The Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an intergovernmental organization of the 18 South Pacific countries including Australia and New Zealand. It’s the region’s principal political and economic forum, where many questions related to the reginal cooperation are discussed and many multilateral agreements are signed. The last the 50th PIF was held in August 2019 in Tuvalu. The next 2020 PIF will be held in Vanuatu.

The host of this year forum is a tiny island state Tuvalu. This is an archipelago consisting of eight atolls which are just few meters above the sea level. No surprising that the country is very sensitive to the climate change issues, because with the rising sea level is its existential threat. All the island states suffer from similar climate change problems: rising water levels, coral reefs extinction, coastal erosion, the pressing issue of salinity and others.

The problem of climate change was the central during the meetings. 16 out of 18 member states were critical about Australia’s reluctance to take more drastic measures to reduce the industrial emissions. They wanted Australia to close its coal mines and commit itself to the renewable energy sources. According to Australian officials, besides contributing $500 million to fight the climate change problems of other member states countries, Australia is already one of the world leaders in the renewable energy. They consider the problem of industrial emissions to be a global one rather than regional. Accordingly, other countries that are responsible for the current situation should do more.

At the close of the conference the member states made clear that they were expecting Australia to take next steps in fighting the climate change and helping other countries in the region to cope with their climate change problems. The declaration adopted on the 50th Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu directly addresses the common expectation of more active Australian leadership with a slogan “to lead is to act”.

In 2020 it will be Vanuatu’s turn to host and chair the Pacific Islands Forum. Since the decisions are to be taken by consensus, Vanuatu officials will have to demonstrate their negotiating skills to move the agenda of the organization forward. It will be crucial to find the balance between the interests of the 16 island states and Australia, having in mind the position of New Zealand, which shows increasing understanding of the climate change problems.

Vanuatu could be a good middle ground for such negotiations. On the one hand, Vanuatu is one of the most active supporters of the measures aimed at drastic reduction of the industrial emissions. The country is trying to develop its own organic and ecologically clean economy. On the other hand, Vanuatu is quite experienced in attracting foreign investments by having established one of the well-known offshore centers and promoting its Vanuatu citizenship by investment program.