conservation of our most valuable tuna stocks in the Pacific. The Pacific is a diverse region that comprises some of the smallest countries in the world with many nations-rich in cultures, histories and colonial baggage-only a few metres above sea level at their highest point.

Yet despite our fragility, we large ocean states are blessed with a wide range of terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, predominantly influenced by marine systems that can make infrastructure development difficult and environmental impacts significant. The majority of our regional populace still live in villages and rural communities either along the coast, or in the coastal plains and valleys of the larger islands.

For years, the Pacific has been romanticised as a peaceful, pristine and rather sleepy backwater, somehow removed from or even immune to the stresses of modern day and contemporary society. This picture is a gross misrepresentation of a diverse, widespread and vibrant region facing unique developmental challenges.

Being the diverse region that we are, we have been endowed with a very rare mechanism of problem solving and unity called the Pacific Way. The late legendary, Pacific Island leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, coined the phrase to express that in spite of the continuing economic dependence on the western world, Pacific states could develop in their own way and in their own style. The Pacific Way is a form of regional and international interaction. The strength of this way lies in the character of its people, who have demonstrated throughout their history a high level of resourcefulness and resilience. Pacific peoples are well used to surviving, and eventually prospering, in the face of adversities, invasions and natural disasters. The Pacific Way is an approach that kin from industrialised nations could take a few pointers from. Through the Auckland Declaration of April 2004 that called on the strengthening of regional cooperation and integration, and in response to the many challenges facing Pacific Island countries, Forum leaders adopted the following vision:

Leaders believe the Pacific can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.

We treasure the diversity of the Pacific and seek a future in which its cultures and traditions are valued, honoured and developed. We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, sustainable management of its resources, full observance of democratic values, and its defence and promotion of human rights. The history of the forum has been one of steadily growing cooperation among the countries of the region. Indeed, the forum is one of the most successful examples anywhere of countries working together for mutual benefit. No where else do independent sovereign countries work together to share highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna, as do the 17 Pacific member countries of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). The Pacific has set the example for the rest of the world when it comes to managing fisheries resources at a regional and multi-lateral level.

There is growing evidence, however, that current levels of cooperation require much more resilience particularly where the key environmental challenges now facing the Pacific are concerned. That of climate change and collapsing tuna stocks-the Pacific's most cherished resource.

Both of these problems need to be seen and framed as 'national and regional threats' within the framework of 'true security' issues for the Pacific Way as they reduce the quality of life us citizens of the Pacific. "Oceaness' and "Islandness" are what shapes our identity as Pacific peoples. Without our ocean and islands we are nothing.

But the same 'oceaness' and 'islandness' that should logically unite us, has been used to divide us using the very tempting carrot of money. It is understandable that our region wants to be able to develop in order to take better care of our people but the fine line is blurred once the cash-cow of natural resources and developmental possibilities becomes real. The Pacific should have remained the pearl of the oceans; pristine, beautiful, unspoilt. Instead powers outside the region are plundering our ocean with overfishing of our precious tuna stocks, using destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling, drawing the region into a politicized war on whaling which really is not our battle as well as leaving us to sink or swim from climate change impacts and economic threats from the related acidification of the ocean.

Scientific evidence abounds that climate change is human-induced and the fury of it's effects are being felt. The King Tides in Kiribati; the relocation of the Carterets people of PNG; the violent and more frequent cyclones, swift weather extremes, the disappearing sources of fresh water to name a few. We don't need science to tell us the why's and how's. Members of our Pacific village live this livelihood danger daily.

Tuvalu, four metres above water at its highest point, is already talking about seeking environmental refugee status with our bigger neighbours, Australia and New Zealand. Tuna is to the Pacific what oil is to the Middle East. It is common knowledge that as fish stocks around the world continue to collapse fishing fleets are moving in great numbers to the last relatively healthy fishing grounds in the world; the Pacific. The greatest threat to the Pacific's tuna fisheries is overfishing. As more foreign vessels take unsustainable amounts of tuna, the economic stability and health of Pacific Island communities is under threat. It is even in the interests of the fishing fleets to cut back. Their operational margins are pushed to negative when they have to spend more time and effort to catch the same amount of fish.

Today in the Pacific, more than 90 per cent of our tuna is caught by the fleets of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, USA, Philippines, and the European Union. In their race to catch more fish, these Distant Water Fishing fleets use ships with large-scale fishing technology such as purse seining and long-lining.

