Pacific Climate Change Conference Identifies Contradictions & Capacity

Wgtn Beach
Oriental Bay, Wellington, New Zealand. Credit: Genevieve Neilson

The likelihood of conferences on climate change to be impacted by severe weather events is on the rise. In February 2018, many participants of the Pacific Climate Change Conference were delayed or prevented from arriving in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. We participated in the conference because we understood the grave dangers that lie ahead to local communities and countries if there is no action to prevent a rise in temperature above 1.5 degree Celsius or a focus on adaptation. And, Cyclone Gita strengthened the resolve of academics, physical scientists, consultants, activists, and project planners to press for change. With the Pacific islands at the forefront of climate change, having a conference and community dedicated to showcasing work in the region helps to identify future needs for the most important transnational issue of our age.

Presentations on the world of climate finance, indigenous voices, and the economy provided contradictions in the way these issues are handled by policymakers and academicsPacific_ocean_news. First, there is a confusing ‘spaghetti diagram’ of funding models and mechanisms for attaining climate finance. As I’ve written, those that need it the most often have the least human and financial resources to submit project proposals. One presenter provided an example: a proposal for a $9 million project in one Pacific island country took 6 years and $300,000 to complete. Additionally, some overseas development organisations are using access to climate finance in order to climate-proof their existing aid projects.     

With panels and a keynote session on indigenous voices, the conference provided a platform to share knowledge and provide suggestions for non-indigenous researchers and policymakers. There was a major call to enable indigenous communities to protect traditional land-based and maritime cultural practices. Their rights to environmental self-determination in New Zealand and elsewhere have been eroded in the face of recommendations from external consultants.

Moreover, there are multiple levels of governance regulating adaptation projects but they are not all connected; in one example, local tourism operators in Samoa were not away of national and regional climate adaptation programs that were intended to benefit the tourism industry. Rather than claiming expertise and recolonizing indigenous practices, Western academics and policymakers should be more inclusive by inviting indigenous communities to the table to showcase examples of holistic approaches to ecosystem and economic planning.

New Zealand Parliament, Wellington, New Zealand. Credit: Genevieve Neilson

Criticisms were rife of politicians and businesses who have, in Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s words, “discounted the future in place of the present.” Dealing with climate change requires long-term planning and a transformation of lifestyles. Action is hampered by political cycles and people who think we can simply “trade our way out of climate change.” Christopher Wright from the University of Sydney explained how advanced economies have failed to act because neoliberalism both masks capitalism as the problem and exacerbates it by framing business and markets as the solution. Regulatory intervention and promotion of renewables are options, but highly unlikely on a global scale. Rather, he sees divestment and social mobilisation as the most productive paths for society to disrupt the status quo discourse.

Existing international law is also not sufficient to change norms and handle existing crises. Presenters discussed how history has shown that states are not inclined to follow non-binding rules whether or not they relate to fossil fuels. Even when rules are written, such as those around deep sea mining in the Pacific, they are made in the interests of the extractors rather than indigenous and local communities who have rights to their ocean and land.

More questions than answers were posed on the future statehood and rights of those citizens who lose their islands due to climate change. Kiribati and Tuvalu are in line to face these challenges and will rely on goodwill from other nation-states. How will they retain the connection to their culture and sovereignty if their land disappears? New Zealand’s temporary visa scheme is a step forward, but not a permanent solution.

So while problems of political will that stunted progress in climate change work are still present, they are mitigated by airing them out in the open and enabling discussion of alternative solutions.

There is a great and urgent need for action and research on all fronts (top-down and bottom-up, adaptation and mitigation) in the Pacific. The Conference provided hope that there will be more roles, voices, capacity-building, and legal debates for the Pacific.

