Climate change poses the greatest direct threat to human security and development in Pacific Island countries, according to Fijian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Solo Mara.
Speaking to the Pacific Islands Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Tuesday night, Mr. Mara elaborated on the contested concept of security and how climate change has now become the top security priority in the region. Recognizing the recent shift to the Pacific by major powers, Mr. Mara insisted that partnerships toward development must be based on mutual understanding of the human security needs of Pacific Island countries (PICs).
"Climate change threatens human security in the Pacific now-- not in the next few decades, or ten years, but now," Mr. Mara said.
The reality of those words echoed in reports Tuesday of another Fijian village, Kadavu, being forced to relocate in response to rising sea levels and increased flooding.
"Society and livelihoods are under threat, a threat that is so large and seemingly interminable that it is proving extremely difficult to manage," Mr. Mara said.
Speaking briefly of managing traditional security concerns like violent conflict, civil unrest, and political instability, Mr. Mara called ongoing power struggles in the region a process of "21st century nation building." Yet the focus of his remarks centered on non-traditional threats to the region, including climate change, illegal fishing, and the spread of HIV and non-communicable diseases.
Varying levels of concern over these non-traditional issues have presented challenges to partnerships between PICs and neighboring metropolitan powers, according to Mr. Mara. This has led to increased cooperation with emerging regional players like China, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
While some nations have "warned" Fiji over China's intentions in the region, those concerns have thus far gone unfounded.
"After three decades of interacting with the Chinese leadership, marked by high level visits to China by Pacific Island leaders, Pacific Island countries have come to recognize in China a valuable and sincere development partner," Mr. Mara said.
Mr. Mara also welcomed the "Asia Pivot" policy of the United States, specifically noting then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in Rarotonga last year.
However, he stressed that while Fiji must accept the interests of its donors and superpowers, they must also respect the shifting concept of security in Fiji's development.
For its part, Fiji has pledged further investment and partnership in improving education and health-- as well as much stricter fiscal accountability within government-- to provide the necessary human capital to mitigate the impacts of non-traditional threats to its human security. Taking a step in that direction on Tuesday, Fijian officials and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched new projects in Suva aimed at building community capacity and resilience to the impacts of climate change.