Mar 30, 2020 Last Updated 11:57 AM, Mar 26, 2020

March (21)

“It’s within our culture and religion to  discipline our children physically, but sometimes we don’t know the line between discipline and abuse, so usually its confusing for us to find that line.”

“Physical punishment to my family is a daily routine. Even though the UN is strongly against it, it is a daily routine—if we talk back if we do something wrong—physical punishment is the answer.”

These were the comments of two Samoan teenagers, Audrey and Henry,  to members of the United Nations Committee on the Convention of the Rights of the Child meeting in Apia earlier this month.

Audrey and Henry were amongst hundreds of children who participated in events which took place in parallel to the historic gathering, the first UN human rights treaty body meeting ever to be held outside the UN’s New York or Geneva headquarters.

14 Pacific island countries have ratified the CRC. In Samoa, the Committee’s independent experts reviewed efforts by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu in implementing the Convention. They also prepared  Lists of Issues on the Republic of Kiribati, which will formally report to the Committee later in 2020.

To learn about the Committee’s recommendations, get the March issue of Islands Business

Does the coronavirus survive in hot, tropical climates? Should doctors treat younger patients first? Was the virus created in a laboratory? These and many other questions were put to one of Fiji and the Pacific’s leading epidemiologists now in private practice, Dr Joe Koroivueta, as island nations scramble to impose travel restrictions in its air and sea borders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept all the continents of the world since it was first detected in Wuhan in China.

Read more

Vanuatu’s citizenship scheme has been the focus of political campaigns as the country goes to the polls this month. One of Vanuatu’s biggest revenue sources, sales of Vanuatu passports through various ‘citizenship by investment’ programs reportedly sky-rocketed in 2019.

Many candidates are campaigning against the schemes, but the biggest challenge for the incoming government will be how to restore Vanuatu’s economy to meet the country’s development needs if it must stop the easy revenue made through passport sales.

While Vanuatu looks forward to celebrating 40 years of Independence on July 30, concerns over national identity and sovereignty remain vast and significant for most voters who were due to cast their votes March 19.

Many political candidates who were part of the incumbent Charlot Salwai-led coalition government have been party to the various Citizenship Schemes, although their position during the current election campaign suggests otherwise.

Ralph Regenvanu a political candidate for the Port Vila constituency said more than 4000 passports have been sold since the program was introduced in 2014 and around VT13 billion (US$108 million) was raised and used to clear and settle accumulated debts owned by the government over the years.

The Vanuatu Government has announced a budget of Vt57 billion (US474 million) this year. Already a former veteran politician and former Minister of Finance, Wellie Jimmy Tapangararua fears this is unachievable.

“The government is giving us a false impression to think the government will generate this money so service delivery will be improved.

“But it will be interesting to see the actual spending of the government last year and where will the increase come from to achieve the VT57 billion.”

The Vanuatu National Investment Promotion Authority (VIPA) says there were greater numbers of foreign investors into Vanuatu in 2019 compared to the previous nine years, however the economy is obviously depressed in terms of the number of businesses that are closing up since end of 2019 and candidates and businesses have called on the nationalgovernment to do more to support the business sector.

The government’s policy framework plan for achieving a stable, sustainable and prosperous Vanuatu within 15 years is dubbed the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP) 2030.

It will be interesting to see how the next government and especially the political parties in power align their policies and vision based on the NSDP and how their policies will carry forward the peoples plan 2030.

Meanwhile the campaign period was marred by uncertainty caused by legal action. On the eve of election day, Vanuatu’s incumbent Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, agriculture minister Matai Seremaiah, former parliamentary speaker Simeon Seule and parliamentarians Jerome Ludvaune and Tomker Netvunei learnt their names could remain on ballot papers.

They face charges of bribery and perjury. Fijian lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo was given leave to represent them, and on March 17 the court ruled they could stand, adjourning the matter to May.

Coronoavirus conditions permitting, Vanuatu is scheduled to host the Pacific Islands Forum in August, where climate change measures, regional economic conditions and West Papua–given a critical mass of support for pro-independence activists in Vanuatu—are certain to feature.

Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has welcomed international and local observers prior to election. The Pacific Islands Forum mission is led by Pita Vuki, who was also part of the Forum’s previous mission to Vanuatu and said: “I observed the 2016 snap election when the Electoral Commission and Electoral Office had significantly less time to prepare. I look forward to observing the elections in Vanuatu where all stakeholders have had the full electoral cycle to prepare.”

The Head of State, His Excellency Obed Tallis declared March 19 as a national public holiday in Vanuatu as the country will go to polls to elect its members of Parliament for the 12th Legislature.

The need for Pacific island agricultural exporters to target niche markets has long been accepted wisdom. A report produced by the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA Plus) program late last year shows in figures, exactly why it’s so critical.

The Pacific Export Context Analysis looks at cocoa, coffee, coconut products and palm oil price fluctuations since 2009 and notes that in real terms, the USD prices of the major export commodities show an uptrend over the last 20 years. However prices have often strengthened during the first half of that period and softened in the second half.

“When it’s a global commodity; cocoa, coffee, sugar it can’t just be put into basically a bulk bin,” says  Bronwyn Wiseman, Biosecurity and Trade Development Adviser at PHAMA Plus. She says in the scheme of things, PNG and Solomon Islands are “tiny cocoa and coffee producers, they’ve generally gone into the bulk market, so they’re totally controlled by global prices.”

Hence the need for niche markets. Wiseman says niches can be defined in a variety of ways, including product quality and marketing.

Meanwhile the challenges facing Pacific exporters have remained largely unchanged for years, although in some instances, they have intensified.

PHAMA Plus Biosecurity and Environmental Safeguard Advisor, Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu says these challenges include the cost, accessibility and reliability of transportation, sustainability of supply, market awareness, branding, certification, verification of legal origin, issues of land tenure and land disputes,  and the ongoing impacts of climate change.


On sweltering day in Suva this month, a sea of proud agriculture students decked out in bright blue graduation gowns and salusalus (garlands) posed for selfies with their families. Graduates of the Fiji National University’s Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) program, shared why they studied agriculture.

“I’m from a farming background, my father is a farmer. So that encouraged me to join the field of agriculture. I want to pursue this in the field, so this was theory, I want to do it in the field,” said Shayal from Fiji’s ‘salad bowl’, the fertile area of Sigatoka.

In its 2017 report, The Future of Work, the International Labour Organisation stated that the relative value added by the agricultural sector is significant, 22 per cent if PNG is included and 15 per cent if it is not, and that in terms of employment by sector, agriculture employs an average of 67.3 per cent of workforces in Pacific Island countries.

The ILO contends that Pacific employment growth opportunities lay in few key sectors: agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, tourism and business process outsourcing. Its authors write that agriculture continues to be the region’s main employer, absorbing the growing labour force: “There is potential for formal employment in agriculture to expand, especially if PIC governments pursue strategies to support agricultural niche products, use ICT for agriculture, and expand linkages between agriculture and tourism.” 


The rot continues at the University of the South Pacific. As we went to print, news broke that the USP’s supreme body, the USP Council has established a team to investigate its vice chancellor and president Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

The formation of the investigative team was announced in a  letter Pro Chancellor and chair of USP Council Winston Thompson sent to Council members dated March 16 in which he wrote:

"I write to advise the Council that following legal advice and in accordance with the provisions of the ordinance to govern the discipline of the vice chancellor, and in consultation with the deputy pro vice chancellor, I have appointed a subcommittee to investigate allegations of material misconduct against vice chancellor and president Professor Pal Ahluwalia."

The committee appointed by Thompson consists of three Fijians, Mahmood Khan (chair), Fay Yee and Semi Tukana. The fourth member is  Petunia Tupou, a Tongan lawyer.

Thompson has declined to comment to Islands Business on the letter he had sent to members of the USP Council.

"I would neither confirm nor deny," was all he said.