Participation from political leaders like Samoa Prime Minister Prime Minister Susuga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, NZ Minister for Climate Change, Hon. James Shaw, NZ Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon. Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio, Papua New Guinea Provincial Governor Hon. Gary Juffa alongside grassroots activists the Pacific Climate Warriors, 5 Gyres, Tina Ngata, and well-known researchers Dr. Michael Mann, Aroha Te Pareake Mead, and others showed the real depth of commitment and knowledge in the region.

The Pacific is at the centre of climate change and many participants called for more research for the region and by local experts and communities. It is needed not just for the Pacific islands, but also to monitor things like sea level rise for the rest of the world. Because, as Prime Minister of Tuvalu says, “save Tuvalu and you will save the world.”


Like a Puffin in Winter: Escape to the Faroe Islands


In my return to the blogosphere in 2018, I am breaking from my traditional posts. This time, I wanted to share more personal story (mainly photos), from my time in a remote archipelago in the Northern Atlantic, far from the Pacific. Tourists to the Faroe Islands are rare in winter, as many places are closed until spring or even summer. But, with time on our hands and travel plans taking us to Europe from Sydney, I decided this would be our moment to experience the unspoiled beauty and history of the Faroe Islands.

Map of the Faroe Islands; credit: Mysid

Some Background

The Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation with autonomous powers and responsibilities within the Kingdom of Denmark. With a population of almost 50,000 people, and about halfway between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands have been touted as “Europe’s best kept secret.” It has always been a tourist destination for bird lovers; for our adventure, we wanted to hike, explore Viking history, and enjoy fresh seafood. Compared to Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, Viking sites are not as prolific or promoted. And more so than tourism, the fisheries sector is critical to the nation’s economy and way of life.

Since the late 19th century, fishing has been the primary source of income for the Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands has strict regulations on its fish farming industry, with the goal of creating the most sustainable production in the world. Overall, fish and fish products represent between 90 and 95 percent of total export value. We ate cod dried and fried, salmon smoked, and miscellaneous fish pâté. We were unable to find and try other local delicacies, including fermented sheep, puffin, and whale.

Day 1 – Vágar, Streymoy & Eysturoy

Travel options into the Faroe Islands are relatively limited; particularly during winter, flights typically arrive and depart when there is the most daylight, between 12-2pm. We flew from Copenhagen; in winter, there are also flights from Iceland and Scotland. For those adventure-seekers with a lot of time, there is a ferry that takes more than a day of travel from Denmark or Iceland. Shopping at the duty free store at the airport is essential, because stores can be few and far between. I recommend stocking up on Föroya Bjór beers, which are brewed locally.



For our first tourist site, we went to perhaps the most famous photo opportunity – Gásadalur – to view the Mulafossur Waterfall and the island of Mykines from afar. Gásadalur has only a handful of houses and a small parking lot for tourists making the walk. Mykines is an uninhabited island reachable by ferry. It is known for being an important puffin colony, but not during the winter.

Originally we tried to pack a lot of adventure into day 1, but winter daylight hours got in the way.


From Gásadalur, we drove across increasingly dark, icy roads to the next island of Eysturoy to visit the Vestmanna Saga Museum. The museum was supposed to be closed for winter, but we arranged with the owner, Gunnar, to have it opened just for us. Arriving late and with no working phone, it was lucky that we found a friendly local originally from Australia who happened to know Gunnar and gave him a call. The Saga Museum was a gruesome experience, not for the faint-hearted or small children. Wax figurines detail important and gruesome historical events in the history of the Faroe Islands, including the country’s conversion to Christianity.

Vestmanna Saga Museum

Next we drove to our accommodation in Leirvik. Without navigation or access to Google maps, we asked for directions at the local petrol/grocery store to our street. While the attendant couldn’t help us, one of the fellow shoppers was kind enough to drive us to the house. Our VisitHomes accommodation came with a 15% coupon for the Bowling Alley – which was the only restaurant open in winter! They served up huge portions of local fried cod and chips. 

