Barbara Dreaver: Climate change threat key issue at Pacific Islands Forum

One News:

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

ONE News Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver reports from the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau

One of the interesting things about the Pacific Islands Forum is that the member countries take it in turn to host it.

The Pacific is a vast ocean - but some countries are obviously easier and quicker to get to than others. In recent years it's been in Tonga, Niue, Vanuatu, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. But in the last two years the northern Pacific has taken a turn - in 2013 it was in the Marshall Islands and this year it's the far-flung reaches of Palau.

This island country is closer to the Philippines and Asia than Polynesia - in fact it's a popular destination for Japanese tourists. The benefit to sharing around hosting rights is it shows the diversity and vastly differing needs of Pacific countries.

The isolated islands Kiribati, spread over 3.5 million square kilometres and straddling the equator, faces serious transportation challenges compared to the central hub of Fiji which boasts its own airline. The coral atoll countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati are in stark contrast to the fertile lush land of Samoa and Vanuatu - and that's reflected in their economies.

While Fiji and the Cook Islands enjoy a lucrative tourism industry, Nauru and Papua New Guinea don't - but then PNG has oil, gold and other valuable minerals that most islands can only dream about.

But there are many things that all Pacific countries have in common and it's this which makes the forum a valuable group. The plundering of the region's fishing stocks is one, the threat of climate change another.

Both of these are expected to be the big issues of this year's forum especially given that the upcoming United Nations SIDS (Small Island Developing States) meeting in Samoa will be focusing on climate change.

Another big issue is expected to be Fiji's suspension. It's fair to say Fiji has been much missed at the forum - a key player in the region in terms of trade, economic standing and mana its absence has been a loss at regional level.

While all forum countries ultimately agreed on its suspension following the military overthrow of the democratically elected government in 2006 there have been rumblings from some island countries about whether this is acceptable treatment of what Kiribati President Anote Tong described as "a family member".

While there are still serious issues in Fiji, its planned September elections will be a relief for forum members who hope to welcome their rebel neighbour back into the fold.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for this year's meeting is whether it is weakened by the absence of several key leaders including the Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand and Cook Islands.

While common interests are one thing, domestic politics take priority.

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