The Fifty-First Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Retreat was held virtually on 06 August 2021, and was attended by the Heads of State, Government, and Territories of Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. Solomon Islands was represented at Ministerial level, and French Polynesia and Tonga by Special Envoys.
Forum Leaders expressed their deep appreciation to Josaia V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, for hosting the historic 51st Pacific Islands Forum during extraordinary times, and conveyed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Fiji for the lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and current outbreak.
Leaders strongly commended Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, for the strong leadership and tenacity shown during his tenure as Chair of the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, for two consecutive years (2019 – 2021) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuvalu’s leadership is unprecedented, particularly as a Smaller Island State. Leaders further expressed profound gratitude to Prime Minister Natano, and the Government and people of Tuvalu for their unwavering service to the Blue Pacific.
Leaders welcomed Fiame Naomi Mataafa, the Prime Minister of Samoa, and also welcomed Louis Mapou, the President of the Government of New Caledonia. Leaders also acknowledged the distinguished tenure of the Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, and his able leadership of Samoa and the region over the last 22 years.
The Forum Chair welcomed Secretary General Henry Puna, and Leaders reiterated their appreciation and gratitude to former Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor, for her strong leadership, exceptional stewardship of Pacific regionalism, and contribution to the Blue Pacific during her tenure.
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
Leaders commemorated the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum, celebrating 50 years of Pacific regionalism and collective action, and paid tribute to the vision of the founding Leaders, and in the context of the theme of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum – Security and Prosperity in Unity: 50 Years of the Pacific Islands.
In honouring the region’s collective achievements, Leaders reflected on successes, lessons learnt, as well as the strategic imperative of the Pacific Islands Forum in the context of present and future challenges.
The Forum’s many successes have included: supporting self-determination and statehood; the assertion of Pacific interests in the shaping of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; the establishment of a Nuclear Free Zone in the Pacific through the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga; the proactive institution of oceans governance measures at all levels to protect the health and resilience of the oceans and its resources, gaining recognition as leaders in oceans governance; the establishment of dedicated regional agencies for fisheries and the environment; strengthening regional security through the 2000 Biketawa Declaration and the 2018 Boe Declaration; the common advancement of economic and trade interests within the region and further abroad; and global advocacy on climate change culminating in our positioning within the Paris Agreement.
The 50th Anniversary places the Pacific Islands Forum at a critical juncture in its history. Whilst looking to the future through the development of the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific Continent, the region is faced with a set of extraordinary circumstances which interact with, and in many cases exacerbate, existing vulnerabilities and challenges. These being the COVID-19 pandemic (the worst to hit the world in a century), significant economic challenges, an intensifying climate crisis facing Pacific Island countries, which will lead to severe climate change impacts for the region over time, as well as an increasingly multipolar world and an intensification of geopolitical competition in the Pacific region. The strength and solidarity of the Forum family is also being tested.
As was the case with the founding Leaders of the Forum, Leaders firmly believed in the Pacific Way of dialogue, which embodies the principles of empathy, mutual respect and dignity that enables the resolution of these challenges at this critical moment in our history. Leaders emphasised the strength in the collective, and as stewards of our shared Pacific Ocean, which forms one third of our planet’s surface. The Forum has proven to be the strongest collective demonstration of our aspirations, priorities and advocacy, and it continues to be the strongest political representation of the people we serve across our Blue Pacific Continent.
Leaders recognised that the 2050 Strategy will be at the heart of our very ambition as a region. It will encapsulate how we can best work together to achieve our shared vision and realise our share aspirations. At its core, it will be based on the firm recognition of the strategic, cultural, and economic value that our Blue Pacific region holds when we have a shared commitment to protect and leverage this value.
In a fast-evolving world, how we act as a collective, as well as how and who we engage with, must protect our own unique interests. The 2050 Strategy will set the tone and articulate the quality and type of Pacific regionalism that will emerge from our current challenges in the region, and will place the region in good stead to meet our future challenges, and to leverage and act on the opportunities that emerge.
The President of the United States of America, Joseph R. Biden Jr., joined Leaders in commemorating the 50th Anniversary and reaffirmed the value placed by the US on its relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum, and Forum Members. President Biden thanked Fiji for its leadership of the Forum through a time of significant challenge to the region and to the world, emphasising collective action to address the most immediate threat of COVID-19. He reiterated his Government’s commitment to global leadership on climate change, highlighting his announcement in April 2021 to commit to dramatically reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to building resilience in vulnerable communities globally.
COVID-19 RECOVERY EFFORTS
Leaders re-emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges to all our governments, severely impacting our development progress, and remains a direct threat to the livelihoods and wellbeing of our people.
