Sustainable Development Challenges in Pacific Island States

Opening Statement: Pacific Islands Consultation on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

26 February 2013, Dili, Timor-Leste

Your Excellency, Ms. Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste and Chair of the g7+

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


I want to thank our gracious hosts, the Government of Timor-Leste, and the Secretariat of the g7+, for having created this valuable opportunity for our Pacific island states and stakeholders to come together, to consult, and to participate in this Development for All Conference.

Although the Pacific shares a strong sense of vulnerability with other fragile states, it faces its own very specific set of development challenges relating to size, location and unmatched exposure to climate change, ocean acidification, natural disasters, and other external shocks.

Last year, during the Special Body on the Pacific Island Developing Countries at our annual ESCAP Commission Session, I said that Pacific concerns about the collective management of the ocean economy, as a global and regional common good must be incorporated into our regional and global development planning and strategies about resilience, climate change, and sustainability.

We need a mindset change from one which regards our island states as small and isolated, to one which sees them as the custodians of our large ocean of opportunity. I would like to repeat that message today as we discuss the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

MDG Review & Four Areas to Focus Discussions

The review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reveals much that could have been done for the Pacific island states to achieve inclusive and sustainable development, and that we could use the post-2015 development agenda to address some of these shortfalls as we make the big final push to 2015 on the MDGs. I would like to highlight four priority areas on which we should concentrate, and get guidance from, as we meet today:

  1. The first is one which you yourselves have set for the Pacific islands, and which was captured in the Pacific Leaders Vision:

“Leaders believe the Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. […] We seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights. […] “We seek partnerships with our neighbours and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all.”

I hope that the review currently under way of the Pacific Plan, will further strengthen commitment to these key values and principles.

  1. The second priority area is to carry forward the fundamental values of the Millennium Declaration, including freedom, equality, democracy, good governance, and the protection of the vulnerable.
  2. Our third priority for discussion should be to incorporate the voices and concerns which have emerged from the various Pacific consultations. One which I would like to highlight was the consultation in Nadi last year, supported by ESCAP, ADB and UNDP, where the “care economy”; social protection; intergenerational support for older persons, and shared ownership of and responsibility for environmental actions were highlighted.
  3. The fourth priority area should be the Rio+20 outcomes. I am very pleased that the Pacific islands have decided, at the highest level, to integrate the Rio+20 outcomes and the process to develop the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the post-2015 development agenda. Rio+20 reaffirmed the Rio principles of sustainable development and called for broader measures of progress beyond GDP; addressing the root causes of poverty; fundamentally changing patterns of production and consumption; and restating the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It also, significantly for the Pacific, highlighted the need to prioritise actions against climate change, ocean acidification and natural disaster, and captured the need for effective means of implementation a la development finance, capacity building, technology transfer and trade. Fisheries and renewable energy were also highlighted. Importantly the rebalancing of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental, was highlighted. In short, the post-2015 development agenda must put People, Planet and Prosperity for all at its core.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Pacific Progress on Sustainable Development

I have been very pleased to learn the extent of the new and exciting work being done or planned in the Pacific that shows renewed commitment to sustainable development. Vanuatu, which has been judged in the past by the Happy Planet Index as one of the happiest places in the world, has taken the first step to investigate what alternative wellbeing criteria can be incorporated into its national plans – and issues like access to natural resources, community participation, and the future of children have emerged as having a positive effect on people’s perception of personal wellbeing. I believe this work is to be extended to Fiji and others.

I am also impressed by the commitment of some of Pacific member States to engage in green economy dialogues and seek out tools and policies that can assist with this difficult task of balancing what often appear to be opposing and conflicting interests. We need to move from looking at trade-offs between economic, social and environmental priorities to one of synthesis.

Another good example of Pacific progress on sustainable development is how the Melanesian Spearhead Secretariat is now developing the Melanesian Green Growth Framework with the help of ESCAP, IUCN and others, which they hope to agree by the middle of the year. I am also pleased to learn that Prime Minister Darcy is hosting an inclusive sustainable development forum on his return, involving the government, mining, logging and fishing companies as well as the communities, which I understand could result in a national dialogue on green economy.

Similarly, the government of Papua New Guinea has joined the Global Green Growth Institute, on whose Board I sit. I believe Minister Kubuabola, that you might also be planning a national dialogue in preparation for a regional green/blue economy forum to be hosted in August with a focus on leadership, innovation and partnership.

Speaking of leadership, I’m also aware that President Tong is a founding member of the Pacific Green Growth Leadership Coalition, and that he has taken the difficult decision of acquiring lands overseas to help his people adapt to the impacts of climate change, as well as global food and fuel crises. I am pleased to note, in this context, that a project enhancing the capacity of  some climate-affected communities in the Pacific to migrate with dignity, if they so wish, will soon be launched by ESCAP with ILO and UNDP, and with EU funding.

Indeed the ESCAP publication, “Green Economy in a Blue World: Pacific Perspectives 2012” shows that there are a considerable number of sustainable development initiatives across key sectors—energy, agriculture, fisheries and marine conservation, where Pacific leaders including Kiribati–with its Phoenix Islands Protected Area, of more than 400 000 square kilometres—have taken global leadership roles.

Others have made ambitious commitments on renewable energy. Then there are good examples where governments, like Fiji and Palau, have started introducing environmental and resource taxes—which in the case of Fiji is a tax on the world renowned Fiji Water and in Palau a departure tax which I believe tourists are happy to pay because it’s protecting the pristine environment  which attracted them to Palau in the first place.

That the Fiji Government has agreed to the sale of a large piece of land to the Kiribati Government is also a good example of what the Pacific has advanced as a key value or principle for the future we want: caring for each other and for the environment”.

We know that the outcome of today’s consultation will be looped back to your own preparations in the Pacific including for the 2014 SIDS Global Conference, which Samoa will host.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In conclusion, let me repeat that you, our Pacific island countries, are the curators of our largest natural global assets – the oceans on which human life itself depends. It is critical that the region and the international community do all we can to make sure you succeed. For my part, I reaffirm once again that ESCAP will do our best to support you in making your vision a reality.

I thank you.