The Heads of Government of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) on Friday, August 25, 2023, publicly released the Leaders Communique, an historic statement on the MSG’s collective resolve to address the climate crisis which is said to be undermining human rights, destroying ecosystems and upending economic and social development across the Melanesian islands.
The MSG is a Pacific island sub regional block comprised of Vanuatu, Fiji, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, which convened for the 22nd MSG Leaders’ Summit on August 24, 2023, in Port Vila, Republic of Vanuatu.
A key highlight of the MSG Communique is the decisive focus on phasing out fossil fuels while at the same time holding global polluters accountable for the harm caused through failure to act on climate change. Leaders formally endorsed the “Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific”, which calls for a suite of ambitious actions from Pacific governments who are spearheading the global phase-out of coal, oil and gas production aligned with the 1.5ºC temperature goal.
MSG Leaders urge all Pacific leaders to endorse the Port Vila Call to Action at the forthcoming 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. Momentum towards this goal was further charged by the formal support of Papua New Guinea, a key fossil fuel producer. Melanesian nations demand substantially increased finance and other means of implementation to ensure they can lead a just and equitable transition to 100% renewable-energy-based economies and reduce their reliance on oil and gas revenue for economic development.
Observers believe that this level of science-backed climate ambition demonstrated by the Melanesian Spearhead Group is expected of all nations, including rich developed countries, when they gather at the UN Climate Conference COP28 at the end of the year to consider their commitment to phase out fossil fuels.
This major statement from a bloc of Pacific nations comes just days after Australian Climate Minister, Chris Bowen, met with Pacific Climate Ministers in Suva to lobby for the region’s support for Australia to host COP31, despite Australia’s ongoing approvals of new coal and gas projects.
The Communique’s endorsement of the Port Vila Call includes support for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and the creation of a global alliance to draft the new international climate regime which will govern the end to fossil fuel expansion, equitable phase out of fossil fuels, and a global just transition.
Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s Climate Change Minister, said: “The MSG Communique, by acknowledging a climate emergency, and endorsing the Port Vila Call represents the collective ambition of our region to ensure the aspirations of the Paris Agreement remain alive. Growing support for a Fossil Fuel Treaty and other initiatives we have outlined in today’s decision, reflects the scale of our ambition to address the climate crisis at its source, to create the pathways to urgently phase out Fossil Fuels and initiate a Just and Equitable Transition for a sustainable Blue Pacific. As leaders, it is our responsibility to leave no stone unturned in ensuring the continued survival and prosperity of our peoples and cultures.”
The Communique also acknowledges the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a pivotal platform for clarifying the legal responsibilities of states in the face of climate change, and an agreement that the MSG Member States will work together to produce a submission to the Court in order to advance the use of international law to motivate meaningful climate action and realize climate justice.
In addition to cooperation on the joint submission, the MSG Leaders have agreed to prepare progressive national submissions which will explore the existing legal obligations under a range of treaties, conventions and customary international law related to climate change and their potential consequences, including avenues for reparations. Vanuatu led the world to an historic UN General Assembly Resolution in March 0f 2023, requesting the ICJ to weigh in on this issue, and States and intergovernmental organizations like the MSG are now preparing their written submissions which are due in January 2024.
By utilising the ICJ as a platform to scrutinise the legal facets of climate change, the MSG Leaders aim to spark a worldwide discourse concerning state accountability for climate actions that are, in essence, illegal under international laws. This pioneering endeavor underscores the MSG’s resolute commitment to an equitable and sustainable future for the Melanesian region and the global community.
Vanuatu’s Attorney General, Arnold Keil Loughman, reflected: “International law is broad and comprehensive, and the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement is certainly not the only treaty which contains obligations of States to prevent climate harm and protect human rights. In our view, climate action is not a mere matter of state discretion; it is an exacting requirement under international law that comes with enforceable consequences.”
The MSG Communique aligns closely with civil society’s calls for more climate action from governments.
Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio, Pacific Director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said: “The Pacific has been unambiguous about this for decades now: Climate Change is the single greatest threat to the security and prosperity of our region. Today’s decision from Melanesian leaders shows just how seriously they are taking this threat. The 1.5 threshold is a non-negotiable for us, which is why the scale of the challenge before us can only be met with the commensurate level of ambition to overcome it.
“Far from the empty rhetoric of some of our larger neighbours, today’s decision shows yet again that Pacific leaders and communities are serious about committing to the tangible pathways set out in the Port Vila Call, ensuring a managed phaseout of fossil fuels and a Just & Equitable Transition for all our Pacific peoples.”
Beyond the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the climate solutions announced on Friday have been endorsed at four successive regional meetings of Ministers and Heads of Government in just six months, showing just how seriously Pacific Governments are taking the phaseout of fossil fuels and the 1.5 Paris goal.
The Port Vila Call as endorsed by the MSG Communique will soon be tabled by Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Niue at next month’s High-Level Environment Ministerial meeting in Apia, Samoa in the lead-up to the UN General Assembly in New York in September, and the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in the Cook Islands this November.
Over the coming months, the MSG Secretariat will work with member countries to push forward on the implementation of this agreement on the domestic front, as well as ensure that the bloc remains a powerful voice and global leader in addressing international action on the climate emergency for present and future generations.