Pacific leaders take first step towards history-making climate change action

Pacific leaders have taken the first steps towards history-making action on climate change and repairing regional instability.

They have just emerged from their first in-person meeting in three years and say it was a success. 

A family photo after three years apart.

The old guard meeting with the new, Samoa's first female leader, and a snapshot of Pacific history - the highest number of women on the leaders' forum in history.

Smiles and their best attempt at a united front, before heading behind closed doors to mend the rifts and thrash out the challenges. 

Leaders pose for the family photo at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Suva on July 14, 2022.
Leaders pose for the family photo at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Suva on July 14, 2022. Photo credit: Getty Images

For the Pacific leaders, there was no question of what's top of the agenda.

"This region will never be distracted from climate change because that will determine whether we live or whether we die, and that's the reality," Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said.

She's hopeful Australia will finally take climate action seriously.

"Other, bigger states, as you know, were ambiguous, but they're not now," Scotland said. 

The next generation is making the most noise. 

"Here in the Pacific, there's this slogan, this comment, saying we're drowning," climate change activist Vishal Prasad said. "We're not drowning, we're fighting."

Because here in the Pacific, people don't want to be painted as helpless. They're centre stage in the climate change crisis, they're taking action into their own hands. 

A group of university students hoping leaders will today endorse their push to have the impact of climate change recognised in international law. 

"It will be a massive development in international law because it would first of all put human rights at the centre of climate responses," Prasad said.

Early signs show there's been progress on another big issue there - unity.

"They all look not stressed, so that's a good sign," Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary James Bhagwan said.

Not on the radar of regular people, but the front of mind for leaders was China and the Unites States' bid for power in the Pacific.

"There's a strong focus on regionalism and that within our own region, a real desire to meet our own security needs and take that family-first approach, and that's something New Zealand really supports," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. 

But the 30-year strategy signed off by leaders was a significant step in Pacific nations forging their own path

"They are no longer just the chess board for geopolitical engagement, and they're not only the pawns for geopolitical engagement. They have a status and they have a significant role to play," Bhagwan said. 

The Pacific - attracting attention and funding from the big players and reclaiming its power.