Little movement on climate at Pacific Islands Forum

8:16 pm on 11 September 2015

The Pacific Islands Forum leaders' summit has concluded without unity on climate change, but with signs of a new approach to fisheries management.

The 46th meeting of the forum's leaders ended with an agreement to disagree on the contentious issue of climate change, and a change in approach to fisheries management.

Climate change in particular dominated the week's discussions between the 16 member countries gathered in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby.

Early on in the summit, conflicting views emerged as small island states like Kiribati and Palau reiterated their calls for greater action from more developed nations, such as New Zealand and Australia, on climate change.

The major sticking point was a call for emissions to be lowered to the point where global temperatures would not increase more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, while New Zealand and Australia have so far stuck with the UN promoted target of 2°C.

But now, after the regional talks, it seems the rest of the forum has agreed to disagree with New Zealand and Australia on the target to be pushed for at the end-of-year UN climate change conference in Paris.

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare (left) and his New Zealand counterpart John Key at the 2015 Pacific Forum summit in Port Moresby.

Pacific island leaders made a concerted attempt to encourage a greater commitment to reducing carbon emissions from New Zealand (with Prime Minister John Key pictured here, on the left) and Australia Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (front), Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga (right) and Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left)

Talk the walk: Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left), says his country is committed to reducing its emissions. To his right are Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (front) and Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key suggested Pacific nations needed to put more pressure on even bigger nations like China, as his country was only responsible for 0.15 percent of the world's emissions. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agreed.

"Australia and New Zealand have already announced very ambitious targets for emissions reduction to take to the Paris conference," Mr Abbott said.

"New Zealand's got a 30 percent target. Australia's got a 26-28 percent target for emissions reductions and that compares to 25 percent for Japan, 4 percent for Korea. China is going to have a 150 percent increase in its emissions between now and 2030."

Tebikenikora, a village in the Kiribati.

Locals in Tebikenikora, a village in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the area in 2011 to discuss villagers' concerns about the effects of climate change on their low-lying land. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Kiribati President Anote Tong begrudgingly accepted there were varied views, despite earlier warning of a split among member nations.

"It's not the best outcome that we would have liked but we must respect that," he said, pointing out that whether island leaders accept that or not is a different question.

"At this point in time we'd like to be able to sit down as colleagues and agree on a range of numbers, rather than one or the other, and I think that is what has come out of this meeting."

Move to adopt NZ-led quota system

One thing Mr Tong was happy with was a move towards the New Zealand-led quota system in regional fisheries.

The summit had been told by Feleti Teo, the head of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, that the bigeye tuna catch had been unsustainable for some time and taking action could not be delayed any longer.

The Marshalls fisheries department director Glen Joseph said he is happy to see that the purse seine fishing industry has begun taking action to modify fishing gear to reduce by catch of bigeye tuna. Here, a purse seiner off loads its tuna catch in Majuro.

Marshalls fisheries department director Glen Joseph said he was happy to see that the purse seine fishing industry had begun taking action to modify fishing gear to reduce bycatch of bigeye tuna. Here, a purse seiner offloads its tuna catch in Majuro. Photo: RNZI / Giff Johnson

With the threat to fish stocks clearly laid out, Mr Key said a change in approach was a must.

"The resources earned by the countries in the region is based off selling access to your fisheries on a daily basis. That's fine, except technology is changing, boats are larger.

"They are becoming more proficient and so a greater catch is occurring and if that continues then there is real risk [to] sustainability, of particularly the tuna fishery."

Fisheries ministers from all of the forum nations have now been invited to New Zealand to examine the management system in place.

New Zealand will also provide $US30 million over the next three years to help the region change the way it manages declining fish stocks. Australia also announced it would invest $US13 million in maritime surveillance within the region, to help police the fisheries.

Regarding the other big agenda issue - human rights abuses in the Indonesian region of Papua, or West Papua - Pacific Island leaders urged forum chair and PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill to approach Jakarta about their concerns, and discuss their openness towards a fact-finding mission.

Residents tending to victims after a shooting in Enarotali, Paniai Regency in Indonesia's Papua province. At least four teenagers were shot dead in clashes with security forces, authorities said, although rights campaigners accused police of opening fire on protesters.

This handout photo taken on 8 December 2014, and released by Indonesian Human Rights Watch, shows residents tending to victims after a shooting in Enarotali, Paniai Regency, in Indonesia's Papua. Photo: AFP Indonesian Human Rights Watch

Mr O'Neill said he had found Indonesia accommodating on the issue in recent times.

"If you talk about anything from human rights to self-determination to independence you would have to communicate and talk to Indonesia," he said, pointing out that his government had been doing that for the past few years.

"We are encouraged from what we are hearing from Jakarta and it is just the beginning of many steps that are before us."

Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia said Indonesia's sovereignty must be respected.