The Pro-Chancellor’s letter does not specify what allegations he is making against Professor Ahluwalia, but another document he authored and sighted by Islands Business from August 2019 criticises the new Vice Chancellor for his attitude towards the induction process prepared for him, perceived disrespect for decisions made by the USP Council , public criticism of the university, “irrational decision making”, undermining of USP’s strategic plan and alleges that “staff morale plummeted and some important senior managers were sidelined from the beginning.” Thompson also refers to the decline in income suffered by the university as the result of controversy there.


Is development assistance for poor developing countries about altruism, or is it all about economic and strategic self-interest for the Pacific’s biggest donor, Australia?

How can aid truly reduce poverty, increase literacy and numeracy levels, gain gender parity where there is none, or change the patriarchal make-up of our societies and reduce violence against women?

Will decreased donor dependence ever be possible in the Pacific, given the high reliance on aid? Despite the depth of aid, our region is performing poorly, at least by Australian measurements, giving donors the technical high ground and moral ‘voice’ in program input, design and evaluation.

Do Pacific governments have an interest beyond the electoral cycle to use development assistance to actually advance beyond their current stages of economic growth and uplift standards of living for Pacific people?

These were the questions I had as a first timer to the 2020 Australasian Aid Conference hosted by the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University. I came away enriched, however a little bewildered at how poorly the region understood and did development, and with more questions than answers.


Gaining credits for Kyoto

The global coronavirus pandemic has pushed climate change off the front pages, but the challenge of responding to the climate emergency has not disappeared.

Global emissions of greenhouse gases will likely drop in coming months, as air travel is reduced, international trade falters and many countries prepare for economic recession.
But later this year, governments must decide how to resume global negotiations to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, in November this year.

If governments come together on schedule, the battle will resume over Australia’s proposal to use “carryover credits” to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia stands alone in the belief that it can meet its Paris Agreement target for emissions reduction by using credits obtained under the Kyoto Protocol, when it ends.

The measurement of emissions has been debated since the 1997 adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC. Coming into force in 2005, Kyoto’s first commitment period ran from 2008 to 2012, with a second commitment period from 2013 until this year. From 2020, the provisions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change come into play.

Unlike Kyoto, which set binding emissions reduction targets for just 36 industrialised countries and the European Union, the Paris Agreement is legally binding for 194 states, both developed and developing; the United States under President Donald Trump is the only nation that has announced its withdrawal after signing the treaty. Under the Paris Agreement, countries make a voluntary emissions reduction commitment – known as a Nationally Determined Contribution – with a target set for 2030.

The debate over emissions reductions and carryover credits can be confusing, as countries use different baselines to set their targets. Some commitments to reduce emissions include all sectors of the economy, while others exclude certain sectors (agriculture, land clearing and deforestation, transport, energy etc). Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) states: “Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This builds on our target under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.”

At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, Prime Minister Morrison repeatedly stressed that Australia is on track to “meet and beat” these Kyoto and Paris targets. This was reaffirmed in Australia’s official statement to COP25 in Madrid, when Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said: “Our recently released forecasts say that we expect to beat our 2020 targets by 411 million tonnes, which is around 80 per cent of a full year of emissions.”

This magic figure of 411 million tonnes comes from Canberra’s latest official emissions projections, released in December 2019. They state that Australia went beyond its target for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), gaining credit for 128 million tonnes of Co2 equivalent (Mt CO2-e). Further emissions reductions in the second Kyoto period (2013-2020) bring the total credits to 411 million tonnes.

There are two key reasons that Australia went beyond its Kyoto targets. Firstly, Australia had very high domestic emissions from deforestation in 1990, the baseline year to measure targets. With reduced land clearing and deforestation in subsequent years, overall emissions reduced without the need to cut as much greenhouse gas from coalfired power stations or energy-intensive manufacturing industries like aluminium and cement.