Leaders recalled their discussions at their Special Leaders Retreat in February 2021, where they emphasised the importance of ensuring the distribution of safe and effective vaccines in the Pacific region, and reiterated their call to global leaders to support the equitable and affordable distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to all Pacific peoples to mitigate health concerns, improve their wellbeing and facilitate early economic recovery.
Reflecting on the threat posed by the Delta variant and its impact on several Member countries, as well as the discussions of their Economic, Trade and Foreign Ministers, Leaders emphasised the following key messages: the importance of COVID-19 vaccination roll-out to our region’s recovery, including the resumption of regional travel; the stretched resources at the national level and the need to utilise existing mechanisms, including the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 (PHP-C), to streamline coherent support to all Members’ to support recovery plans; and the importance of leveraging emerging opportunities to support our regional recovery efforts, in particular, the growing prominence and utility of digitalisation.
Leaders commended the work of the PHP-C and the Economic Recovery Taskforce which, together, have assisted the region in strengthening our COVID-19 responses, and economic recovery efforts.
Leaders recognised the efforts put in place at the national level to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, including the ongoing support of Australia, New Zealand and development partners to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Leaders committed to continue to advocate and engage with global leaders for timely and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations, to call for a WTO TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, and to strengthen regional and global early pandemic and disaster planning and resilience building efforts, including through the Pacific Resilience Facility.
Leaders further committed to continue to collectively ensure comprehensive vaccination coverage is achieved for our Pacific peoples by setting a target of 80% of the eligible population for the Pacific region subject to country readiness by the first quarter of 2022.
Leaders endorsed the notion of streamlining the collective responses to COVID-19, and to focus on utilising existing mechanisms such as the PHP-C to support efforts for comprehensive vaccine coverage, and to continue discussions on harmonised approaches for regional vaccination certification and travel bubbles as and when conditions allow.
To facilitate the transit and return of fishing crew and seafarers to their countries, Leaders encouraged all Forum governments to prioritise the vaccination of fishing crew and seafarers in their national vaccination programmes.
Leaders recognised the importance of vaccine certification for reopening borders and supporting economic recovery. Leaders welcomed Australia’s intentions to work with all members to establish robust and practical processes for vaccine certification, including digital vaccination certificates, and Australia’s announcement that it would aim to double the number of Pacific workers in Australia by March 2022, resulting in an additional 12,500 Pacific workers having the opportunity to work in Australia.
DECLARATION ON PRESERVING MARITIME ZONES IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE CHANGE-RELATED SEA-LEVEL RISE
Leaders welcomed the progress made relating to their commitments to secure the maritime zones of the Blue Pacific against the threat of sea-level rise and to preserve Members’ existing rights and entitlements stemming from maritime zones, a defining issue that underpins the full realisation of our Blue Pacific Continent. Leaders further welcomed Members’ progress to conclude outstanding negotiations on maritime boundaries claims and zones.
Leaders commended the FOC Specialist Sub-Committee on Sea-level Rise in relation to International Law for its work to support progress and advocacy on these commitments, including through the development of the draft Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise, and the supporting Aide Memoire.
Recalling their commitments in 2019, and recognising the threat of climate change-related sea-level rise to our maritime zones, and indeed to the Forum’s identity, future economic development strategies and nation building aspirations, Leaders considered and endorsed the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise and its Aide-Memoire. In doing so, Leaders noted the centrality of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Sea as providing the basis for the Declaration.
The endorsement of the Declaration on the 50th Anniversary of the Forum is befitting of the occasion, demonstrating the important value of the Forum family and signalling deep mutual commitment by the Forum to safeguard the homes and interests of the Pacific peoples into perpetuity. The Declaration will pave a solid foundation to support, and underpin, the development and implementation of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
The Declaration recalls and underlines the history, the relevant provisions, and the key principles of legal stability, security, certainty, predictability, equity, fairness and justice, which underpin the Convention, to clarify the Forum’s shared understanding that the relationship between climate change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones was not contemplated by the drafters of the Convention at the time of its negotiation. And that the Convention was premised on the basis that, in the determination of maritime zones, coastlines and maritime features were generally considered to be stable.
The Declaration contains important affirmations, records, and declarations, culminating in a strong proclamation that Forum Members’ maritime zones, as established and notified to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in accordance with the Convention, and the rights and entitlements that flow from them, shall continue to apply, without reduction, notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate change-related sea-level rise.
Leaders welcomed the Declaration as an original and ground-breaking landmark that frames and defines the Blue Pacific Continent. Leaders affirmed the critical value and flagship potential of the Declaration in shaping and transforming international thinking on the issue, placing the region at the heart of international discussions, and providing a strong basis for Forum engagement and advocacy.