Day 2 – Eysturoy

To maximise our daylight, we left Leirvik before the sun came up at 9am. We attempted to drive to Slættaratindur to climb the highest mountain in the Faroe Islands (882 m). From the top there is apparently a fantastic view of all the Faroes, and locals traditionally do this hike every year (in warmer months). Unfortunately, at a key turnoff, the road was iced over, with a sign warning the road isn’t cleared during the winter. Without chains for our tires, we didn’t risk driving up the mountain.

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Next we drove north to the east coast town of Gjogv, which dates to the late 1500s or earlier. Its name translates to “gorge” because there is a 200m gorge that runs through it. There was an old church (like in every town) dated from 1929, and a factory producing prefabricated concrete materials. It looked like the sheep ran the town, with almost no one else outside except for a couple of factory workers. We trekked up the side of a mountain, to enjoy the view, and to the beach. The one cafe in town said it was closed until June, but they did have a public water closet open.


A Note about Driving

To drive in the Faroe Islands, you need to be attentive to the elements: the wind, hail, roads weaving left and right, sheep crossings, giving way in tight, dark tunnels, and distractions from the amazing views. Particularly around Funningsfjørður, where there are mountains in all directions. We used Unicar to rent a Citroen Cactus; for two people and a few days, it was perfect. Tire chains might have been helpful, but they also could have gotten us into unnecessary trouble.




We picked our next location based on the extremely helpful Visit Faroe Islands guides. We hiked for several hours, starting from the grassy land in Hellurnar up to snowy terrain and the top where we could see over to Fuglafjørður. The grassy portion was dominated by sheep (and their droppings). It was challenging at times, as we faced hail, icy rock scrambles, and snow. We encountered only one other couple hiking in the opposite direction, which made it slightly easier to find the path via footsteps in the snow. From the top of the first section, we could see salmon fish farms, common in many towns.



Salmon Farming in the Faroe Islands

The seas surrounding the Faroe Islands are perfect for wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) from northern Europe, with steady cool temperatures, clean water, accessible fjords, and strong currents. The production is in average around 50,000 tons of farmed fish in round weight. In almost every suitable bay you can find farming like in the picture above.The Faroese aquaculture industry accounts for more than half of the country’s total export value, and produces the most salmon relative to the population with 1.5 tonnes per capita. There are 3 main companies producing salmon in the Faroe Islands – Bakkafrost, Marine Harvest, and Hiddenfjord. We enjoyed the local smoked salmon.



Before nightfall, we drove to the southern end of Eysturoy to Runavik to see Lake Toftavatn. We didn’t have enough daylight or energy to go for a walk around the lake, so snapped a quick photo.

Day 3 – Viðoy, Borðoy, Kunoy, Eysturoy, & Streymoy

For our final full day, we started by driving to the northernmost settlement in the Faroe Islands, Vidareidi on the island of Viðoy and watched the sunrise.



According to Visit Faroe Islands, “In the 16th century Viðareiði was home to a fabled priest’s wife, Beinta. This woman is a primary inspiration for the main character in Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen’s novel, Barbara. Because of the vicarage’s historical placement in Viðareiði, the village has been a cultural centre for the north-eastern part of the Northern Isles through centuries.”



Perhaps my favourite juncture was the crossing between Norðdepil on and Hvannasund on Viðoy.



Traveling south from Viðoy, we went to Klaksvík on the island of Borðoy for a hearty sheep stew at Fríða’s. Klaksvík is the second largest town, which has Viking-era remains at Úti í Grøv.


From there, we drove back to Leirvik to see the four buildings of ruins of Toftanes, which date to the early 10th century. The largest building was a 72-foot longhouse shared by animals and humans, once covered by a roof of turf and birch bark. There was also a smaller house, 43 feet by 13 feet, with a single wall of stone, and two smaller buildings. Many of the thousands of artifacts found at Toftanes are displayed at the Historical Museum; some items include: bowls, glass and amber beads, juniper ropes and rare bronze items, including a brooch and a pin.



