The Future is Equal

Outcomes of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting 2012

Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand has been attending the Forum meetings in Rarotonga. He commented…

Comment and Analysis by Oxfam New Zealand

Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand has been attending the Forum meetings in Rarotonga. He commented:

“This Pacific Islands Forum will be remembered for a major step forward in enabling women in the Pacific to live free from violence, discrimination and exclusion. Long-term funding by the Australian government has been underpinned by a clear commitment from the heads of Pacific states to exercise their leadership in supporting gender equality. This has the potential to be a huge step forward. Hopefully this Forum meeting will be a defining moment when real progress can be initiated.”

Oxfam works in the Pacific to support the elimination of violence against women, women’s economic empowerment and women’s leadership in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

“…the issues of climate change will affect all Pacific people over forthcoming years…the threats from climate change are potentially devastating.”
– Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director

Coates continued:” The leaders have also agreed good initiatives in other areas, including fisheries and renewable energy, and there is now a greater recognition that the Pacific Forum’s work must reach out to involve communities and people across Pacific societies. But a more inclusive approach is needed. If communities are to benefit, they and the civil society organisations that are crucial in the lives of most Pacific people, must be included in reviews, plans and follow up actions.”

“In particular the issues of climate change will affect all Pacific people over forthcoming years. The work to protect communities and help people to adapt must involve the wider society. There are good examples of this starting to happen, but more needs to be done, with far greater urgency. The threats from climate change are potentially devastating. The responses must be far reaching and effective.”

Oxfam released a report “Owning Adaptation in the Pacific” yesterday at the Forum meeting. The report has been welcomed by many of the governments at the Forum as well as civil society organisations.


Analysis of the Leaders’ Communiqué:

Para 7: There will be a review of the Pacific Plan, chaired by former PNG Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, to be completed by next year’s Forum meeting:
Oxfam New Zealand (ONZ) is calling for the review to include the voices and views of civil society. It is crucial that the next Plan is more relevant to the lives of the Pacific’s people. It must include a major theme of including those experiencing hardship and a lack of opportunities. The contentious review of the Forum Secretariat has been largely shelved and its recommendations included within the review of the Pacific Plan (Para 58).

Para 9: Urges action on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):
ONZ agrees with the call for the Pacific island nations to give urgency to achieving the MDGs before the due date for achievement of targets. This is crucial in the light of the report to the Forum that says over 30 per cent of the Pacific’s people are living in hardship. But achieving these targets needs more than words. Better lives for vulnerable people, who lack the basic necessities of life, will not be achieved by words. The Communiqué is lacking specific follow up, including political commitment in all countries and amongst donors, a significant commitment of funding and an inclusive approach. This could be supported by measures for improving development effectiveness (Para 10) having a clear focus on those most in need of development assistance.

Para 12: Notes progress on the Waiheke Declaration on sustainable economic growth:
ONZ calls for far greater importance and urgency to be given to measures that will create opportunities for youth, particularly those in remote and rural areas, to be able to build better livelihoods around agriculture and fisheries.

Para 14: New Zealand is to host an Energy Conference in 2013, with a focus on renewable energy:
ONZ welcomes the initiative. It is important for the Pacific to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to reduce the costs of energy for those with little cash income, and to achieve access for all. The impact on global emissions is important in showing the Pacific’s commitment and leadership to encourage the major polluters to move far further and faster.

Paras 15-19: Follow up to the Rio+20 conference, the 2014 Small Islands States Conference and the global goals post 2015:
ONZ is disappointed at the approach adopted. At the heart of the Earth Summit waOutcomes of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting 2012s the creation of partnerships across societies for the implementation of sustainable development, and some of the most significant work has been undertaken by civil society, local government and business. Similarly with awareness raising, mobilisation and practical programmes for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, the cluster of these issues in the communiqué is all about governments, donors, regional agencies and international organisations. Inclusive partnerships with groups from the community level to the national and regional levels are crucial if there is to be real action on sustainable development.

Paras 21-25: Measures to strengthen fisheries management:
ONZ supports the call to end over-fishing, but the Communiqué does not agree the measures to do so; and welcome the measures to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Paras 26-29: Oceans and the Oceanscape initiative:
ONZ commends the Cooks Islands for its announcement at the Forum meeting to create a marine protected area covering a huge 1.1 million square kilometres. However in Para 27, the leader’s communiqué talks about “Leaders’ aspirations to maximise sustainable economic returns for Forum Members from ocean resources” and that this be consistent with the Precautionary Principle. In practice, it appears that short term economic gain is often likely to override the precautionary principle. As a key example, the Communiqué accepts the framework (for going ahead) on deep sea mining in Para 7. There is deep civil society concern over the potential impacts of deep sea mining.

Paras 30-33: Climate Change:
ONZ agrees with the call in the Communiqué for donors to fulfill their pledges for climate finance and ensure that the funding is more accessible by small island governments. There is little of the urgency around climate change that was evident in previous statements by leaders and no recognition of the need for inclusive partnerships with those outside governments, as recommended in Oxfam’s report “Owning Adaptation in the Pacific” released yesterday.

Paras 32-35: Regional Trade:
ONZ notes that the leaders has little to say about the crucial negotiations with the European Union (Economic Partnership Agreement) and Australia & New Zealand (under PACER Plus). There is now a greater degree of understanding amongst Pacific countries about the limited benefits from these agreements and the potential costs for the long-term development of their economies.

Paras 45-47: Gender Equality:
ONZ considers that the statement on gender equality, supported by a significant funding commitment by the Australian government, is the single major achievement of this Forum meeting. It provides a huge opportunity for Pacific governments and civil society, supported by donors, to make a significant different in the rights and lives of the Pacific’s women and girls. As emphasised by international leaders speaking at the Forum, gender equality also has significant potential benefits to Pacific societies overall.

The next Forum meeting will be held in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 2013.