Pacific Security Snapshot | 30 March 2023

A reef off French Polynesia. Photo: Jean-Michel Mille / AFP

A reef off French Polynesia. Photo: Jean-Michel Mille / AFP

The security stories shaping the region

  • ‘Final warning’: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases synthesis report
  • Vanuatu successful in UN vote for ICJ opinion on climate change
  • Pacific Ministers call for fossil fuel-free Pacific
  • Pacific leaders respond to AUKUS announcement
  • United States National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator visits the region
  • Invasive species in the Pacific Ocean are increasing

Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a final synthesis report on 20 March. The report reiterated the need for “deep, rapid and sustained” cuts to emissions to limit warming to below 1.5C this decade. Tuvalu Minister for Climate Change Seve Paeniu said the report confirms what Pacific nations have been calling for, stating “this is the reality we are facing.”

Vanuatu has been successful in its four-year-long campaign for the International Court of Justice to deliver an opinion on climate change and the legal consequences countries face for harming the environment. Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau described the decision as a “massive win for countries feeling the effects of natural disaster, after natural disaster.”

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau speaks prior to a vote on a resolution aimed at fighting global warming at the UN General Assembly on 29 March 2023. Photo: Ed Jones / AFP

Additionally, the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific has beenendorsed by six Pacific Island countries. Ministers and officials from Tonga, Fiji, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the Republic of Vanuatu met to discuss the region’s need to transition from fossil fuel to 100 per cent renewable energy. Signatories referenced the recent cyclones in Vanuatu as evidence of the impacts of fossil fuel-driven climate change and advocated for a global Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The call has been supported by Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretary General Henry Puna, who assured PIF secretariat assistance to pursue a fossil fuel free Pacific.

Vanuatu continues to face food insecurity after the twin cyclone event earlier this month. Over three thousand people across the nation have lost their homes and continue to rely on evacuation centers. Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC) has reported the distribution of dry rations is being impacted by limited local supplies. Most households are only receiving rice, however FSAC has noted that a ‘second push’ will distribute canned meat and biscuits. The distribution of supplies is estimated to cost VT1.5 billion (A$19 million). Vanuatu’s minister of Climate Change Ralph Regenvanu has said “there’s going to be a lot of hardship: as people wait for rations and crop recovery.”

Fiji and Aotearoa New Zealand have agreed to a NZ$30 million financial assistance package through the bilateral Duavata Partnership. NZ$10 million of this package will go towards Fiji’s social and economic development priorities, while NZ$20 million will be dedicated to Fiji developing its climate resilience. The deal was made during the first official visit by Aotearoa New Zealand Foreign Miniser Nanaia Mahuta since Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka’s coalition government was elected in December 2022.


Pacific leaders are responding to the AUKUS announcement made earlier this month.

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataʻafa visited Canberra last week and underscored the importance of consultation with the Pacific region on matters concerning them. Fiame said she “understands” Australia’s motivations behind the AUKUS agreement.

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka welcomed the agreement in a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Nadi.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare discussed the importance of ongoing dialogue and nuclear peace in the Pacific in his meeting with the Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands. Tuvalu Foreign Minister Simon Kofe also commented on militarisation and nuclear power in the Pacific. Cook Islands Prime Minister and PIF Chair Mark Brown spoke to Cook Islands News about AUKUS going against the 1985 Rarotonga Treaty and escalating tension in the region. Prime Minister Brown said, “The name Pacific means peace, so to have this increase of naval nuclear vessels coming through the region is in direct contrast with that.”

Dame Meg Taylor, Former Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretary General and Pacific Ocean Commissioner, shared concerns in an interview with RNZ Pacific. Dame Taylor recalled that Pacific leaders have not been consulted on multiple recent developments in the Pacific. She referenced the development of the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Partners in the Blue Pacific Initiative between the AUKUS partners and the AUKUS agreement. Speaking about Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines through the agreement, Dame Taylor said, “if you’ve got nuclear submarines, what are you carrying? A lot of people in the Pacific would ask that question.” Dame Taylor stated that the agreement is “definitely militarisation” driven by geopolitical interests. Her biggest concern was that the Pacific would become “dispensable in all this”, and called for greater inclusion of Pacific leaders in future discussions.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has explained the submarines Australia proposes to acquire are nuclear-powered, not nuclear-armed. Wong also reiterated that AUKUS will not undermine Australia’s stance against nuclear weapons, and is intended to ensure strategic equilibrium. “We have said to our friends, partners and neighbours, our intent and motivation in acquiring this capability is to help keep the peace,” Wong said.

Separately, the United States (US) National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell made a week-long trip to the Pacific. Campbell visited Aotearoa New Zealand, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. At a press conference in Wellington, Campbell acknowledged that the US will “have to overcome in certain areas some amounts of distrust and uncertainty about follow through” in the Pacific region. While in Vanuatu, the US delegation announced plans to fast-track the re-establishment of an embassy in Port Vila.

US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell speaks alongside Michael Day, US Coast Guard, in Honiara on 21 March 2023. Photo: Mavis Podokolo / AFP

Enviroment and Resources

Invasive species pose a threat to ecological and economic security in the Pacific, according to Aotearoa New Zealand-based organisation Blue Cradle. The organisation’s founder Jamies Nikitine told RNZ Pacific that the movement of molluscs, worms and algae from one ecosystem to another via large ships is increasing, due to the prevalence of container ships and climate change impacts in the Pacific Ocean. Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) reports have found that invasive species are the lead cause of extinction of endemic Pacific species, and have the potential to impact the entire local ecology. However, Nikitine emphasized that invasive species also present commercial opportunities, stating, “our strategy in the South Pacific will need to somehow potentially integrate some of those economic opportunities.”

A reef off French Polynesia. Photo: Jean-Michel Mille / AFP

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