The second source of credits comes from tough Australian diplomatic tactics during the Kyoto negotiations. Instead of a reduction of emissions, the Howard government won  an increase of 8 per cent in its emissions in the first Kyoto commitment period. For the second Kyoto period, only a minimal 0.5 per cent reduction was required. With far less ambitious targets than other comparable developed countries, Australia is now claiming to have “overachieved.”

In the real world, however, the actual reduction of Australian greenhouse gas emissions is projected to be 14-16 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, rather than the official target of 26-28 per cent. In order to “meet and beat” the Paris Agreement target, therefore, Australia must use some or all of the Kyoto-era credits.

The government’s policies on Kyoto credits are backed by the coal mining industry, which is seeking to expand rather than reduce operations in coming years. The Minerals Council of Australia has argued that “the use of Kyoto carryover credits has long been accepted and is allowable under the Paris Agreement”.

This argument, however, is ridiculed by legal experts. Last month, nine law professors wrote to Prime Minister Morrison stating that there is no legal basis to meet half of Australia’s emissions targets by using carryover credits: “Our considered view is that the proposed use of these ‘Kyoto credits’ to meet targets under the Paris Agreement is legally baseless at international law. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are entirely separate treaties. There is no provision in the Paris Agreement that refers to the Kyoto Protocol nor to the units established under it.”

Politically, Australia is isolated from most international opinion on this issue. While Russia and Ukraine have suggested they might use these credits, all major OECD countries – Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Norway and others – have expressly ruled out their use. Last October, Australian Department of Environment and Energy officials admitted to a Senate hearing: “We are not aware of other countries that are intending to use carry over. Just Australia.”

Professor Frank Jotzo of the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy is a leading climate policy analyst. For COP25, Jotzo was critical of the proposed use of Kyoto carryover credits: “We are the only country planning to ‘carry over.’ Almost all countries that care are opposed to it. It reminds the world of the ‘Australia clause’ which the Howard government pushed through at the 1997 Kyoto summit, allowing Australia to count land-use change reductions. It is what created the Kyoto carry-over credits in the first place.”

By themselves, Australian use of carryover credits wouldn’t break the Paris Agreement. However globally, there are billions of tonnes of credits around the world generated during the Kyoto years. Many climate analysts are concerned that Australian efforts to water down its climate targets through accounting loopholes will only encourage other major countries like Russia, Brazil and China to follow suit.

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary between 2010 to 2016, visited Australia in March and accused the Morrison government of “cheating” on its emissions targets.

“If you go as a tennis player to the Australian Open, and you get your final score and your final standing, do you then progress to Wimbledon and pick up the scores that you had from the Australian Open? It just doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “It is not legal, it is not correct, it is not moral. It is cheating, period. When you finish one tournament – and the Kyoto Protocol has finished – then you start the next. But you do not pull something from the previous efforts and the previous regulatory framework to the next one.”

Pacific governments have joined other developing states to condemn any use of Kyoto credits to reach Paris targets. The 2019 summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF)
in Nadi called on “relevant parties to the Kyoto Protocol to refrain from using ‘carryover credits’ as an abatement for the additional Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets.”

Last November at COP25 in Madrid, developing countries tried to include new text into the rulebook for the Paris Agreement that would ban the use of Kyoto carryover credits. During the negotiations, this ban was supported by three major negotiating blocs that include many Small Island Developing States: the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries group (LDCs) and the independent alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, the UNFCCC negotiations work on consensus, and these changes to the rulebook were not enacted in Madrid– they’ll be discussed again at the next UNFCCC meeting in June and COP26 in Glasgow.

In the final hours of the Madrid conference, Pacific delegations joined Germany, France, Britain, and other nations to condemn efforts by Brazil and Australia to weaken carbon markets. New Zealand, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and Fiji were amongst a group of 27 countries that issued the ‘San Jose Principles for High Ambition and Integrity in International Carbon Markets.’ Amongst 11 measures, these San Jose principles expressly “prohibit the use of pre2020 units, Kyoto units and allowances, and any underlying reductions toward Paris Agreement and other international goals.”

