The White House hosted the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit on Monday, during which President Joe Biden renewed the United States’ commitment to a partnership with the Pacific Islands.
Biden announced plans to provide almost $200 million in funding for new activities and programs in the Pacific Islands, a press release from the White House said. The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent will inform the programs’ priorities and activities.
“At the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit meeting at the White House on September 25, President Biden renewed our commitment to enhancing our partnership with the Pacific Islands, and the respective governments, to achieve our shared vision for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, where individuals can reach their potential, the environment can thrive, and democracy can flourish,” the press release said.
The White House also announced that the U.S. recognizes the independence of the Cook Islands and Niue, as well as the intention to establish a relationship with both nations.
“This momentous occasion celebrates our shared history, common values, and people-to-people ties. We also affirmed our shared values of promoting democracy, combating climate change, and supporting a free and open region that benefits people in the Pacific,” the White House said.
In furtherance of the U.S. goal of increasing its diplomacy and development in the region, U.S. embassies have been opened in Tonga and the Solomon Islands, with a plan to open one in Vanuatu next year. U.S. interest in opening an embassy in Kiribati is also being discussed.
A Fiji USAID regional Pacific Mission has been opened, as well as a Country Representative Office in Papua New Guinea. USAID has plans to hire additional Pacific Islanders as it doubles its staff.
“The United States believes it is important to be guided by Pacific priorities and needs, and values a strong, unified, and resilient Pacific Islands Forum. To that end, the United States intends to provide $500,000, subject to Congressional notification, to strengthen the Pacific Islands Forum’s institutional capacity and increase U.S.-PIF cooperation,” the White House said.
The climate crisis continues to be of immediate concern to island nations due to their vulnerability to extreme weather and sea-level rise. Pacific Islands Forum Leaders declared five years ago that climate change is the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security, and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific,” according to the press release.
The White House said it will keep partnering with the Pacific Islands to strengthen the worldwide ambition to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, speed up the transition to clean energy and assist the Pacific Islands in adapting to and managing climate change impacts.
“[T]he United States considers that sea-level rise driven by human-induced climate change should not cause any country to lose its statehood or its membership in the United Nations, its specialized agencies, or other international organizations. The United States is committed to working with those States and others on issues relating to human-induced sea-level rise and statehood to advance these objectives,” the White House said.
The U.S. intends to give Pacific Islands nations $8 million for the expansion of the Information Services for Resilience Initiative, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will keep investing in climate and weather observations and provide essential communications services. They will also develop products and decision-support tools for all communities in the Pacific Islands to have effective early warnings access.
“We plan to build strong expert networks throughout the Pacific for integrating climate data and risk into island-led sustainable development, including through efforts being pioneered through the Local2030 Islands Network, which includes Pacific Island countries as well as Hawai’i, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Additionally, the Department of State continues to advance climate-based early warning for dengue fever and plans to convene a major pan-Pacific meeting on climate-health in 2024,” the White House said.
USAID also intends to help Pacific national governments and regional organizations access the climate finance necessary to support efforts to adapt to climate change, as well as to support grants for local communities to address their climate issues.
Additionally, $12.2 million will be provided by USAID to reinforce national, regional and local disaster preparedness, as well as for the promotion of self-reliance throughout the region.
A $1.5 million initiative to support implementation of the Pacific Community’s Pacific Energy and Gender Strategic Action Plan will seek “to promote women’s climate and clean energy leadership and economic security by increasing career and income generating opportunities for women and girls in 22 Pacific Island Countries and Territories through pilot projects to promote women-owned businesses in the sale, distribution, and maintenance of renewable energy systems, and scholarships for women and girls to pursue studies in relevant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields,” the press release said.
A $50 million Microfinance Facility will be launched to provide expanded financial access for micro, small and medium Pacific Islands businesses. An emphasis will be placed on climate resilience, women-owned businesses and enterprises that are adaptation-focused.
Sixty million dollars will also be provided for the promotion of economic development and support of sustainable fisheries and fisheries development and management.
The U.S. Pacific Islands Infrastructure Initiative will provide funding to support sustainable, resilient and secure infrastructure.
Under the umbrella of the Pacific Islands Infrastructure Initiative, the U.S. also intends to provide as much as $10 million for development and infrastructure projects, including preparation for healthcare, transportation, clean energy and digital projects.
An additional $8 million will be provided by USAID for an initiative to increase economic competition and diversify trade.
“The initiative engages public and private partners to make the business environment and economic system more efficient, transparent, and resilient, while also providing transaction advisory services to make private sector infrastructure investments more competitive. Support also includes working with financial institutions to increase access to U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and other multilateral or bilateral financing facilities, direct financing products, and loan portfolio guarantees to increase fair, competitive, and transparent small- and medium-sized enterprise lending,” the White House press release said.
Development of climate-resilient infrastructure and donor coordination will be bolstered by $1.25 million in renewed funding for the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility.
“The United States is committed to ensuring an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, prosperous, and secure. We’re committed to working with all the nations around this table to achieve that goal,” Biden said at the summit welcoming ceremony, as Reuters reported.
A joint statement by the Pacific Islands and the U.S. said their next summit will be in 2025, followed by political engagements every other year.