Media capers in the land of the free

By Dev Nadkarni

New Zealand has retained its place in the top ten nations that enjoy the freest media according to the World Press Freedom Index released last month. Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has been compiling the index since 2002. New Zealand is placed several notches above Australia and far ahead of any other South Pacific island nation.

That reputation was put to the test last month, just ahead of the publication of the ratings result with two unrelated events. One made instant world headlines and nearly caused a diplomatic imbroglio while the other raised hackles of media people and assorted libertarians about a government body’s potential high-handed interference in the media.

Television New Zealand’s (TVNZ) morning programme host TVNZ resigned after being stood down for what was widely perceived as racial and derogatory remarks about Sir Anand Satyanand, the country’s Governor General of Fijian Indian heritage and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit – and Indians in general.

During the Monday morning interview with Prime Minister John Key, host Paul Henry, asked Prime Minister John Key if the next Governor General would look and sound like a New Zealander questioning him whether Sir Anand was indeed a New Zealander.

Sir Anand was born and raised in Auckland and rose to be a well-respected legal luminary in New Zealand. Those comments snowballed into a huge crisis for TVNZ with Key also copping flak for his lack of a strong response to the offensive comments.

Just days before, in the much criticised, chaotic run up to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Henry had been making a series of derogatory remarks about India, which culminated into his deliberate mispronunciation of the family name of the Delhi Chief Minister Dikshit by splitting its syllables to sound offensive – despite being corrected by his onscreen colleagues – and then finally by rounding it off with the comment “It’s so appropriate – because she is Indian.”

The Governor General remark and the derogatory reference to the Delhi Chief Minister and Indians proved a double whammy for TVNZ, which has been for long been accused of instigating its anchors – particularly Henry – to be controversial and keep stirring the pot in a bid to boost viewership ratings.

The Prime Minister, who later confessed to having been taken aback with a comment like that, also said that it was not just the anchor who was to be blamed but his bosses too who often put pressure to deliver more eyeballs for attracting advertising.

As the controversy broke out, Sir Anand happened to be in India for the Games and it was reported that some Indian dignitaries stayed away from an official reception accorded to him as a token of protest. The Indian government then issued a demarche and summoned New Zealand’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Rupert Holborow, who promptly apologised – something that was criticised in the New Zealand media.

Some commentators also accused India of making a mountain out of a molehill by raising a TV presenter’s comments to the level of a possible diplomatic standoff and there was speculation if the High Commissioner had sought clearance from Wellington before delivering the apology.

Henry’s resignation has been seen by some commentators and libertarians – backed by results of unscientifically conducted polls posted on online media – as an assault on the freedom of expression and bowing too much to political correctness.

This is fallacious. With people of multiple ethnicities toting up half a million, New Zealand is no longer the bi-ethnic milieu that it has always been. Advertisers and marketers have correctly acknowledged the reality of this rapidly changing demographic when at least two major advertisers said that they would consider pulling advertising from TVNZ if racially loaded comments were aired.

That may well have been a factor in turning the screws on Henry to resign.

It is not for nothing that advertisers everywhere are increasingly featuring Kiwis of all ethnicities in their promotional communications. Countries like Singapore have honed the idea of projecting and celebrating multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism to a fine art in their advertising and tourist offerings with amazing results.

A few years ago I was at a tourism seminar in Fiji where international branding experts advised Tourism Fiji to project its inherent multicultural and multi-ethnic composition better in its tourist literature. Back then it tended to project only ethnic Fijians on its visual advertising and surveys showed tourists were actually surprised to find people of so many different ethnicities when they landed there. That suggestion seems to have been taken on board, going by its visual communication today.

‘Draconian’ law

The other instance that did not make world headlines but did create a stir in the local media in New Zealand was the one involving investigation into the collapse of one of the country’s biggest, oldest and trusted finance companies, South Canterbury Finance. The company was put into receivership a couple of months ago and the government guaranteed to pay back some NZ$ 1.3 billion to investors in a scheme devised before the company unravelled.

A reporter of the country’s leading business weekly, the National Business Review (NBR), stumbled on to a murky trail of related party dealings in the failed company where the ownership of a top, up-market hotel in downtown Auckland was for a period of time according to the Companies Office records shown in the name of a meat worker who happened to be a relative of the company’s directors.

When the story appeared in print, the government’s powerful Serious Fraud Office, which was already investigating the company but seemed not to have stumbled on to this particular aspect despite its ongoing detective work, demanded that the publication hand over all documents, notes and material it had collected while investigating the story.  NBR at first refused to hand over the documents but under legal advice did so after the deadline for the handing over had passed.

Under what it termed a draconian law, NBR said its lawyers advised it that the law was powerful enough to jail the editor and fine the publication $40,000 if it failed to hand over the documents.

Though it handed over the documents, the publication said it did not reveal the names of its sources and demanded an assurance that the Serious Fraud Office would not return to ask for any further details. It received no such assurance but the office tried to downplay the episode in the media and the government stayed silent.

Media commentators were critical of the demand to hand over documents, saying it was redolent of bullying in the Soviet era.

Despite being ranked so high in the media freedom index, this episode – though just a storm in a teacup – did bring a whiff of high handed, authoritarian from a government organisation in New Zealand.

First appeared in Islands Business, November 2010

Islands must hone traditional knowledge smarts

By Dev Nadkarni

The Pacific Island Forum Secretariat has recently issued an update on the Action Plan on Traditional Knowledge Implementation, which is based on mandates of Forum Trade Ministers and the Forum Leaders’ directives that are set out in the Pacific Plan endorsed in 2005.

The secretariat is working closely with several other partner organisations with in depth domain knowledge of the subject such as Trade Com, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP).