Instead of reliance on past efforts, ANU’s Professor Frank Jotzo has called for new government-to-government initiatives, creating a system with neighbouring countries for sharing the credit for bilateral initiatives to cut emissions: “Combined with meaningful action to cut emissions at home, it would signal that Australian ingenuity can be used to address climate change, not just for creative accounting. As the developed country most affected by climate change, it is in our interest to lead by example, not to be seen as a recalcitrant.”

The future of this debate is in the wind. The current global crisis around the COVID-19 coronavirus involves economic and social effects that make the future of climate policy hard to predict. Even so, governments around the world are adopting tactics that will be required to respond to the climate emergency; drawing on the advice of scientific experts rather than ideologies prioritising the health and wellbeing of citizens over existing priorities on debt and deficit, massive financial support to industries affected by the crisis, establishing “whole of government” taskforces and even governments of national unity.

Will we slip back to business as usual on climate policy, or will the experience of working together on COVID-19 provide a model for national and global co-operation in response to the ongoing climate emergency?

I have resisted reading Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, because as a Papua New Guinean and someone who identifies as being from Manus, I am angry about and tired of the incessant negative portrayals of Manus unleashed by the presence there of the Australian asylum seeker Regional Processing Centre (RPC). I finally picked up the book last November as part of a small project exploring some of the impacts of the RPC on Manus.

The book is a masterpiece. It has been critically acclaimed and widely reviewed, but not from a Papua New Guinean or Manus person’s perspective. Hence this review.

Central to Pacific history, society, politics, culture, and identity is the ocean and oceanic journeys. Epeli Hau’ofa’s famous essay, Our Sea of Islands, highlights the importance of the ocean and calls for every Pacific island to challenge dominant, usually outsider and usually negative, framings of the region. Similarly, for Boochani, the ocean is omnipotent. In the first part of the book, Boochani, an asylum seeker and an outsider to the Pacific, embarks on his perilous crossings across the ocean between Indonesia and Australia. The ocean is the singular harrowing pathway he must follow in search of freedom. It is the judge and the jury, capable of dealing a death sentence. It is the canvas for Australia’s “Pacific Solution”. It is where Christmas Island and Manus Island float, their own agencies apprehended, appropriated as existential parts of what Boochani presents as the oppressive “Kyriarchal System”. In his journey Boochani totally immerses in the ocean and in doing so internalises Oceanic narratives of migration, settlement, and resettlement.

Scholars of the Pacific have extensively discussed the historical and contemporary hegemonic power of Australia, New Zealand and other geopolitical powers in the Pacific. In the second part of the book, Boochani makes these hegemonic transnational powers visible by tracing his transfer within the  detention spaces through the borders between Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

I was keenly looking out for Boochani’s first impression of Manus. Arriving in Manus, Boochani notes (p. 101):

“Manus Island is in the distance. A beautiful stranger lying in the midst of a massive breadth of water. Where the ocean meets the shore, the water turns white, but further out the ocean wears swampy shades of green and blue. It is a riot of colours, the colour spectrum of madness. Now the ocean is behind us and we are face to face with an exquisite and pristine jungle … Manus is beautiful.”

Sadly, but for very valid reasons because the book centres around the experiences of the asylum seeker, beautiful Manus is quickly subsumed into Boochani’s “Manus Prison”. Boochani’s book is a brutal blow to Manus’s epistemological lens, sovereignty, self-representation, and portrayal.

Throughout the book, the sounds of birds, crickets, frogs, the sea, the jungles, and the “free spirits” of locals, and others, all significant Manus people’s identities and social lives, vividly bring the local context to life. It is sad to see such familiar features of Manus life inscribed into such sorrowful and horrific circumstances even though they all surrounded Boochani during his time on Manus, gifted him their spirits, and formed the fertile ground for his voice to grow. In bringing these beautiful features of Manus to the global arena, Boochani has rendered Manus a tabula rasa and Manus people invisible, inscribing Manus indigenous lore and symbols like a palimpsest to serve his purpose.

