Strengthening the Pacific Voice in the Post-2015 Development Framework

Group Photograph -- a high-level Pacific island consultation in Dili, Timor-Leste
Group Photograph -- a high-level Pacific island consultation in Dili, Timor-Leste

Pacific island concerns about the collective management of the ocean economy, as a global and regional common good, must be incorporated into regional and global development planning, and strategies about resilience, climate change and sustainability. This was the central message of United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, addressing a high-level Pacific island consultation in Dili, Timor-Leste on Monday.

The 1-day consultation preceded the Development for All Conference on the post-2015 development agenda, which begins in the Timorese capital today. Hosted by the Government of Timor- Leste, with the assistance of the Pacific Public Policy Institute, and supported by ESCAP, AusAid, and the g7+, the consultation attracted a large number of very senior Pacific participants including the President of Kiribati; the Chairperson of the G77; finance ministers; senior officials; academics; and representatives of civil society, from all three Pacific sub-regions - Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Dr. Heyzer called for a mindset change, from one which regards Pacific island states as small and isolated, to one which sees them as, “the custodians of our large ocean of opportunity – as the curators of the largest natural global assets – the oceans on which human life itself depends.”

This was a call echoed by President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who advocated for “the ocean or blue economy of the Pacific to be managed in a way that sustains peoples’ livelihoods into the future, and substantially increases the benefit to the island economies.”

The President added that: “We will be able to better address our development challenges and the damages of rising sea levels only when we receive a more equitable return on our ocean resources, including fisheries.” President Tong also emphasized the urgent need to address the impact of climate change, noting that relocation was already taking place in some areas.

The Pacific consultation heard from a number of participants that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had helped the Pacific to focus dialogue, set development targets and monitor progress. The major shortfall of the MDGs, however, was their failure to mobilize sufficient resources to address the particular set of Pacific challenges relating to size, location and unmatched exposure to climate change, natural disasters and other external shocks. There was consensus that the post-2015 development framework should address these challenges in a manner which was both inclusive and sustainable, and that there is an urgent need to strengthen development partnerships and financing to make this happen.

Other key issues highlighted included the need for strong ownership of and political leadership on development challenges and goals; the importance of including and empowering civil society, women, youth and people with disabilities; better regional integration and connectivity; alternative Pacific definitions of wellbeing; social protection; positive cultural and traditional norms, including the “care economy”; and a return to the principles of fairness, justice and the protection of the vulnerable enshrined in both the Millennium Declaration and the Rio+20 outcomes.

Speaking about practical ways to advance these concerns, Emilia Pires, the Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste and host of the consultations, emphasized the need to build alliances and enhance solidarity to ensure that the Pacific voice was heard at both the regional and global level – especially in shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

The Pacific participants agreed to make use of the outcomes in their own processes in the Pacific, including the preparations for the SIDS global conference in Samoa in 2014.