Just before sunset, we made it into Tórshavn for our final night. Historic sites included the area known as the Tinganes, the site of the oldest parliament in the world (dated 825) and Skansin, a fortress dated from around 1508.  

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The downtown is very walkable, with many boutique shops.

Music in the Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands has one record label, Tutl, founded in 1977 and a thriving music scene (I’m told) mainly in the summer. The G! Music Festival is one of the most popular. At the Tutl record store in Tórshavn, the attendant helped us with recommendations and played some local records over the store speakers. We already knew about the folk metal band Tyr, so were looking for something different. We came across a music video by the band Hamferð, and were excited to find their music in store. You can read more about music in the Faroe Islands here.

Tutl Store in Tórshavn

We were planning to try Barbara’s Fish House for dinner, but it was closed for winter; so, we opted for smorgasbords.


Day 4 – Streymoy & Vágar

For our last activity, we drove out of Tórshavn, south west to Kirkjubøur, one of the Faroe Islands’ most important historic places and the southernmost town on Streymoy. Ruins from the unfinished Magnus Cathedral date from about 1300, and it is the largest medieval building in the Faroe Islands. Saint Olav’s Church is the oldest still used church of the Faroes dating from 12th century. Finally, Kirkjubøargarður, is the oldest still inhabited wooden house in the world from the 11th century.

One of my photos of our stop in Kirkjubøur was featured on the cover of the Bush Telegraph, our local community magazine.

People of the Faroe Islands

While they are not present in my holiday photos, we met very friendly, courteous people across the Faroe Islands. The first person we met in the country happened to be a woman from Australia, and the next person was a Faroese man who had lived in Sydney and brought back an Australian wife. That was a little striking given that almost 90 percent of the population are native Faroese, descendants from the Norse (Scandinavian and Gaelic) that settled the islands in the 9th century AD. Danes compose the largest non-native population at 7%, with less than 3% of the total made up by nationalities of more than 80 countries [Philippines (0.34%) Icelanders (0.33%), Thai (0.23%) Norwegians (0.19%), and so on]. The small number of new immigrants is a point of curiosity as SBS in Australia and the BBC have reported “women wanted in the Faroes.” Many Faroese women left during a recession in the 1990s and youth often leave for university in Denmark; the reports tell of women who immigrated for love and life on the archipelago. The population reached a milestone of 50,000 people in 2017.

Departing the Faroe Islands, we were reminded of the importance of the fishing industry, and salmon in particular. We watched as cases and cases of fresh salmon were loaded onto the SAS Airways flight. There was so much salmon that our flight was delayed!


To close, a legend about the water elf, Nykin, that lived in Lake Toftavatn. The story goes, it rose up from the waters in the form of a young man or a horse that lured young women and children. Those that touched the Nykin were caught and dragged into the water. Experiencing the Faroese landscape and changing, misty weather, you can get drawn in and wonder what lies before you. Trolls, spirits, or just another sheep?

Blue Diplomacy: Interpreting the New Ross Sea Marine Protected Area

Antarctica. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, becoming the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the continent. His visit will bring international attention to the new Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) and showcase the Obama Administration’s commitment to conservation and acting on climate change. But, if Antarctica is already ‘protected’ by the Antarctic Treaty System and Madrid Protocol, why did 24 countries and the European Union need to sign onto the world’s largest new MPA? Taking a deeper dive into the issues surrounding MPAs, the Antarctic Treaty System and contemporary ocean policy leads us to understand that the Ross Sea MPA is a sign of a changing narrative in conservation where ocean health is linked to climate change.

In his book The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans, John Hannigan provides a timely interpretation of the changing discourse of oceans; from a place for ‘frontier’ activities to a place for ‘saving.’ In between, we’ve fought for sovereignty claims and worked on best ways to ‘Govern the Abyss.’ We can see several of these discourse changes in the management of Antarctica specifically.

