The 23rd Micronesia Island Forum last week yielded a total of six resolutions with two letters directed toward the Guam Legislature as well as to a federal entity regarding a shared concern throughout Micronesia.
Over the span of three days, the forum from April 25 to 27, 2018 was attended by nine Micronesia islands leaders who discussed issues pertaining to their own islands and island nations and attempted to address issues shared in the region.
Of the six resolutions passed, one was for the rules and procedures of the 23rd MIF to adopt its interim rules and procedures.
The first resolution passed addressing regional issues pertains to climate change and its effects to the Micronesian region, directly affects food security. Citing studies that weren’t specified, the MIF stated that within about 20 years, the distribution of tuna stocks may begin to shift towards the central and eastern Pacific, while human populations within Micronesia is anticipated to grow 10 to 15 percent within the same time period.
“…Shifts in tuna distribution caused by climate change poses significant threats to food security and the livelihood of the growing population of the Pacific Island countries, especially the Micronesian region, and undermines the economic development aspirations of Micronesia through utilization of tuna resources,” the resolution stated.
The MIF through the resolution expressed their “grave concern” regarding the negative effects of climate changes to the region and urged the states parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to “respect the Paris Agreement and to work towards its full implementation.”
The second resolution the 23rd MIF passed a resolution calling MIF nations to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, or IUU fishing, collectively.
The resolution urged flag states to “exercise effective control” over their vessels by requiring them to refrain from engaging or supporting IUU fishing activities and by penalizing offenders.
The resolution, which cited a 2016 report prepared for the Forum Fisheries Agency, the amount of IUU tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean estimated to about 300,000 metric tons with a value of $600 million and rising.
“IUU [fishing] represents a serious threat to the sustainability of tuna stocks of the Pacific, which generate significant financial benefits to the economies of Pacific islands, especially Micronesia,” the resolution stated.
A resolution to expand telehealth and telemedicine in United States-affiliated Pacific Islands, or USAPIs, was also passed during the 23rd MIF. USAPIs include the islands of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, and Chuuk, Yap, Kosrae, and Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Recognizing that the USAPIs combined is composed of more than 500,000 people who live on hundreds of islands and atolls spanning millions of square miles of ocean and crossing five Pacific time zones, “an area significantly larger than the continental U.S.,” the resolution seeks to utilize information and technology to further health care in the Pacific islands.
“…The leaders of the MIF endorse in principle and as a matter of priority of regional health significance, the need to further explore opportunities to enhance and expand telehealth/telemedicine delivery to the USAPIs, where feasible and appropriate to the needs and context of each USAPI location; and, to regularly asses and evaluate such efforts in terms of cost, funding sources, technical partners/providers, and other improvements with the goal of improving health outcomes and strengthening USAPI health systems,” the resolution stated.
“…The leaders will support executive and legislative efforts to ensure a supportive and enabling environment that enhances and expands USAPI health agency telehealth/telemedicine initiatives,” it continued.
The 23rd MIF also passed a resolution that prioritizes the development of sustainable transportation networks in USAPIs to support economic development and stability of crucial air and sea transportation routes.
Cognizant that the a major Micronesian economic factor is its tourism and migration through exports and capital inflows, the MIF remains concerned as the USAPIs witness a “reduction of scheduled flights and important transportation routes causing significant concern on the sustainability of core markets and necessary access to the world.”
“It is of paramount importance to the people and economies of the USAPIs that critical transportation services be available and consistent,” the resolution stated.
“…The leaders of the MIF endorse in principle and as a matter of priority of regional economic significance, a formal request to the Office of the President of the United States of America, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs to support the transportation needs of the USAPIs, where feasible and appropriate to the needs and content of each USAPI location, to include allowance of eligibility in the Essential Air Service Program, and removal of the Cabotage Restrictions created under the U.S. Merchant Marine Act of 1920; and to pursue all available options to secure sustainable air service to critical locations in need of increased access to transportation networks and sustainable economic viability,” the resolution continued.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, limits the availability of foreign-flagged air carriers to provide air transportation to distant locations in need of air services. Citing the decline in service provided by U.S.-flagged air carriers, the resolution calls for the “opening competition” of air transportation since it sees “no substantial risk to the U.S. air service industry.”
The MIF also recognized that climate change affects Micronesian islands more prominently, and has agreed that there is a need to “rapidly build resilience” against it.
“…Climate change is a daily reality as evidenced by devastations already inflicted by climate change impacts at current levels of warming, including intensifying extreme weather events, sea level rise, and ocean acidification,” the resolution stated.
The fifth resolution the MIF passed was to recognize that Micronesia as a region has a “vital role” to play, facilitate, and enhance further actions critical to staying within the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit as set under the Paris Agreement accord within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC.
The UNFCC deals with greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation, adaption, and finance beginning in 2020 that came into effect on Nov. 4, 2016.
The Paris Agreement aims to collectively limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius in response to climate change. As of November 2017, 195 UNFCCC members have signed the agreement while 172 have become party to it.
MIF letters to Guam Legislature, FAA, USDA
The MIF during their three-day forum were able to come up with three letters to address issues pertaining to Micronesia.
MIF issued a letter to the Guam Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz as they proposed a bill, Bill 257-34, which imposes taxes on transshipment of fuel coming through Guam. The taxes would have a “direct and deep impact” on the economies of Palau, FSM, Marshall Islands, and Tinian and Rota of the CNMI as shipments of fuel first go through Guam before reaching the other islands.
“…Our communities share many of the same challenges in the Micronesian region. Further, history will show that when faced with obstacles, we strive to work together with the goal of reaching a solution that is beneficial, or not harmful, to any of our jurisdictions. As such if this bill were to pass, the negative effects would be detrimental,” the letter stated.
The MIF in a letter addressed to the Airports Division Director for the Federal Aviation Administration, Western Pacific Region Mark McClardy requests that the agency continues the Airport Improvement Program grants for the entire Micronesian region.
“When our airports become unsafe due to nonviable navigational aids, inoperable lighting, or faded marking, airlines are faced with the difficult reality of suspending or cancelling flights to our small island jurisdictions,” the letter stated, adding that the suspensions and especially the cancellations of flights heavily affected the economy of the region since it depends mostly on tourism.
A MIF letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny M. Perdue requested that a Micronesian Biosecurity Initiative be established with the director stationed on Guam.
The initiative seeks to pursue collaborative efforts with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, and its partners in the Pacific Region. The initiative has the goal of protecting participating countries and territories from the introduction of invasive species, or “high-risk plant pests,” by establishing a perimeter.
“The initiative would seek to harmonize and strengthen the on-going regional development of offshore pest detection, control and exclusion activities, and regulatory frameworks for the benefits of all countries and territories in the region,” the letter stated.
“We, the Presidents and Governors of the forum, fully support the establishment of this initiative as an essential element whereas APHIS PPQ expertise would greatly enhance regional harmonization, increase the capacity building goals of APHIS in the protection of US interests, and locate leadership on Guam, which is the transportation hub of the region,” it continued.
MD: MIF passes six resolutions, issues three letters.
KW: MIF, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Saipan, USDA.