On 19 July 2021, France and the Pacific came together for the 5th France-Oceania Summit. Convened virtually due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and co-chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron and the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Kausea Natano (in his quality as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum), the Summit focused on issues of sustainable use and management of the ocean, climate change and biodiversity, Covid-19 response and recovery, enhancing connectivity, strengthening infrastructure and building resilience.
One might be forgiven for asking why this meeting is important or what value yet another conference adds in the already crowded international agenda?
The answer is, however, clear: the France-Oceania Summit is a unique event in that it convenes leaders from all Pacific Island Countries, alongside those of Australia, New Zealand and French Pacific Territories, together with the President of France. It is the only regular high-level meeting between the last EU Member State with a presence in the Pacific and the countries of the “Blue Pacific” continent.
Its value is in its capacity to foster substantive dialogue on issues of major import, not only for the Pacific region but globally. It is important as a platform for building common positions and joint leadership in the build-up to key events such as the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP 15 and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 26, or in the past in the lead-up to and at COP 21, during which the Paris Agreement was adopted.
This summit was also an opportunity for the participants to reaffirm their commitment to regional solidarity, cooperation and multilateralism to overcome the multifaceted development, security and other challenges faced by the Pacific region.
The importance of this commitment cannot be overstated, in the current global and regional context where the very foundations of multilateralism have been challenged, where Pacific regionalism has been shaken, and where collective action is more than ever needed to halt ocean degradation, stem the tide of biodiversity loss, ensure sustainable use and manage natural resources, keep any increase in global warming to under 1.5°C, facilitate equitable access to vaccines, foster a Paris Agreement-compatible Covid-19 rebuild and strengthen resilience and regional security (to name but a few).
Against this background, President Macron’s clear affirmation that France stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the Pacific in jointly facing crucial security and development challenges, alongside the announcements (from France, New Zealand and others) of additional support to help strengthen maritime surveillance, increase funding for climate action, nature-based solutions and regional cooperation, align with calls from the region’s leaders for genuine partnerships and greater coordination between development partners.
The France-Oceania Summit is therefore not just another meeting. It is an illustration of multilateralism at work and an excellent example of positive partnerships to help address regional (and global) challenges and amplify the Pacific’s voice on key international issues.