ATTENDEES of the 46th Pacific Islands Forum have refined their position on climate change at the group’s most recent meeting, held in Port Moresby in September.

Leaders of 14 Pacific Island nations, along with the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand and the foreign ministers of Fiji and the Marshall Islands, met in September to discuss a range of issues, with climate change chief among them.

Those attending spelled out their concerns in a Leaders’ declaration on climate change action published at the end of the event.

“(We) are gravely concerned that we are already facing adverse effects of climate change with the current average global temperature increase of 0.85 degrees Celsius, and any further warming could push many countries beyond their capacity to adapt,” the statement said.

“(We) declare that an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius would severely exacerbate the particular challenges facing the most vulnerable smaller island states of the Pacific.”

Reports suggested some attendees at the Forum had aimed to secure a resolution that the members push for a warming limit of 1.5 degrees celsius at UN climate talks scheduled for December in Paris.

But this push was unsuccessful, with the resolution instead urging that efforts be made to stay within the ultimate goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is limiting any increase in global warming to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Nonetheless, the Forum did call for a new climate change agreement to be adopted at the Paris conference, one which recognised the special circumstances and vulnerability of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), particularly those in the Pacific.

It also called for a commitment to increase financial resources in the context of “meaningful mitigation actions,” the resolution said.

This would have “a goal of mobilising jointly US$100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries, from a wide variety of sources.”

Speaking after the event, PNG Prime Minster Peter O’Neill said rising sea levels were a serious issue affecting thousands of our people around the Pacific.

“People around the Pacific are living in fear with each high tide of storm,” he said.

“Food crops are also destroyed when they are covered with sea water, other communities are seeing beach erosion taking away their land and eventually their houses.”

A need to ensure the sustainable management of fisheries was also discussed at the conference, with a need for strengthened maritime surveillance and enforcement highlighted among attendees.

Member nations that are Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) on fisheries currently employ an effort-based management system, which fundamentally sees fishing vessels pay a fee to catch an unlimited number of fish.

National leaders at the forum agreed that the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, the PNA and the Forum Secretariat would work together to develop a program to increase the sustainable economic returns of fisheries.

They would consider the introduction of a quota system similar to that used in New Zealand, where a total allowable catch is determined for each species of fish that is commercially caught.

Pacific Island ministers and government officials are set to visit New Zealand to learn more about how the system works in coming months. Forum attendees also agreed to look into the merit of creating a regional Information Communications Technologies (ICT) advisory council, to address a lack of resources and expertise in member nations and to help them benefit from the opportunities ICT offers.

Development of a regional approach to address cervical cancer and human rights in West Papua were also discussed.

While recognising Indonesian sovereignty over the Papuan provinces, Forum leaders requested the Chair convey their concerns to the Indonesian Government and to consult on a fact finding mission to discuss the situation with involved parties.

Leaders of the attending nations also signed a document called the Hiri Declaration – pledging to strengthen connections to enhance Pacific regionalism.

When welcoming leaders to the Forum, Mr O’Neill said like-minded countries must work together at a time when the global economy was under pressure.

“When we look around the Asia-Pacific economy we see a slowdown in major markets and uncertainty in commodities,” he said.

“We have tremendous resources across our island nations and we need to work together to ensure that we get the best market advantage now and into the future.”