At the height of the Cold War in 1959, the international community agreed to set aside an entire continent for scientific exploration, banning military activity including nuclear weapons. There are 53 parties to the Antarctic Treaty System, which also halted all new sovereignty claims on the frozen continent. This would prohibit any new bases by emerging countries and maintain existing power structures. In a sign of the discourse around oceans management and conservation, the original Antarctic Treaty System included land and ice shelves but not all of the surrounding waters.

In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty System was updated with the Madrid Protocol, which sought to limit adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment by designating it as a  “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” Importantly, it showcased that resource extraction was important issue at the time and prohibited mining; a later addition to the protocol prevented marine pollution and provided provisions for waste management.

Finalized in Australia in October 2016, the Ross Sea MPA has created the world’s largest marine reserve and will enter into force in 2017. The agreement designates 72 percent of the MPA to be ‘no-take’ and only some sections will allow harvesting of tooth-fish and krill for scientific research for the next 35 years. The Ross Sea is home to almost 40 percent of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30 percent of Antarctic petrels and a huge amount of krill which animals like seals and whales rely on for nutrients (and even humans). The agreement was first introduced by the United States and New Zealand in 2011, and they will also negotiate details of implementation including monitoring and assessment plans. Therefore it will be critical for a positive bilateral working relationship to continue.

The Ross Sea MPA is another example for the changing discourse in oceans management, from working on effectively governing territories to harnessing power from multiple groups (from government leaders to nonprofits to celebrities) in order to save and protect oceans no matter how distant from our everyday lives. According to John Kerry, 2016 has been a “landmark year for ocean stewardship” particularly when the Ross Sea MPA’s 1.57m square kilometers is combined with the nearly 4m square kilometers of newly protected ocean area announced at the Our Ocean Conference in September.

The Ross Sea MPA is not controversial and has several benefits for the U.S. First, for areas that are not threatened but are protected, MPAs brings significant scientific value to have a pristine ocean environment available. Second, it is a political opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to environmental principles and contribute to an administration’s legacy. When there are no threats to powerful political or commercial interests, MPAs are more likely to have bipartisan support. Third, it improves the soft power particularly of the U.S. where climate initiatives or environmental protections in the past have been weak.

The Ross Sea MPA is also important because it may set a precedent for high seas MPAs to be negotiated. According to Hannigan (2016), we are now in a discourse of “Saving the Ocean” whereby the primary actors oppose exploitation of ocean resources in favor of full protection; preferably protection is pursued through “zoning the oceans, specifically the establishment of marine reserves and other marine protected areas” (133). Nonprofit and industry groups, marine scientists and government leaders like Palau President Tommy Remengesau have called for 20 percent of the ocean to be protected.

While I agree with marine protected areas and have written about their importance, expanding upon the square kilometers of protected areas for their own sake or simply demonstrating international harmony is not sufficient for creating what is needed, a behavioral shift among consumers or international supply chains. The momentum must continue through bipartisan and multi-stakeholder efforts with work to educate the public about what they can do in their own communities.

I was fortunate to be able to visit Antarctica in 2005 as part of an educational trip with young students and researchers. Albatrosses and other sea birds soared past our ship as we cut through what seemed an endless bounty of icebergs and sea ice. I saw what most people only see on television – killer whales hunting a seal trying to escape capture on a lone ice flow. Once on land, I scooted among the penguins’ trails and visited Halley Research Station run by Great Britain in the Weddell Sea. A sign that not everyone can or should visit the pristine environment, our icebreaker ship rescued a large tourist cruise ship stuck in the ice. I experienced firsthand the serenity and silence of Antarctica and its inability to advocate for itself.  

