Crunch time at Pacific Islands Forum

  • 10/09/2015
John Key (Simon Wong/3 News)
John Key (Simon Wong/3 News)

By Sarah Robson

It's crunch time at the Pacific Islands Forum.

The leaders of the forum's 16 member states, including Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott, will be squirrelled away for much of today for their once-yearly retreat.

It's at these frank talks, which take place away from the prying eyes of officials and the media, where leaders get down to the nitty gritty and thrash out the details of any decisions they choose to make.

There are two key issues on the table: climate change and fisheries.

While the forum's small island members are pushing for a strong, united statement on limiting global temperature rises, an agreement is unlikely to be reached with New Zealand and Australia in the room.

Both nations have already set their carbon emissions reduction targets ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris later this year and they are unwilling to move from them.

While New Zealand's target has been criticised for lacking ambition, Mr Key looks set to defend the steps his government has taken rather than cede to the demands of Pacific neighbours.

But there's hope the forum could take decisive action to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the Pacific's tuna and coastal fisheries.

A more regional approach to fisheries management is crucial to ensuring Pacific nations can unlock the huge economic potential associated with having the world's only healthy tuna fishery in their backyard.

The chairman of the forum's fisheries ministerial group, Tuvalu's Elisala Pita, told leaders yesterday that while there have been improvements, "our countries and our people are still not deriving the economic benefits that we had hoped for from our huge tuna resources".

"Most of our tuna is still being caught by foreign vessels, and 90 per cent is taken out of the region for processing," Mr Pita said.

"Our inshore fisheries - vital for the food security of our coastal communities - are threatened by overfishing and, in the longer term, the effects of ocean acidification and climate change."

New Zealand already plays an important role helping Pacific Islands with fisheries enforcement and surveillance.

At the end of the retreat, the forum leaders will issue a statement outlining their decisions and any other agreements they've reached.

The forum wraps up tomorrow.

NZN