Leaders committed under the banner of this regional flagship initiative, to leading the advocacy, visibility and recognition of the Pacific Islands Forum’s position at the global level, including at the upcoming UN General Assembly on 14 – 30 September 2021 and the COP 26 negotiations on 1 – 12 November 2021. Leaders called on all Forum Dialogue Partners to support the Declaration.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND PREPARATIONS FOR COP 26
*noted the update on preparations for COP26, and re-affirmed their commitment for senior political level participation and COP26 Political Champions at COP26;
*endorsed the key messages for the region’s engagement and advocacy ahead of and during COP26 as below:
*Reaffirm that climate change is the single greatest threat facing the Blue Pacific and recommit to the goals of the Paris Agreement;
*Reiterate that COVID-19 must not delay global climate action but should promote recovery investments that are climate-smart and in line with a low emissions development pathway;
* Welcome the 47th G7 Summit in June and note its outcomes, welcome the Leaders’ Summit on Climate in April, and welcome accelerating efforts to cut green-house gas emissions and keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement within reach;
*Call on all global major emitters to urgently commit to stronger climate action, and to formulate and communicate mid-century long-term low emissions development strategies, which may include commitments and strategies to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, taking into account the urgency highlighted by the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius, and establish the necessary policy, financing and governance mechanisms required to achieve this;
*Urge all Parties to the Paris Agreement to ensure that COP 26 concludes negotiation on the Paris Rulebook, delivers an outcome that promotes stronger transparency and pursues efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and mobilises scaled-up climate finance for adaptation from all sources, and reiterate our call in the Kainaki II Declaration for the international community to continue efforts towards meeting their climate finance commitment of US$100 billion per year from a variety of sources and accelerate support for the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts;
*Urge all Parties to the UNFCCC to ensure that COP 26 advances the work on Oceans in the UNFCCC, recognising its centrality to the Blue Pacific Continent; and
*Support regional approaches to strengthen Forum Island Countries’ strategic participation at COP 26, including through the COP 26 Political Climate Champions.
FRAMEWORK FOR RESILIENT DEVELOPMENT IN THE PACIFIC (FRDP) AND THE PACIFIC RESILIENCE PARTNERSHIP (PRP)
Leaders endorsed the extension of the PRP governance arrangements up to 2030, subject to yearly progress updates on the FRDP and PRP as well as the FRDP Mid Term Review in 2023, and noted the update on the draft FRDP Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.
POLITICAL DIALOGUE MECHANISM
Leaders considered the update provided by the outgoing Forum Chair, the Honourable Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, on the Political Dialogue Mechanism which seeks to secure the solidarity and unity of the Forum family.
Leaders reaffirmed the importance of, and committed to, ongoing and focused dialogue at the political level on the issues raised by the Micronesian Presidents Summit and other leaders. Leaders emphasised the importance of developing a balanced reform package that respects the equality of all Members and to which all members can agree. Leaders considered this essential for strengthening the Pacific family.
REGIONAL GOVERNANCE AND INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS
*endorsed the revised Criteria and Guidelines for Forum Dialogue Partners and Forum Observers, and directed the Secretary General to write to existing Forum Dialogue Partners and Forum Observers to affirm their commitment to act in accordance with the revised Criteria and Guidelines;
*endorsed further consideration of the Forum’s partnership mechanisms within the context of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the scheduled Review of Regional Architecture;
*endorsed, in principle, Forum Dialogue Partner applications from Chile, Norway and Singapore, subject to their written commitment to act in accordance with the revised Criteria and Guidelines for Forum Dialogue Partners;
*endorsed the Policy Statement on the Pacific Islands Forum Troika, noting the Statement may need further revisions arising from the development of the Secretary General selection and appointment procedures; and
*endorsed the ongoing CROP membership of the Pacific Islands Development Program, subject to the adoption of the CROP Charter at the December 2021 meeting of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders Standing Committee.
WEATHER READY PACIFIC DECADAL PROGRAMME OF INVESTMENT
Leaders endorsed the Weather Ready Pacific Decadal Programme of Investment, which seeks to reduce the human and economic cost of severe weather, water and ocean events across Pacific Island communities, by strengthening national meteorological and hydrological organisations and their partnerships with national disaster management organisations.
FRAMEWORK FOR ENERGY SECURITY AND RESILIENCE IN THE PACIFIC 2021 – 2030
Leaders endorsed the Framework for Energy Security and Resilience in the Pacific 2021-2030.
DATE AND VENUE OF NEXT MEETING
Leaders welcomed the advice of the Forum Chair to convene the face-to-face Forum Leaders Meeting in January 2022, and to convene Forum Related Meetings in the months leading up to this face-to-face meeting.