AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Climate change will be a major issue facing about 50 members of the media gathering this week for the 44th Pacific Islands Forum hosted in the Marshall Islands capital Majuro.
“Having the Pacific Islands Forum is a great way to promote [the country], and according to the list of media people coming in there are over 50 visiting media, TV, radio, print media coming in,” said Giff Johnson, editor of The Marshall Islands Journal.
Climate change will be the most important issue on the Forum’s agenda, according to Johnson.
In an interview with Pacific Media Watch, he said the Marshall Islands government had been “pumping up the call for climate action” in the months leading up to the Forum.
“It’s [the Marshall Islands government] been pushing the key countries like Australia, New Zealand and the US to get on board with a very strong climate action declaration, which they hope will be a stand-alone document coming out of the Forum.”
The editor said a declaration from this year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro can be presented at the UN later this month, and “feed into major international conferences and forums related to climate change”.
Johnson also said the Forum would address the UN Millennium Development Goals, a review of the Pacific Plan, and the suspension of Fiji from the Forum.
Marshalling the Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge has been named as the theme of this year’s Forum.
The 2013 Pacific Islands Forum will be the biggest event the Marshall Islands has ever hosted.
The only other time the Marshall Islands hosted the Pacific Islands Forum was in 1996, but this time it would be bigger, Foreign Affairs Secretary Doreen deBrum told Islands Business.
She said 500 delegates would take part in the Pacific Islands Forum this week. Leaders from 13 of the 16 Pacific Islands Forum member countries would be present at the Forum, with attendees also from the European Union, China, Japan, the United States, as well as the top United Nations climate change envoy.
“It’s huge, and it’s a big challenge in everything, you know, in hotels, accommodations, vehicles, all those sort of logistic things, but many countries have come to the table to help out donating vehicles, donating money, just generally supporting in a bunch of ways,” Johnson said.
The editor said that the Marshall Islands may lack top international accommodation, but that the hospitality would be top notch.
The opening ceremony tomorrow, when the leaders would be transported over a lagoon in Marshallese outrigger canoes would be a highlight of the Forum, Johnson said.
“One of the organisers of this canoe flotilla commented to me the other day, he says: ‘Well, these leaders can go anywhere they want in the world, to go swimming or snorkelling, but there’s only one place that they can go and ride on a Marshallese outrigger canoe, and that’s right here.’”
The Pacific Islands Forum takes place on September 3-6.
Listen to the full interview with Giff Johnson – transcript below:
Daniel Drageset (DD): What are your expectations for the Pacific Islands Forum?
Giff Johnson (GJ), editor of the Marshall Islands Journal: The Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro is very focused on the issue of climate change, and in particular a strong response to climate change. And the host, Marshall Islands government, has made a very big point about this over the last few months, really pumping up the call for climate action. Not only from the Pacific, but also the partners, the donor partners who deal with the Pacific Islands.
It’s been pushing the key countries like Australia, New Zealand and the US to get on board with a very strong climate action declaration, which they hope will be a stand-alone document coming out of the Forum. Now, that’s one element and it’s the main theme of the Forum is on this, it’s marshalling the Pacific response to the climate challenge.
But beyond that there are many issues on the agenda of the Forum, many political issues, things like – issues about Fiji, there are things about the Millennium Development Goals, there’s sustainable development, there’s a whole raft of key points, including the review of the Pacific Plan and an attempt to revitalise and probably change the focus of that plan to align it more clearly with needs of individual islands. The Forum comes in with just a laundry list of issues to deal with and climate change this year is the featured issue.
DD: What can be done with regards to climate change, do you think?
GJ: The pitch that the Marshall Islands government has made over the past many months leading up to the Forum has been to call on countries for climate leadership and to step up the engagement level, step up commitments, and the word ‘leadership’ continues to be used in the context of climate change problems. The Marshall Islands is seeing the Forum this year as a key jumping off point for the Pacific to have a united voice on climate action leadership that needs to be taken, something that can be presented next month (September) to the UN Secretary-General when the General Assembly opens up in September in New York – and then would be a statement of calling for action that could feed into major international conferences and forums related to climate change and sustainable development.
I think that’s how the Marshall Islands is trying to position the Forum this year is to come out with a very clear statement about the need for greater leadership and decisions on climate action that can be taken and motivated by the Pacific.
DD: Do you think it is realistic that they can succeed internationally with a climate change agreement on the Pacific Islands Forum?
