Overview of the
Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meetings
by the Forum Chair and Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Hon. Henry Puna, MP
Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partners Meeting
31st August 2012, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
We had excellent discussions yesterday at the Leaders Retreat, which was held at Tapuaetai Island in Aitutaki. The outcomes of these discussions are outlined in the Leaders’ Communiqué including the Leaders Declaration on Gender Equality, copies of which are now available for your perusal. Allow me to again express my deep appreciation to the Forum Leaders for their contribution and discussions with regard to issues of importance to the region.
2. I do not intend to repeat what is in the Communiqué, but I would instead like to give you an overview of some of the key issues that Leaders discussed at the Retreat, including those that came up during the week.
3. As you will know, the theme of this year’s Forum is “Large Ocean Island States – the Pacific Challenge”. This is aimed at striking a balance between sustaining the development of our marine resources with the interests of preservation and conservation. The marine environment is pivotal to the character and wellbeing of our island countries. The sea is our most precious resource, representing the most tangible asset for both the present and future generations.
4. The importance of oceanic and coastal systems to Small Island developing states cannot be overstated. The oceans and seas provide the basis for the wealth of living natural resources, whose benefits are vital to our people. The “smallness” of our islands, with the exception of a few, makes us wholly coastal in character. The continued health of the oceanic and coastal systems is therefore essential and a vital force to our existence.
5. Leaders have therefore agreed that as ‘Large Ocean Island States’, we Forum Island Countries have a leading role to play in management of the Pacific Ocean, building on our aspirations to maximise sustainable economic returns for Forum Members from ocean resources, including fisheries and seabed minerals, in accordance with the precautionary approach of Rio Principle 15. We witnessed this week the signing and exchange of eight (8) Maritime Boundary Agreements between the Leaders of Cook Islands, Niue, Kiribati, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Nauru and the Marshall Islands. These agreements will provide the foundation for improved governance, protection, conservation and management of resources within respective national jurisdictions.
6. Leaders acknowledged progress made by Members, with the support of the regional organisations in the Pacific agencies and development partners, towards sustainable economic development.
Regional Gender Initiative
7. Leaders yesterday endorsed the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration and committed ourselves to supporting women’s political representation, including, amongst other issues, advocating for increased representation of women in the private sector and local level governance boards and committees; and considering specific legislative changes to allow temporary special measures such as reserved seats.
8. Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced this past Wednesday that her government would be earmarking A$320 million to achieve gender equality in the Pacific under the “Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development” scheme over the next decade. The objectives of this proposal are threefold: it is to increase the proportion of women in leadership and political roles; improve economic opportunities for women through better access to finance and markets; and improve safety for women through prevention of violence and access to justice. I am sure that you will agree with me that much more needs to be done to instill ‘zero tolerance’ for violence against women and girls. Allow me to again express the deep appreciation of Forum Leaders and the region to Australia for this very important Initiative and we look forward to working with Australian government in this regard.
9. The Pacific Plan, which remains the master strategy for strengthening regional cooperation and integration, is due to be reviewed in 2013. It is a high-level framework to articulate the priorities for the Pacific region and is now well recognised by you, our development partners, and the wider international community. Your engagement in the region is highly valued, and we very much appreciate your contribution and continued interest in the work of the Forum.
10. We agreed to the importance of the Review, including that it would be led by Sir Mekere Morauta of Papua New Guinea. The draft final report of the review, including a refreshed draft of the Pacific Plan, will be presented to us in our next meeting in 2013.
11. The Rio+20 Conference outcome document (‘The Future We Want’) contains several outcomes that are particularly relevant for the Pacific region. These include, inter alia, a reaffirmation on the ‘special case’ for Small Island Developing States; endorsement of the convening of a Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (possibly in the Pacific region); recognition of the important roles of oceans and fisheries, and the need for regional and national actions to achieve sustainable development; and endorsement of the development of a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
12. We fully endorse the hosting of the Conference in the Pacific region, and Leaders will lend their full support to the Pacific Island country selected as the venue for it. Mindful the importance of the Conference, we have called on development partners and the wider international community to demonstrate their support for the success of the 2014 Conference and its preparatory process.
The Chair called on PFD partner support for ensuring all FICs can participate in the SIDS 2014 meeting.
Leaders have tasked the Forum Secretariat, in collaboration with CROP and UN agencies, to work closely with Forum Island Countries to develop a Pacific position on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and to contribute effectively to the relevant global processes, including the 68th UN General Assembly in September 2013. We have also called for Pacific representation on the Sustainable Development Goals Working Group and the Finance Working Group proposed in the Rio+20 outcome document, and we seek your support in this regard.
14. Many other issues of concerns were discussed by Leaders: climate change remains the single greatest threat, and we welcome and acknowledge the work of relevant regional organisations in the area of climate change. We welcome with appreciation Australia’s commitment of A$58m in new funding over four years to support FICs with improved data on weather, climate and sea levels to inform climate change adaptation planning, as well as new support for communities to build resilience to natural disasters.
15. I would like to finish by saying that we have had excellent series of meetings this week, starting with Smaller Island States and Pacific ACP Leaders’ meetings, and we look forward to a productive discussion with you, our development partners. Your views and commitment, and resources, are important to our region.
16. The Post-Forum Dialogue session is an important part of the series of meetings that we hold during the Forum week, and it is important that we continue to communicate with you on developments in the region. We thank you for your commitment, interest and role that you play in supporting and assisting the work of the Forum.