In the final part of the book, Boochani explores death as the ultimate outcome of the system; the countless acts of self-harm and the tragic deaths of two detainees. Violence and self-harm became the public face of the centre leading eventually to growing calls by Manus and PNG leaders for it to be closed down. As part of the social impact on Manus Island of the RPC, self-harm and mental health issues that overlay Manus during this period was a public health crisis for the small town of Lorengau, not an isolated issue only affecting asylum seekers and refugees.

Boochani’s book is an important new voice in the Pacific scholarship and literary arena but I admit that I found it unsettling. Boochani and his collaborators speak to an audience where the discourse about asylum seekers is polarised, divisive, and at the heart of Australia’s domestic political sphere. The voter who ultimately defines the system and the reader who sees truth in the book are both predominantly Australians; two wings of the same bird that is the Australian society and its political system. From a Manus perspective, it could be argued that both the detainees and officials are powerful, better resourced, and connected foreign men. If the officials of the detention centre represented the post-colonial powers of Australia over Manus people, then Boochani’s book demonstrates how Manus people are invisible and voiceless in the eyes of detainees.

The book also forced me to think deeply about our complicity, as the people of Manus, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific in the detention of asylum seekers. Since the 2012 Gillard acceptance of the expert panel’s recommendations to reopen the Manus RPC, the subsequent 2013 Rudd announcement that boat people will never be resettled in Australia, and the ensuing problems in the following years, there has been mainly silence on it and on its broader social impact among Pacific and PNG leaders, human rights advocates, scholars and social and gender experts on the Pacific. Perhaps, and as my review suggests, there is an ambivalence towards what Boochani represents: the oppressed asylum seeker, or yet another powerful encroachment by the world on the region? Moreover, Boochani’s voice, amplified by his international collaborators, only adds salt to the wounds of our own colonial and contemporary experiences of disempowerment and of the dispossession of our own stories that we try so hard to resist.

The world seems to have moved on from the Manus RPC and its “violent hellhole” banner. By mid-2019, with growing calls by Manus leaders to remove the men, they were all relocated out of Manus. Around the same time, the Lombrum naval base project was launched, setting in motion another chapter in Manus encounters with the world. This makes Boochani’s book all the more important. It is a manifesto of the horrors that have occurred in our region, under our watch, and that can occur again if we remain silent. It is an uncomfortable manifestation of changing Oceanic narratives. If you are interested in or teach about the Pacific, don’t resist this book. Read it and reflect on what it means for Oceania, for Papua New Guinea, and for Manus people.

This article first appeared on the DevPolicy blog from the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University.

For the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the disappointment of COP25 was that the conference attendees did not take its rallying cry for greater commitment: ‘climate change crisis’ - to heart. Recall the PIF Chair’s remark after the conference: “It is disheartening that our collective political commitment and resolve, as the Pacific Islands Forum, was not upheld by the parties to this declaration, where it mattered most – that is in the negotiating rooms in Madrid.”

In reviewing what was said and published post-COP25, however, it seems that the ‘climate change crisis’ message has obviously hit its targets in the wider audiences - those who do not necessarily have reserved seats in the global conference rooms. Writer and historian Yuval Noah Harari, for example, has written about the prospects of an ‘ecological collapse’, and he sternly warned global leaders about it recently at their World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland last January. 

Another eminent writer and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, joined others in posing the question that in the light of the deteriorating climate change situation, whether humanity has started to breach some tipping points in climate change. Fred Pearce expands on this theme: “…the earth may be approaching key tipping points, including the runaway loss of ice sheets, that could fundamentally disrupt the global climate system. A growing concern is a change in ocean circulation which could alter climate patterns in a profound way.”

Furthermore, the Climate Emergency Movement has determined that: the “…world may have crossed tipping points - warning of ‘existential threat to civilisation’ as impacts lead to cascade of unstoppable events.” To underline the existentiality of the threat by way of analogy, the BBC News has pointed to its own nuclear Doomsday Clock which is now indicating how close our planet is to complete annihilation: “it is only 100 seconds away from midnight! This is the nearest we have been to apocalypse!”