GJ: There’s not going to be any agreement coming out for anything globally, because obviously that has to go to whatever the global forums are on climate change. The greatest challenge that the Pacific Islands face probably is much closer to home, and it’s getting the New Zealand and Australian governments to come on board – some sort of a strong leadership statement. I mean, there is the draft of a Majuro declaration on climate change has been circulated around. It’s just that, for example, just in the last couple of days the Marshall Islands Minister, Tony deBrum, who is leading the climate change push from the Marshall Islands side, has criticised New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s government’s position on emissions – the announced 5 percent cut by 2020 based on 1990 levels, just saying that it’s meaningless.
So there’s open controversy about that, and the Prime Minister is coming into the Forum next week, and we’ll certainly hear face-to-face and have a chance to talk directly with leaders from the Marshalls and other countries for whom this is a really key issue. But that’s the challenge for the Forum whether they can get New Zealand and Australia. The Australian situation is obviously complicated by the national election that’s coming up on September 7 in terms of what kind of commitment that their representatives are able to make.
And then issues of donor partners, you know, will the US, will Japan sign on and give it a boost, whatever statement is coming out of Majuro. I think what they hope is that the declaration may be broad enough that they can get agreement on it and get everybody signed up on it. It may lack some of the specifics, but at least it gives a call for greater leadership and that gives a hook for addressing the issue more strongly in the global forums that will be coming this year and next year.
DD: How big is it for the Marshall Islands to host the Pacific Islands Forum?
GJ: This is the biggest event we’ve hosted since the last Forum that was hosted. That was the first time the Marshall Islands hosted a Forum in Majuro, which was in 1996, so that was 17 years ago. It’s huge, and it’s a big challenge in everything, you know, in hotels, accommodations, vehicles, all those sort of logistic things, but many countries have come to the table to help out donating vehicles, donating money, just generally supporting in a bunch of ways. The Marshall Islands has one really great thing going for it for a meeting like this, which is that the Marshall Islands knows about hospitality and how to deliver it.
We can’t offer 5-star hotel rooms, but there’s going to be great hospitality. The leaders and their delegations I’m sure are going to be very well taken care of in spite of some logistical limitations, which are just the normal state of affairs in any small island group. We normally don’t have 400 people show up in one week to be in Majuro, so it’ll be exciting and a challenge for all the local organisers.
DD: What kind of coverage will your newspaper the Marshall Islands Journal have of the Forum?
GJ: As you know we’re a weekly newspaper, so in the edition that’s out this week we have a front page story, which is headlined ‘Forum Fever’ with a sub-heading ‘Dozens of decisions face state leaders’, and then throughout the paper there are listings of events and issues and what have you. The local business community has taken out lots of ads in the newspaper welcoming the Forum delegates and offering their various services. Then in next week’s issue, we’ll try to have interviews with people as well as some of the news that comes out of the actual meetings.
There are going to be a bunch of press conferences, but the leaders' meeting, the work meeting is on Wednesday, so there should be some outcome from that, but then the Thursday retreat is when I assume the Majuro declaration and the communique will be announced at the end of that, so that’ll be another event. Since we come out on Thursday, well, we’ll have at least a couple of more weeks of coverage in the newspaper.
The signature event for this Forum is going to be the lead-up into the opening ceremony, which is happening on Tuesday where the plan is a bunch of outrigger canoes have been organised, built and prepared, to transport the leaders down the lagoon about a mile distance, a very short distance, to the park where the opening ceremony will kick off next to the Capitol building. An awful lot of effort has gone into getting these outrigger canoes organised and ready for transporting the leaders, where they then will be met at the beach with all kinds of hospitality and then walked across to the Capitol building for the official opening ceremony with chants and traditional dances and music.
One of the organisers of this canoe flotilla commented to me the other day, he says: “Well, these leaders can go anywhere they want in the world, to go swimming or snorkelling, but there’s only one place that they can go and ride on a Marshallese outrigger canoe, and that’s right here”, so it’ll be a new experience for everybody, even though I’m sure lots of the leaders have been on canoes, they probably haven’t ridden on Marshall Islands style canoes.
There’s a couple of big ones that have been built, and we have a really active outrigger, which is leading that event and is really going to showcase one of the most active programmes in the Marshall Islands. So that should be an interesting kick-off and very entertaining both I would think for the leaders, as well as for the local community, which will certainly be out in large numbers to watch the ceremony which will be outdoors.
DD: Wonderful. It sounds like it’s good promotion for the Marshall Islands as well?
GJ: It certainly is. Having the Pacific Islands Forum is a great way to promote, and according to the list of media people coming in there are over 50 visiting media, TV, radio, print media coming in. That’s a pretty nice little bump up in the amount of publicity that’s going to be happening for the Marshall Islands the next week."
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