Ocean conservation is now a welcome part of the discourse on global climate change, part of what I’d like to call Blue Diplomacy. In a 2014 letter to President Obama, the Marine Conservation Institute said “the unprotected ocean is like a debit account where everybody withdraws and nobody deposits. By contrast, marine reserves are like savings accounts that produce interest we can live off of.” (Hannigan 2016, 128) In the absence of the strongest binding commitments and complimentary to the Paris Climate Accord, the Ross Sea MPA provides a relatively easy ‘win’ for scientists and government leaders alike. It is a signal that despite escalating competition for Asia-Pacific territory resources harkening back frontier days, international actors are awakening to the climate-ocean nexus and the interconnectedness of healthy fish stocks and reefs with a healthy climate.  

Asia-Pacific Profile: Susi Pudjiastuti

Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

Who is she?

Susi Pudjiastuti has been the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries in Indonesia since 2014. She is known for her strong personality and tough stance on illegal fishing. Prior to being appointed as Minister, Ms. Susi had seafood export and charter airline (Susi Air) businesses where she gained notoriety and amassed a fortune, despite being a high school dropout.

Why is she in the news?

On September 19, the World Wildlife Foundation presented Minister Susi with their Leaders for a Living Planet Award, recognizing her as a “champion for the oceans.” Minister Susi was recently in Washington, DC to participate in the Our Ocean Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of State, September 15-16. She announced that Bali, Indonesia will host the conference in 2018.

Minister Susi has shepherded the Jokowi government’s policy of destroying foreign boats illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. According to Minister Susi, at any given time, Indonesia has 15-25,000 illegal fishing vessels in its waters. Since 2014, the government has destroyed more than 220 boats, with some incidents captured and presented online. At the Our Ocean Conference, she described the policy as stemming from Indonesia’s experiences curbing drug smuggling.But it is also a way to tackle corruption in politics and business.

How does her work impact Indonesia in the Asia-Pacific?

Stemming illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a top priority for many governments and organizations, as demonstrated at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference. Additionally, actions are being taken to mitigate ocean acidification and create marine protected areas. Representatives announced commitments of at least 136 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection valued at more than $5.24 billion, and new commitments on the protection of almost four million square kilometers (over 1.5 million square miles) of the ocean.

Illegal fishing is estimated to cost Indonesia $3 billion per year. It is no surprise then that Indonesia supports the Safe Ocean Network and is party to the Port State Measures Agreement. As a global initiative seeking to “combating all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing, including detection, enforcement, and prosecution,” the Safe Ocean Network ‎includes 46 governments and organizations and more than 40 projects worth over $82 million over 5 years. The Safe Ocean Network aims to “strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) efforts through the integration of existing and emerging technologies, expanded use of internet-based tools, enhanced coordination and information sharing, and capacity building.”

What is her impact on U.S.-Indonesia relations?

At the 2016 Our Ocean Conference and at other venues in September, the United States announced new measures to protect the ocean, stem pollution and support sustainable fisheries.To inform its policymaking, the U.S. government intelligence community produced its “first ever unclassified assessment on the drivers and global implications of IUU fishing.” The U.S. is influenced by its allies in the Asia-Pacific who face threats from IUU fishing which impact their economy, security and society.

In particular for Indonesia, among other commitments, the U.S. is providing Port State Measures Agreement implementation training for officials and managers and will aid with curriculum development and training for officials in the country’s major ports.

Why Marine Protected Areas Matter

Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve, Oregon, U.S. source: Flikr

On August 26, 2016, the Obama Administration announced the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument northwest of Hawaii from 360,000 to 1.5 million sq km. It is the largest no-take marine protected area (MPA) and the largest protected area in the world, land or sea. Coming at the end of the administration, the executive order demonstrates President Obama’s desire to have conservation as part of his legacy. More importantly, it is a reminder to the American public that its government must take measured steps to protect against the changing climate and support sustainable fisheries.

MPAs are not new, and are an important tool in government policy for conservation and fisheries management. In the U.S., they include a variety of environments, including open ocean, intertidal zones, estuaries, coastal areas and the Great Lakes. Many U.S. MPAs are mixed use, but some are no-take, which prohibit commercial and recreational extraction to enable ultimate protection for marine ecosystems. MPAs protect all types of habitats, plants and animals within U.S. waters, and even includes protection of shipwrecks or other cultural resources.

