Address for UK's Inaugural Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme

Address for the Inauguration of the UK’s Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme: Pacific Regional Workshop, 22 November 2016.

Melanie Hopkins

Attorney General, Members of the Diplomatic corps, representatives from 12 Commonwealth countries, members of regional organisations and civil society.

It is a great pleasure to host the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme. I am delighted that the first consultation in this multi-regional programme is taking place here in the Pacific. For the UK, there is no better place to understand the interconnectivity of our changing climate and our oceans than here in the large ocean states of the Pacific.

In my short time here, I have been made acutely aware of the close relationship between Pacific people, their cultures, and the Marine Environment. This understanding must now translate to further actions and policies to help ensure the marine economy can develop sustainably. As an Island nation, the United Kingdom is acutely aware of the challenges. We also believe that the Commonwealth’s network of Island nations offers us all a unique platform for fostering greater connectivity on these issues.

Fiji’s co-hosting of the 2017 UN Oceans conference means that holding this workshop in Fiji offers us all a relevant context for this dialogue. I must also congratulate Fiji as the upcoming chair of COP23. This recent announcement is further confirmation of Fiji’s ongoing leadership on both climate change and sustainable ocean management.

Prime Minister Bainimarama highlighted this context well at COP22 when he stated that ‘For a maritime nation like Fiji, confronting the threat to the health of our seas is just as important as confronting the threat of {climate change}. The Prime Minister alluded to the importance of action now to protect oceans for the sake of generations to come. A mission that many of you gathered here today have committed long term efforts.

The UK’s commitment to addressing the interplay between oceans, climate change, and economic growth is at the centre of the CME programme’s work here in the Pacific as well as with our partners in the Indian and Caribbean oceans.

At the ‘Our Oceans’ conference in Washington this year, the UK officiated the Pitcairn marine reserve, one of the world’s largest reserves. The UK also joins this conversation today, not only as an external partner but as a fellow custodian of the Pacific ocean.

In recent years, many of your governments have called for a greater involvement of the UK in the Pacific. This call was heeded by the British government at the Summit of Commonwealth Leaders in November last year. The aim of this programme is to open up UK expertise to Commonwealth SIDS. I am delighted to be joined today by the UK Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the National Oceanography centre and the world’s oldest Marine Charting Authority – the UK Hydrographic Office. This world-class expertise gives us the opportunity to enhance the fundamental data needed to better balance and direct maritime policy and economic growth.

Finally, I want to emphasise that for the UK, this workshop should be a genuine consultation. This means it must be driven by you and you need to advise clearly on what you do and do not need within the scope of the Programme. I hope your discussions help to shape a clear set of next steps around the priority areas. On this note, I want to publicly recognise the work done in related areas by the Pacific Island Forum, the Commonwealth Secretariat, SPREP, SPC, GIZ, the governments of Australia and New Zealand, as well as civil society and universities – fantastic that we are joined by representatives from all of those today so that we can move forward in partnership. I also want to acknowledge the strong role played by EU member states on climate change, including through the work of the EU delegation in the Pacific.

I wish all participants the best of luck over the coming days and thank all of the representatives from the UK technical agencies that have travelled from one island, to another to facilitate this workshop.

Published 22 November 2016