Spotlight on the Pacific Islands Forum

Friday, 16 August 2019: This week, the Pacific Islands Forum has become a microcosm for major international and geopolitical issues.

Usually, the diplomatic gathering of 18 Pacific state leaders flies under the radar with its agenda to foster regional economic, security, and development ties.

This time, host island country Tuvalu is highlighting the risks of global climate change and rising sea levels to its shores. As Pacific leaders landed at the country’s airport they were met by children of Tuvalu, sitting submerged in water, singing: “Save Tuvalu, Save the World.”

The event is also inadvertently spotlighting geopolitical issues in the Asia-Pacific. The forum’s dialogue partners China and the US will both be sending representatives. Recognition of Taiwan by some Pacific countries is also likely to be raised.

Pacific Islands Forum Discussion Topics

  • First, Challenges for SDGs

  • Second, Conflict and inter-communal violence

  • Next, Interpersonal violence

  • Lastly, Environment and climate change

Challenges for SDGs in the Pacific

Research from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows most Pacific Island nations face a specific set of development challenges.

The SDG16 in the Pacific report, which measures Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16), shows that strong institutions ensuring justice and promoting peace will not only reduce violence, but also foster the social structures and attitudes that create an environment where Pacific Islanders can flourish.

SDG16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, is an element of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal plan, also known as the global goals. They are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The small size and remoteness of Pacific Island countries amplify other challenges they face:

A shifting geopolitical balance in the region and border-transcending crime also presents a new challenge for border security.

Conflict and intercommunal violence

Pacific Island countries have maintained good relations with neighbouring countries. There are significant flows of people and trade between the countries in the Pacific.

Despite this, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have both experienced substantial violent conflict. As recently as 2012, the Akul and Kambrip tribes in the Enga Province in Papua New Guinea were embroiled in armed conflict, leading to 57 deaths.

Interpersonal violence

Intimate partner violence and violence against women is one of the most prevalent forms of violence in the Pacific. It takes the form of both physical and sexual violence.

Interpersonal violence carries significant social and economic costs to a society. If not addressed properly, it can undermine the trust and legitimacy of justice institutions that SDG16 aims to promote.

Fiji had the highest percentage of women reporting physical violence at over 60%. Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands had the highest reports of sexual violence at 55%.

Actual rates of violence against women are higher than surveys suggest because data on violence against women is underreported.

The environment

The high prevalence of environmental events and emerging threats of climate change present a pertinent challenge for the region.

The 2017 World Risk Report measures the risk of an extreme natural event leading to a disaster. In fact, it identified five Pacific Islands among the 15 most vulnerable countries in the world.

Kiribati is a prime example of environmental risk.

The country’s islands average at just two metres above sea level. This leaves the nation threatened by rising sea levels that could lead to mass displacement.

Further, the country’s highly porous soil can result in bore water becoming contaminated by human remains, human and animal waste, and increased salinity from rising sea levels.