The purpose, management and legal authorities of MPAs also varies in the U.S. In 2000, President George Bush issued Executive Order 13158 which supported a comprehensive system of MPAs and established the MPA Center; yet it did not contain a mandate to override federal or state regulations or procedures. President Bush also originally designated the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006, and as well as the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments in January 2009. Overall, in the U.S., the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce oversees a majority (97%) of MPAs.


The National Marine Protected Areas Center maintains a Classification System which functionally describes MPAs using five characteristics common to MPAs: conservation focus, level of protection, permanence of protection, constancy of protection and scale of protection. These areas of classification dictate the purpose of establishing an MPA, “what it is intended to protect, how it achieves that protection, and how it may affect local ecosystems and local human uses.”

According to NOAA, the U.S. has more than 1200 MPAs which cover 26% (3.2 million sq km) of U.S. waters. No-take MPAs cover about half of that area, or 13% (1.5 million sq km). In comparison, about 14% of land in the U.S. is protected, and U.S. waters are 1.4 times greater than the country’s land area (12 million sq km).

There are no federal mandates to set aside a specific percentage of the U.S. marine environment for protection, but some proponents of conservation believe there should be targets. In a recent statement, President Obama acknowledged that Pacific islands are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change with rising sea levels and rising temperatures. At the IUCN World Congress, Palau President Remengesau announced his desire for 30 percent of global waters to be protected (currently only 2 percent is protected). In Palau, 80 percent of its maritime territory has been designated a sanctuary to stem the effects of overfishing. With the State Department-led Our Ocean conference upcoming, this issue of global expansion of marine protection should stay on the agenda.

In part because they can be designated or classified in different ways (i.e. some areas can be more protected than others), MPAs are not controversial and receive bipartisan support. Importantly, they also require minimal effort from the American public; they do not require modification of the majority’s everyday lifestyles, but their complicity shows in a way that Americans care for the environment.

Marine protected areas will experience the same impacts from climate change as the wider ocean and coastal areas; but the intention is to create a pristine and protected laboratory to learn from these changes as well as to regenerate marine populations decimated by overfishing, IUU fishing, and bycatch. Protection from commercial and in some cases recreational fishing creates a space where coral and fish alike can take refuge. Ocean acidification continues to threaten species, especially coral reefs, and MPAs are intended to support ocean resilience. Scientists plan to monitor the fragile environment, and hope that by expanding the monument, it will also help nearby ecosystems to adapt.

Pacific Small Island States Unify for Climate Finance

While much of the world is still thinking about Brexit and its implications for their economy, Pacific island nations are racing against the rising waters as well as funding opportunities for climate resilience. As I’ve written previously, small island states must learn from each other in order to benefit from the complex world of climate finance. Leaders from the Pacific Islands Forum Smaller Islands States (SIS) [which includes Cook Islands, Kiribati, ‎Nauru, ‎Niue, ‎Palau, the Republic of the ‎Marshall Islands, and ‎Tuvalu] are heeding that call, having solidified avenues for closer cooperation as part of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. While all the areas of collaboration are what one would expect in the Pacific, the coordination on climate change is the most important and essential. By working toward creating a joint proposal to organizations like the Green Climate Fund, SIS will be able to leverage internal expertise and build a robust platform for future climate financing applications.  

At a Special Meeting of the SIS on June 24, 2016 in Palau, leaders agreed to the SIS Regional Strategy to enable greater attention to unique vulnerabilities of the SIS. Host Palau President Tommy Remengesau has been one of the greatest advocates for SIS and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in international fora. The new framework that SIS will operate under will complement existing policy advocacy with the technical component of climate finance. Additionally, the Pacific Islands Forum’s March 2016 accreditation to the Green Climate Fund as an observer presents an opportunity for internal knowledge creation.