Notwithstanding the disappointment of COP25, the reality of the climate change situation is that the solution - and there has to be a solution - has to be on a global level.

What therefore of the region? To grant globalism a modicum of success, regionalism has to step up its act. Greater global inter-dependence is called for. This implies a lot of things. As a start, for Pacific regionalism, for instance, it cannot be business as usual. Pacific regionalism has to be strengthened. New ideas, new solutions, new methodologies have to be found and put to use with unprecedented levels of energy and strength of commitment.

“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”, echoes the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s famous song. And the commentator’s take: “The answers are there in the wind. They move, they change, but the answers are there. It’s only a matter of trying to pick them up.”

I have been playing the commentator’s role as a contributor to this magazine since last September. My article for the September/October (2019) issue: ‘Death of Pacific Regionalism?’, was a proposition that we need to approach Pacific regionalism differently from what we have been doing since 1971. My December article: ‘2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent: A Sea Change?’ explored the likely approach to the formulation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent in my attempt to build a regional architecture that is essential and conducive for a fresh approach to Pacific regionalism.

My January 2020 article: ‘PIF Identity May Need Re-focusing’ delves deeper into what we are – our regional persona. If we are to be different and to assert our persona and our agency, we have to correct one of the building blocks of what we are and what we project to the world. My February article: ‘PIF Needs to Strategise After COP25’, points to some options that our new approach can take, especially in the context of our existential threat of climate change, given the disappointment of COP25. I discussed the prospects of southsouth, north-south and triangular co-operations in addition to our multilateral approach.

Now, let us look for some other answers in the wind. The proposed 2050 Strategy is giving prominence to the interests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs), not only in terms of issues and policies but also in terms of their options as regards the regional architecture of Pacific regionalism. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to climate change. There is no unity in climate change among PIF members. But it is the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) amongst them that understand fully the existentiality of the threat that climate change presents.

In geopolitics as well, PICs are generally used as pawns of the bigger and developed powerful countries, especially the Pacific Rim countries. PICs know best their own situations and feel more passionately about being shunned and ignored when other powerful allies abuse their agency and speak on their behalf as if they don’t exist.

In mid-2019, an answer had blown in from the northern wind when former Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu suggested the ‘United States of the Pacific’ as a way of restructuring Pacific regionalism. This was a way of creating a forum for PICs only and he justified this as a means ‘to amplify(ing) their concerns about climate change on the global stage.’

A new answer blew in late last year in the form of a consultant report to PIFS on ‘Review of the Forum Processes’. I admit that I was one of the consultants that drafted the report. My partner in crime and a senior partner at that was Garry Wisemen, formerly of UNDP and PIFS. Strengthening the role of the PIF Troika (comprising at any time the former, current and in-coming Chairs) was recommended in the report. And what better way to start the work of the empowered Troika than on the climate change crisis! If managed and resourced well, there could be early dividends to reap.

The current composition of the Troika comprises Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The all-PIC composition is ideal for the Troika’s strengthened role in climate change crisis. Its role has to be formalised and protected. It should not be subjected to variation with changing membership.

The Troika is to be charged to spearhead all discussions/negotiations/advocacy on climate change crisis, starting with relevant PIF membership and extending beyond the region. These negotiations need to be intensive and focused. The Troika is to direct its first advocacy with PIF’s developed country members of Australia and New Zealand (ANZ). PIF will be more convincing globally if it starts its climate change  crisis advocacy properly at home.

The Troika’s work, as far as ANZ are concerned, is unequivocal, given our climate change knowledge of the causes of greenhouse gas emissions of those countries. For Australia, the PIF Troika is to advocate for an effective programme for that country to wean itself from fossil fuels. For New Zealand, the Troika is to advocate for the production of ‘clean meat’ in the not-too-distant future.

‘Yes, and how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.’


The author is a former Fijian ambassodar and Foreign Minister and runs his own consultancy company in Suva, Fiji.


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