9 Dec 2022

Pacific stands to benefit from geopolitical focus says senior UN official

1:56 pm on 9 December 2022
Aerial view of Amatuku island in Tuvalu.

Aerial view of Amatuku island in Tuvalu. Photo: ©UNDP Tuvalu/Aurélia Rusek

The UN's assistant secretary general hopes to see a renewed focus from Pacific development partners on raising climate ambitions and diversifying island economies heading into the new year.

Kanni Wignaraja concluded a two-day-visit to New Zealand on Thursday during which she met with government ministers, MPs and policy institutions in Wellington and Auckland.

This comes straight off the back of similar meetings held in Australia.

Wignaraja, who is also the United Nations Development Programme's Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said the plus side of heightened geopolitical interest in the region is that more development partners are listening to what Pacific leaders have to say.

She said there were two main areas in which Pacific countries could position themselves to benefit from this increased attention.

"A lot of these island nations or territories have often been very single product economies, that have not been able to diversify and haven't had the depth or range of financing and institutions to diversify," Wignaraja said.

"I think with a more of these funds coming through, the hope is that - primarily through the ocean economy - these countries can actually get a better deal economically and be able to have revenue sources that don't leave them so vulnerable to a single sector. So I think that's a big one."

The second area that Kanni Wignaraja felt was important for the Pacific was to capitalise on having their voices being heard at a global level.

"By having all this attention, it finally puts front and centre. Pacific Island leaders have been saying for a while that they've got very little to do with carbon emissions. And it's not on them that we're seeing the warming of the seas and the sinking of some of these atolls very quickly. And yet, they've been ignored on this," she said.

"But now, with more visibility, I think the whole issue of saying 'we've got to look at how to invest more in the technology, the infrastructure, looking at loss and damages' all that is more on the table. So for both these reasons, that's a positive fallout of being more at the centre of global attention."

As to her meetings in New Zealand this week, Wignaraja said she looks forward to New Zealand continuing to punch above its weight, both from a voice and advocacy point of view, but also from a resourcing point of view.

Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific. ©UNDP

Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific. ©UNDP Photo: UNDP