Individual states have learned from the climate finance process as well and will be able to build off their experiences and share best practices. For example, Tuvalu was recently granted $36 million for its Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project; but it took more than one round of applications to succeed, because the country filed its technical specifications incorrectly. With the support of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) and the UN Development Programme, they were able to highlight the country’s vulnerability and correct technical aspects, creating a winning the application.

For the SIS group, the Cook Islands has also had an important success with the Green Climate Fund. In March 2016, the Cook Islands was the first Pacific country to receive readiness grant to help strengthen its National Designated Authority in order to work with the Green Climate Fund. The Cook Islands can use its experiences to inform SIS neighbors and others at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Finally, this move by Pacific states to work together on climate finance is important because governments have been urged to accelerate funding applications for the Green Climate Fund. This call is a signal that other countries have had difficulties with their applications outside of the Pacific and can benefit from shared best practices. It acknowledges the lack of a level playing field for smaller states that are constrained by physical and human capital.

Spending by Country


With or without the benefit of large internationally-funded projects, Pacific states will continue to find ways to adapt to the changing climate and the threats being posed to their livelihoods. But it is in their best interest to continue to seek international funding, when everyone else is doing it. The amount of approved project spending in East Asia and the Pacific shows Indonesia, China and the Philippines have been the largest recipients of climate financing. Importantly for smaller countries, regional mechanisms do exist such as through the SPREP. Yet it will be the job of individual leaders to form not only greater unity around policy advocacy for climate change but also to ensure the relevant departments collaborate effectively on the bureaucratic and technical aspects of the finance application process.

Asia-Pacific Profile: Myint Swe


Photo credit: Taro Taylor; Creative Commons


Who is Myint Swe?

Born June 24, 1961, Myint Swe is a retired general and one of two newly-inaugurated Vice Presidents of Myanmar. His resume includes posts as the head of the military security department in the previous government (intelligence body) and more recently the chief minister of the Yangon region. In 2012, he was nominated to replace a Vice President who was against reforms, but was never confirmed for reasons that are disputed .

Why is he a newsmaker?

On March 30, Myanmar’s new civilian president, Htin Kyaw was sworn in along with his two Vice Presidents and 18 Cabinet Ministers, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Myint is in the news particularly because he is also a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. He took part in the crackdown of student protests last year and Buddhist monks in 2007. After his nomination was announced this month, social media websites became sites of significant criticism, citing the military’s continued influence over the country.

Because he has a son-in-law with Australian citizenship, there were questions originally surrounding his eligibility for the role. The constitution, written by the military, bans top government officials who have foreign relatives.

How does Myint Swe’s position impact Myanmar’s new government?

The military is still heavily entrenched in Myanmar’s political and economic systems. While the Parliament is dominated by Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the military has a right to nominate a Vice President. The military maintains sufficient veto power as it is also guaranteed three ministries (Border Affairs, Home and Defense) and control a quarter of parliamentary seats.

New President Htin Kyaw, hand-picked by Suu Kyi, will lead Myanmar’s first civilian government after 54 years of military rule. Suu Kyi will meanwhile take on important portfolios in the ministries of education, foreign affairs, electric power and energy and the president’s office. Land confiscation, national reconciliation and a transition to a more open economy are just a few issues that the new government aims to tackle. The public has welcomed new government with open arms, and has high hopes for its civilian leadership. Leaders affiliated with the previous regime will have to adapt if the country is to move forward economically and politically.

How does Myint Swe impact US policy toward Myanmar?

The U.S. Government has welcomed reforms to Myanmar’s political and economic systems. Yet as a feature of the old regime, Myint Swe remains on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist that prevents U.S. companies from doing business with certain businessmen and senior military figures. The military’s grip on power also still enables its control over release of political prisoners, a critical issue for relations with the U.S. to improve. At this stage, the U.S. State Department has not appeared to indicate whether Myint Swe’s role in the government would affect diplomatic relations.