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Report on the 40th Pacific Islands Forum and related meetings


INTRODUCTION

I attended the 40th Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, Australia between 5th & 6th August as well as related meetings in Cairns and the conference organized by the Lowy Institute in Brisbane ahead of the main Forum meeting.  I took advantage of this visit to meet with the Director of the Australian Universities Quality Agency, Dr. David Woodhouse, in Melbourne and interview one of the candidates who had applied for the post of Director of USP’s Centre for Flexible & Distance Learning.  After the Forum, I visited Canberra and met the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, Hon. Duncan Kerr and the Parliamentary Secretary for International Aid, Hon. Mr. Bob McMullan. These meetings were followed by a meeting with the Director of the Pacific Public Sector Strengthening project and her colleagues and with the Deputy Director of AusAID and her colleagues.  Finally, I met with the Deputy CEO of AARNet and its Director of Operations.

This report provides a summary of the various meetings. 

MAIN ISSUES

The main issues at the Forum related to climate change and the importance of the region preparing well for the Copenhagen meeting later in the year to agree on post-Kyoto arrangements; the impact on the Pacific Islands of the global financial crisis; the importance of coordinating and harmonizing aid to the Pacific Islands; and issues relating to Fiji and the Pacific Plan.
It was obvious from the Summit of the Smaller Island Leaders sub-group of the Forum that the pre-eminent concern of the Pacific is related to the challenges of climate change. Emphasis was placed on the importance of ensuring that the Pacific Islands put a strong case to the world community of the need for strong verifiable targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases to ensure that the Pacific Islands do not suffer unduly adverse consequences of Climate Change, given that the Pacific states are negligible contributors either to the problems of accumulated levels of Greenhouse gases or to future emissions.  The Smaller Island Countries were vociferous in their view that the region should put its position very clearly to the world body.  Countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu were particularly keen to ensure that not only do the Copenhagen arrangements deal with issues of mitigation but provide concrete and adequate assistance to the states facing the most immediate consequences of climate change.

It is obvious that the Pacific Island countries are being heavily impacted negatively by the global economic and financial crisis. Presentations from the World Bank, IMF, ADB and UN as well as from the leaders themselves highlighted the negative impact of the crisis on Pacific Islands to the extent that it is now affecting the ability of some governments to provide basic and necessary services.  The concerns of this presentation were that, while Pacific Island countries will need to take action to deal with these problems, these countries did not have the resources to address these problems by themselves and needed support from outside the region. In essence, this assistance should include funding of the budgets of Pacific Island countries.  It was also announced that there will be a conference in Vanuatu organized by the United Nations in February 2010 where many of these issues will be explored further. Attempts will be made to provide an integrated approach that donors and governments can collectively use to deal with the most harmful effects of the world economic and financial crisis.  The third major issue dealt with the need to have more coordination of aid in the Pacific Islands. 

Concerns ranged from the aid programmes of the Peoples Republic of China and Taiwan/China as well as the observation that the major donors were themselves not coordinating enough and putting undue pressure on the limited human resources in the Pacific Islands by demanding separate reporting.  The main aim of the attempt to coordinate aid is to ensure that the principals of the Paris declaration and the Accra Declaration underpin the funding arrangements for the Pacific Islands; that donors agree to pool their resources rather than running multiple projects in the same sector, that the donors accept that the aid programme should be driven by the national development plans; and the donors should increasingly accept the reporting that is already provided within the framework of national governance as being sufficient for the reporting for aid projects.  In other words, the coordination efforts are designed to derive better output by avoiding duplication and to ease the pressure on Pacific Island countries in terms of reporting requirements.  It was clear from the discussions that the coordination of aid will remain a challenge in the future. 

The fourth major concern of the Forum was to do with the work on the Pacific Plan and the situation in Fiji.  Most of the discussions on Fiji would have been held at the Leaders’ Retreat and therefore are reflected in the communiqué.  The final decisions and policy positions that the Forum took is represented by the communiqué which is attached to this report. 

SMALL ISLANDS STATES LEADERS MEETING

The SIS Leaders Summit always precedes the main meeting of the Forum and is seen as a sub-grouping within the Forum where the concerns of the smallest Pacific Islands States are dealt with by their leaders.  During this Summit the concerns as already indicated related to the global economic and financial crisis, and climate change in relation to transportation.  The communiqué emanating from the SIS Leaders Summit is also attached. 

LOWY INSTITUTE CONFERENCE ON THE IMPACT OF GLOBAL FINANCIAL AND ECONOMIC CRISIS ON THE PACIFIC ISLANDS

The Lowy Institute organized a conference on the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the Pacific Islands on 2nd & 3rd of August with the intention that the report from the conference might be made available at the Forum.  The programme for the conference is attached and so is the report. 

IMPLICATIONS FOR USP

It is vital that USP attend these important meetings to ensure that it is listening carefully to what the leaders are saying; identifying areas where there may be problems; networking with development partners and CROP agencies; and most importantly identifying future opportunities arising from the resolutions and discussions of leaders.  This year’s Forum was very valuable for USP in raising USP’s profile as well as enabling significant networking with both Member Countries, development partners as well as international agencies. 

Discussions were held with the representatives from the World Bank in relation to the need for the World Bank and USP to work more closely together in the future; with the Asian Development Bank with which the University has signed an agreement recently and which is clearly interested in working more closely in the future, and with the representatives of UNDP.  The UNDP is also interested in working closely with USP and possibilities were discussed in terms of some new ICT platforms that the UNDP is developing and in which USP might be interested. 

CONCLUSIONS

The Forum meeting reaffirmed the main priorities of the region and, while the University is reflecting many of those in the Strategic Plan 2010-2012, I have taken note of a number of other areas on which we will need to put more emphasis.  One of these areas is the importance for USP to take greater leadership in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) especially with the development of the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre.  The second area which came across strongly is the urgency of undertaking greater training and community support in the area of renewable energy.  I have already discussed this with the Faculty of Science, Technology & Environment and this is becoming one of the areas where we are seeking to consolidate our work and will seek assistance from the New Zealand government.  I would like to invite the University community to read the communiqué carefully and the report from the Lowy Institute and to discuss amongst themselves how our work is relating to these areas or it might do so in the future.

Professor Rajesh Chandra
Vice-Chancellor


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