Not only are these methods wasteful, but it means that most of the profits leave the Pacific. Each year industrial fishers make over $US3billion from the Pacific's fish resources. Out of this, Pacific nations receive around 6 per cent mainly from licensing and access fees a grossly unfair sum for their principal economic resource.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. Forum decisions are based on consensus decision making in which standard setting and norm-based behaviour have taken root. There are signs, though, that as issues of traditional "high politics" become more salient within the region, consensus could become strained.

For example, as commendable as regional cooperation and consensus has been to date, self interest and the assertion of sovereignty by individual states over regional resources such as tuna is undermining the sustainability of the stocks leading to further plundering of the Pacific by distant water fishing states and fleets. Given that a weakness in one country is, in terms of our Vision, a weakness for us all, there is no doubt in our minds that the future prosperity of the region will depend on the Pacific living and breathing our undeniable inter-connectedness, and finding new and creative means of harnessing collective capacities. New thinking on the relationships between sovereign states may be required so that self-interest does not undermine what is the common heritage of the Pacific.

In regards to our Pacific Village tuna fishery, Greenpeace recommends:

A regional commitment to reducing tuna fishing by 50 per cent across the board;

the urgent establishment of a "regional fisheries insurance mechanism" such as the establishment of a marine reserve in an enclosed high seas area bound by Palau, FSM, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia;

banning transhipments and refuelling on the high seas; and

a regional request for United States of America (USA), Australia, New Zealand and French surveillance assistance for enforcement in our waters

As contentious as the issue of tuna fishing may be within the Pacific Islands nations due to economic factors for some of the smaller island countries that have tuna licensing as a main source of government revenue, climate change and rising sea levels is the one issue that truly binds the majority of members of the Pacific Village. Yet, like Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned to the ground, Australia and the USA continue to snub the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol (1) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change strengthens the international response to climate change. Adopted by consensus at the third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) in December 1997, it contains legally binding emissions targets for developed (Annex I) countries for the post-2000 period.

By arresting and reversing the upward trend in greenhouse gas emissions that started in these developed countries 150 years ago, the Protocol promises to move the international community one step closer to achieving the Convention's ultimate objective of preventing "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

The developed countries commit themselves to reducing their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5 per cent. Each country's emissions target must be achieved by the period 2008-2012. This is what is referred to within the Protocol as the "first commitment period". The UN Climate Change meeting in Bali from December 3-14, 2007 will be discussing the second commitment period post 2012. The United States and Australia have dilly dallied over cuts and targets and have set for themselves some ambiguous targets which they are trying to push onto the global agenda. In doing so, they are totally disrespecting the collective wisdom of the global leaders that decided on the Kyoto Protocol. While they play politics or business as usual, members of the Pacific Village worry for their futures.

"A spirational targets", which were promoted by Australia at APEC and the United States at the 'major emitter's meeting' in Washington DC will not be effective in securing the emission reductions required. History shows this unequivocally and it is why the international community agreed on binding emission cuts for industrialised nations in Kyoto in 1997. Our small island nations are at the forefront of climate change consequences. Historically, we are the least responsible for the damage done to the atmosphere and our environment but, we will be the first to pay.

We, as Pacific Islanders must demand responsibility and precautionary stewardship of ourselves and more importantly, of the big industralised nations who have created their wealth at the hefty price of environmental degradation. We need to cut global emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050. The United Nations Climate Change meeting in Bali must set the world on a course to stay as far below a two degree Celsius temperature rise as possible. This requires the Pacific Village to strongly advocate for:

Reduced global emissions by 2015;

A deep cut in emissions, led by developed countries, who must commit to at least 30 per cent cuts by 2020 and virtually complete decarbonisation by 2050.

A massive new Clean Technology Deployment Fund system to be funded by the developed countries aimed at switching to clean, efficient, renewable technology in developing countries.

A Deforestation Reduction Mechanism that provides the necessary financing to drastically reduce deforestation within the next 15 years. The reductions from forest protection must be additional to cuts in industrial emissions.

An adaptation track with adaptation financing on a much larger scale based on a deeper analysis of adaptation needs especially of small island countries like those in our region.

This package to be agreed to by 2009

As Germany's Chancellor Merkel said at the G8 meeting Heiligendamm: "We cannot choose the targets". Nature defines the targets and the timetable needed to avoid dangerous climate change; and it is clear that there is no time for diversions or dead ends.

Our Pacific leaders will soon have the opportunity to strengthen regional cooperation yet again at the PIF leaders meeting in Tonga in October. What must be on the agenda is a firm climate change position and radical solutions to the tuna crisis facing our Pacific Village.

Unwavering leadership in the best interests of the peoples of the Pacific Village is now mandatory.

The ball is in the court of Pacific Island leaders to decide on the future of the Pacific peoples livelihoods.

Mr Goundar is Greenpeace Oceans Team Leader

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