More needs to be done to protect our oceans, says France-Oceania summit


    By Iliesa Tora

    Pacific Island heads of states and fisheries ministers have agreed that more needs to be done to protect our oceans from ongoing threats and exploitation.

    The ministers made this commitment at the 5th France-Oceania Summit, which was held virtually on 19 July from Papeete in Tahiti.

    French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke at the meeting, informing members that France and South Pacific nations would launch a South Pacific coastguard network to counter illegal fishing, a major problem facing tuna fisheries in the region.

    The agreement supplements the fact that our ocean plays a critical role in combating climate change, preserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable development.

    Oceans a priority: marine protected areas and plastics

    In the meeting’s final declaration the ministers say, “In acknowledging the threats posed by climate change–related sea-level rise to regional security, peace, prosperity and development, we share the importance of further discussing the issue of how best to ensure the preservation of maritime zones.”

    The ministers agreed to advocate for an objective of 30% of the ocean covered by effectively managed marine protected areas, in view of the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille and the COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming.

    They noted that some countries in the Pacific have already exceeded this target.

    Tonga, for example, is one of the countries that has now completed the work to meet the target of getting 30% of its ocean covered under a marine protected area.

    The Tongan cabinet has also endorsed the Tonga Ocean Management Plan, which will guide the sustainable management of Tonga’s ocean and its resources.

    The Pacific Fisheries ministers agreed to “work to conclude, as soon as possible in 2022, a new and ambitious treaty to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction and recognise the ocean in areas beyond national jurisdiction as a global common to be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations”.

    “We recognise that plastic pollution is an existential threat for ecosystems in general, and marine ecosystems and species in particular, with dire consequences on the health and resilience of the oceans and resources therein, and with adverse flow and impact on economies and social equilibrium,” the Final Declaration says.

    “Noting plastic pollution’s disproportionate impact on the Pacific Ocean and Pacific Island Countries in general, particularly considering they do not extract fossil fuels nor produce plastics and their additives, we support a decision to launch intergovernmental negotiations of a global plastic binding agreement at the second session of the fifth [session of the] United Nations Environment Assembly.”

    Tonga’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Food and Fisheries  Lord Tu’ilakepa says it is critical for the Pacific to work together.

    “We reaffirmed the importance of regional solidarity, cooperation and multilateralism to overcome the multifaceted impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change,” he says.

    “It is important that we support the timely and equitable distribution of safe and effective vaccines to all Pacific people. This is critical and the ministers had called for a coordinated and sustained regional response and recovery efforts to COVID to protect the most vulnerable, support economic livelihoods, restore air and sea connectivity and ‘build back better’ in support of a socially inclusive and economically resilient Blue Pacific.”

    The heads of states reaffirmed their countries’ commitments under the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty and the Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region and related protocols, and stressed the importance of nature-based solutions as part of long-term approaches to build resilience to climate change impacts and disasters.

    They also acknowledged the Kiwa Initiative, along with the financial support of France, the European Union, New Zealand, Australia and Canada for their support.

    The additional contributions recently approved by the European Union, New Zealand and France bring the total financing available to strengthen the resilience of Pacific countries and territories’ ecosystems, economies and communities to nearly €41 million.

    Recalling the Boe Declaration, Kainaki II Declaration, the Taputapuatea Declaration, and the Vemööre Declaration, and that climate change and biodiversity loss threaten regional stability, food security, sustainable development and human health, the heads of states and ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to effectively combat climate change, halt loss of biodiversity and address the climate–ocean nexus, joining our efforts in support of a strong ‘Blue Pacific’ voice in international forums.

    They also called on all parties who have not yet done so to communicate or update – ahead of COP26 – nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies aligned with pursuing efforts to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

    And a call has also been made to developed countries to meet the collective finance commitment of jointly mobilising $100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country parties.

    Stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for better ocean management

    The heads of states and ministers say the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a high priority including, where appropriate, working together on implementing policies and measures to exclude IUU products from trade flows as well as banning subsidies that contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing.

    “We underline the need to use appropriate technologies – in particular, satellite images – in order to reinforce maritime surveillance of exclusive economic zones and preparedness for natural disasters, while reinforcing also traditional expertise and support to CREWS (Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems),” the declaration says.

    Alongside the Pacific Quad exercises in support of FFA, France offered to host annual coastguard training; the first is to be held in Papeete at the end of the year and the next in Noumea in 2022.

    A commitment to developing a ‘blue and green economy’ that generates sustainable growth, creates decent jobs, sustainably uses marine resources, builds coastal resilience and provides a better living environment for their populations – while preserving the services performed by terrestrial and ocean ecosystems – was also made.

    “To this end, we recognise the need to substantially increase our knowledge of deep ocean ecosystems and biological diversity to support policy decisions,” the declaration says.

    Supporting the implementation of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the meeting welcomed the adoption of the Pacific Solutions to Save Our Ocean Decade Action, led by SPC, to address the need for integrated ocean management in stewardship of the ‘Blue Pacific Continent’.

    Continuing commitment to facing the COVID-19 challenge

    In their discussions on the current COVID-19 pandemic and the flow-on effect that has on the Pacific Island countries, the heads of states reaffirmed their commitment to the unity and solidarity of the Pacific family in the face of COVID-19 and its consequences, as well as the other common challenges.

    In this regard, they welcomed the Pacific region’s efforts to strengthen Pacific regionalism as ‘one Blue Pacific’ and to develop the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

    They also welcomed the important and longstanding partnership between the Pacific Islands region and France and the European Union, including Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partners and development partners.

    The heads of states were unanimous in their concerns that the COVID-19 health and socio-economic crisis has delayed progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and has increased inequalities between and within countries.

    “We recognise the importance of sustainable financing that is simple and easy to access by small developing Pacific Island countries, for a green, resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery, aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement,” the final declaration says.

    Agreement was forthcoming on the need to use available resources in the most efficient, socio-economically and environmentally sustainable way in order to address the investment gap in sustainable infrastructure.

    There was also an agreed acknowledgement on the need for investment that promotes fair and open competition and upholds quality standards while ensuring developing countries’ debt sustainability.

    The meeting also supported capacity development for planning and preparation of key infrastructure projects and fostering the emergence of bankable projects.

    “We recognise the urgent need to strengthen the implementation of the ‘One Health’ approach and, in this regard, welcome initiatives such as the One Health High-Level Expert Panel,” the final declaration adds.

    The gathering supported multilateral response and health systems strengthening against COVID-19 – in particular, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, its different pillars, and the COVAX facility dedicated to providing equitable access to safe and efficient vaccines to the world.

    The heads of state, government and territories or representatives of France, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, the Republic of Fiji, the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, the Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna, together with representatives of the regional organisations, were signatories to the final declaration.