Koror — There are exciting new opportunities to accelerate economic and social progress on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It is time for our Pacific nations to seize them.
In September 2014, Samoa invited the world to their beautiful country to discuss the future of SIDS. It had become well recognized by the international community that SIDS face unprecedented challenges from globalization, climate change, and ocean degradation. At the Third International Conference on SIDS in Samoa, we were able to chart a way forward.
The resulting SAMOA Pathway, a 30-page document representing the consensus of all 193 members of the United Nations, provides a framework for addressing the Pacific region’s most urgent problems. As stated in its Preamble, “We recognize SIDS’s ownership and leadership in overcoming some of these challenges but stress that in the absence of international cooperation, success will remain difficult.”
This achievement was the first milestone during 18 months that will be remembered as one of the most productive periods of multilateralism in history. 2015 saw the adoption of new agreements on development finance (the Addis Ababa Action Agenda), disaster risk reduction (the Sendai Framework), and climate change (the Paris Agreement). However, the crowning achievement is perhaps the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which declares the intention of the global community to achieve 17 sustainable development goals to put us and our children on a path to a better future.
Together, these agreements are transforming the way the United Nations and its specialized agencies work. They are also a primary influence on the funding priorities of our funding partners and multilateral development banks. And over the course of many long and contentious negotiations, negotiators from our Pacific nations made sure that our interests were protected throughout. The challenge now is implementation. In other words, we must make sure that these words on paper translate into concrete resources and action on the ground in our countries. This work has already begun.
The next big international opportunity to accelerate progress will be at the upcoming UN Ocean Conference in June. One of our biggest achievements in the aforementioned negotiations was winning a dedicated ocean goal to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” – SDG14. The UN Ocean Conference will be a veritable “Who’s Who” of international stakeholders engaged in oceans governance, conservation, business, and investment – all ready to work together to achieve SDG14. It is expected that many new partnerships will be launched.
Pacific SIDS are leaders in this area. Often referred to as “Large Ocean States,” we are stewards of one of the greatest natural treasures in the world – the Pacific Ocean – and we take that responsibility seriously. We have all made significant contributions nationally and regionally to the cause of improving global ocean health.
My country’s contribution to the achievement of SDG14 is the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which covers our entire Exclusive Economic Zone. An ambitious 80 percent is designated as a no-take zone, with the remaining 20 percent reserved strictly for domestic needs. Palau has taken this extraordinary step not only for environmental reasons, but through the benefits to our ocean biodiversity – the spill over benefits for regional fish stocks – will be significant. The Sanctuary was also driven by some very hard-nosed economic concerns. As President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., likes to say, “The environment is our economy, our economy is our environment.” It is no coincidence that Palau is one of the most popular destinations for scuba divers and eco-tourists.
Palau’s approach to advancing the dual elements of SDG14 – conservation and sustainable use – is tailored to our national circumstances. Other countries will need to determine the approach that will best suit their needs. However, we all share a common priority – to eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – purportedly the biggest immediate threat to our Sanctuary, and amounts to nothing less than theft of some of the Pacific Ocean’s most precious resources. This form of piracy in the Pacific tuna fishery has been estimated to steal between $500 million and $750 million every year.
We can make significant progress at the Ocean Conference to address IUU fishing. Like many of Pacific SIDS, Palau relies on a small group of officers and even fewer boats to monitor our waters, supplemented by Australia and United States assistance. One long-range and two short-range vessels are responsible for patrolling approximately 650 square kilometers of ocean. The high cost of fuel also limits the time these boats can spend at sea.
What do we need? More patrol vessels, more funding, more operational capacity, and more intelligence on ocean traffic.
Palau is grateful for the partnerships of the governments of Monaco, Italy, Japan, Republic of China-Taiwan, Australia, United States and many others to include private foundation partnerships such as with the Nippon Foundation/Sasakawa Peace Foundation, which is helping us develop and implement a monitoring and enforcement plan. Other countries and organizations are stepping up as well.
Palau has also ratified the Port State Measures Agreement, which will make it much more difficult to bring illegal fish to market, as have many other SIDS. The more nations that participate in the Agreement, the more effective it will be to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. The Agreement entered into force last June, and 42 countries have ratified to date. We encourage every nation to ratify as soon as possible. Palau has the duty to mount effective surveillance and enforcement against illegal fishing in an area of the Pacific the size of France. It is a daunting task, but one that we are taking very seriously and are pursuing offenders aggressively.
However, the waters of the Pacific are vast. Like climate change and so many other global problems that we face today, IUU fishing demands a global response. At the UN Ocean Conference, the world can make a strong commitment to end IUU fishing as a key step toward our achievement of SDG14.
Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong is Palau’s ambassador to the United Nations and the European Union. Uludong was Climate Change Advisor in environmental policy and management throughout the Micronesia and Pacific region prior to her diplomatic post. Send feedback to email@example.com