Climate Action

Sustainable development in Pacific Islands a “matter of life or death”

45th Pacific Islands Forum concluded on Friday in Palau and leaders used the conference to debate the increasing threats posed by rising sea levels and sustainable development solutions

  • 04 August 2014
  • William Brittlebank

The 45th Pacific Islands Forum concluded on Friday in Koror, Republic of Palau, and leaders used the conference to debate the increasing threats posed by rising sea levels and sustainable development solutions.

Overfishing and pollution is having a severe impact on the region economically as well as environmentally with income from food production and tourism being reduced.

President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and outgoing forum chair, Christopher J. Loek, said: “The ocean surrounds, connects and divides us. It provides nourishment but has the potential to threaten our very existence. It enriches with the abundant resources it offers, provided we act responsibly and in a sustainable manner.”

Minsters at the conference called for more support from non-Pacific states in the form of investment in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in the region and reduction of international greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Sustainable tourism was a key topic at the forum with host country Palau providing a case study with its plan to convert its coastal regions into a marine sanctuary and ban commercial fishing.

American scientist Dr Sylvia Earle has devoted her life to studying marine ecosystems and a key presence at the forum and she hailed Palau's plan to ban commercial fishing as a landmark.

Dr Earle said: “The decline of ocean wildlife is just stunning. In 50 years, 90 per cent of many of the big fish are gone, and many of the small fish too are really hard hit, because our technologies are so good at extracting. There are limits to what we can take from the ocean and still have an ocean that functions."

Palau was the first country in the world to declare its waters a sanctuary for sharks in 2009.

President of Palau, Tommy Esang Remengesau, said: “The tourism industry, which is our bread and butter, is the mother goose that lays the golden egg for us. So the idea of Palau doing the marine sanctuary is for tourism, for food security and for the region.”

The minister of foreign affairs of the Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, has emphasised the importance of reaching a global climate agreement in 2015 for Pacific countries unequivocally describing it as a “matter of life or death”.