I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Troika.
Let me first pay my respects to the land in which we gather and register our appreciation to our host for this meeting and co-chair of the UN Ocean Conference, the Fiji Government.
Excellencies, at the outset, we should be proud of the active role that we as a Pacific family played and continue to play in shaping the 2030 Agenda.
In particular, we were instrumental in the conception and birth of SDG 14 on Oceans.
This is no coincidence because since 1976, our leaders have made eight regional declarations on our oceans and fisheries, the most recent being the Pohnpei Ocean Statement – A course to Sustainability, that we agreed last year.
No matter that we are small in our size and economies, we can and we will continue to show global leadership on issues that matter the most to us.
As we gather to prepare as a region united, for the first time ever, for the first UN Conference for the SDGs on SDG 14, I cannot help but feel the spirit and mana of our Pacific leaders and that of our ancestors who traversed the vast magnificent Pacific Ocean that is our home.
While it is a weighty responsibility to be custodians of the largest ocean on earth, it is a privilege to be part of a region that understands the gravity and importance of its role, and the necessity of working and acting together.
Our ocean and its vast resources, not only provide nourishment for us, it also provides 20% of the world’s protein and economic returns for our countries from fisheries.
Our ocean is a highway for significant shipping and trade generating significant economic value but with minimal returns to us.
But, we are seeing alarming statistics about the health of our ocean; of the poor state of our coral reefs caused by coral bleaching and pollution, of the negative consequences for our marine biodiversity and of the levels of Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fisheries.
So we need to not only make declarations but to accelerate and step up our actions and demand the same of others to restore our Ocean’s health, through embracing integrated ocean management approaches and sustainably managing and conserving our coastal, inshore and ocean resources.
So where do we start?
The 2030 Agenda provides the global blueprint in terms of where we want to be by 2030. The SAMOA Pathway and our Framework for Pacific regionalism highlight the issues most relevant and pertinent to our Pacific region.
While we look to global policy frameworks, we can also find the answers right here in the Pacific.
As our Ocean Commissioner had highlighted this week, many of the key elements of an enabling environment of political leadership, strong policies, institutions and mutually accountable partnerships critical for oceans governance and SDG14 implementation is already in place in our region.
For instance, our ocean leadership predates the 2030 Agenda as reflected in the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific.
The Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner established by our Leaders in 2014 is critical in coordinating regional governance of our ocean institutions and mechanisms, including the Pacific Ocean Alliance.
Our region offers the world, global best practices such as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Vessel Day Scheme, the Forum Fisheries Agency’s Vessel Monitoring System and the Locally Marine Managed Areas Network.
At the macro level, strong political leadership for implementation and accountability, for results already exists.
For instance in 2015, when I hosted Pacific leaders in Port Moresby, we called for coherence in the planning for, resourcing, implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda, the SAMOA Pathway and our Framework for Pacific Regionalism.
We also called on our development partners to support our efforts through the right levels and for coherent financing, building of our capacities in planning, statistics to ensure improved delivery and reduced reporting burden on our countries.
The 2030 Pacific SDGs Roadmap will guide implementation of the SDGs including Goal 14 in the Pacific and our regional set of Sustainable Development Indicators will measure our regional progress including on Goal 14.
So in many ways, we in the Pacific already have a significant head start in delivering on the intentions of Goal 14 at regional and national levels.
But as we know, we have many more challenges to address. The question is, how do we build on our existing mechanisms, policy frameworks and institutions to ensure we maximize our strengths and address our challenges?
First, we must move quickly from dialogue to implementation. While we continue to call for global and regional action for our ocean, seas and coasts, we must put into action commitments where it matters the most – at national and sub-national levels.
We need to integrate, institutionalize and embed SDG14 commitments into our national and sector planning, budgeting and accountability mechanisms.
We must take responsibility and significantly increase our efforts to create champions for our ocean in all of us, including our younger and unborn generations.
We must reduce land based pollution which invariably ends up in our seas and ocean. We must take a whole of government approach and actively seek multi-sectoral partnerships for delivery.
Furthermore, we need to strengthen our national and regional capacities, and institutions and systems to support the attainment of SDG14 and the other SDGs. For instance my Government is currently developing a national ocean policy and laws and also establishing a national ocean office.
At the regional level and with foresight our Leaders established the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner.
All of these efforts must be provided with the requisite levels of resources and support – through our own commitments and by the Means of Implementation embedded in SDG 17 on global partnerships and across the goals, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and in the Paris Agreement.
Implementation of SDG 16 on strong institutions for peace, security and prosperity, is also a critical enabler for achievement of the SDGs.
Importantly, we need to ensure all of our available resources including our private sector and civil society stakeholders are engaged and involved in national and regional policy making, service delivery and in genuine, sustained and mutually accountable partnerships.
The link between our Ocean and Climate must remain a central feature of our discussion. It needs to be firmly implanted in global ocean policy.
While climate change related risks pose an existential threat to our peoples, our ocean remains a strong bulwark against harmful greenhouse gases, providing vital ecosystem services.
But climate change also threatens the very marine assets on which we aim to build a more prosperous future
I encourage us to continue to lead by example as we continue our joint journey together to sustainably manage and conserve our Ocean resources for the good or our Pacific people, our region and our planet.