While the former two organisations are experts in the institutional and legal aspects of intellectual property, the latter are a treasure trove of statistical data, the region’s natural resources and information about the traditional, cultural and social mores of the Pacific peoples – a pioneering effort that has grown into a resource consulted by a range of organisations worldwide.

In certain ways it can be said that these two organisations are now a veritable repository of traditional knowledge of the people of the Pacific islands.

The concept of identifying, collecting, collating, classifying, assessing and storing traditional knowledge is comparatively new. Over the past few decades, the inevitable onslaught of modernisation, mechanisation and new methods of education has systematically marginalised centuries old traditions of passing important knowledge down the generations by word of mouth and emulation.

This has happened to the point of complete loss of knowledge systems from communities in indigenous societies. One oft quoted example is of an itinerant African tribe that has now lost the knowledge of sensing herds of boar in their vicinity by noticing a certain type of butterfly that generations of tribespeople had learned to associate with the impending arrival of the animals since the butterflies tended to precede the boars on their meandering paths.

The destruction of their habitat and the mushrooming of fast food joints in what was once forest has rendered that skill useless and present day tribespeople no longer have the knowledge nor the need to be on the lookout for that species of butterfly.

Some people advance the argument that what knowledge is not needed dies out in an evolutionary sense and there is no value in protecting it. That certainly is not the case. Scientific interpretations of traditional knowledge could lead to great benefits.

In the case of the butterflies and the pigs, being able to identify the specific butterflies would have led modern day scientists to zero in on the pheromones and other cryptic biochemical signals that guide the butterflies to the pigs and the mechanisms involved in the association of the two that was exploited so well by generations of tribespeople – unfortunately lost forever.

The point is that no traditional knowledge is ever useless and all efforts must be toward preserving and storing it in an easily retrievable manner for posterity.

Closer to home here in the Pacific Islands, there have been continuing efforts to preserve the navigational knowledge of the ancient seafarers who found their way to specific bays and beaches in distant lands guided by stars, currents and several other environmental signals.

The fact is that they were able to replicate their routes endlessly in a manner that is today possible by modern navigational aids. It is important to retrieve, understand and catalogue this ancient knowledge.

Similarly, there are projects under way in other Pacific Island nations like Samoa and Papua New Guinea that are involved in collating knowledge of herbs that have been used traditionally for medicinal purposes down the generations. A number of indigenous communities around the world have been involved in similar projects, many of them recording on video the knowledge, experience and testimony of old community members, who, in certain instances, may be the very last to possess such traditional information.

As well as preservation for posterity, traditional knowledge can contribute handsomely to indigenous people’s economies, besides bringing recognition and respect from wider spheres for the knowledge that their unique environment and circumstances has shaped over the generations.

Western countries like New Zealand and Canada have institutionalised mechanisms to identify, copyright and leverage the intellectual property of traditional knowledge for the gain of indigenous communities.

The idea of Intellectual property (IP) as applied to traditional knowledge has begun to gain traction in recent years and is increasingly a part of the international discourse in formulating policy around leveraging traditional knowledge for the legitimate economic gain of communities that have developed the particular knowledge system in question.

Matters dealt range from agricultural practices, food, environmental conservation, biodiversity, health and medicine, societal structures and systems of traditional local governance besides traditional methods of economic sustenance.

The Pacific Island Forum’s Action Plan on Traditional Knowledge Implementation has similar goals efforts toward which must be greatly encouraged.

In the first instance, the Action Plan sets out to develop national systems of protection setting out new rights and obligations in traditional knowledge that will complement existing forms of protection for intellectual property.  Subsequently, it involves the development of cultural industries in the region through activities that promote the commercialisation of TK.

The region needs to exercise some caution here. Intellectual property in relation to traditional knowledge is turning out to be big business for multinational behemoths of the drugs and pharmaceutical industry as well as others. Needless to say, they are ably and aggressively represented by their intellectual property consultants backed by law firms continually sniffing out opportunities around the world.

This is where mechanisms for the defensive protection of traditional knowledge need to be put in place to ensure that intellectual property rights are not given to parties other than the customary traditional knowledge holders.

These measures have included the most recent amendments of the patent systems that are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. It is important for individual countries and communities to compile databases of their traditional knowledge as evidence to fight against potential claims to a patent by a foreign applicant.

As well as defensive protection, steps toward proactive protection must also be taken. Pacific Island countries must take a cue from nations elsewhere that have put in place legislation to take care of this.

The Forum’s exercise, which included a regional seminar in August, will hopefully provide comprehensive assistance to the governments of member nations so that they are not only well prepared to preserve their traditional knowledge but also leverage what is rightfully theirs to derive the maximum economic gain, without losing it unfairly to extraneous commercial forces.

First published in Islands Business, October 2010

 

Views from Auckland

Facts, reality – and spin

Dev Nadkarni

There is no reality. Only perceptions. There are no facts. Only interpretations. I can’t remember who said that – but it’s a line that rings true every time you stop to take another look at the “spin” that is bandied about as fact by “experts” of all persuasions.

And somewhere in the midst of that, there is statistics. Which most malleably lends itself, especially in the deft hands of whoever is doling it out, to all sorts of perceptions and interpretations.

Vanuatu

Last month, for the second time since 2006, Vanuatu was voted the happiest nation on the planet. The first time, it won the top slot in the happy planet index, a measurement system devised by the New Economics Foundation and this year it was top travel publisher Lonely Planet that billed it the happiest country in the world.

While few bother to actually find out what sort of objectively compiled data goes into the statistics for computing such indices, it is the fluff of the stuff that sticks in people’s minds – cool “facts” that have fantastic value as a sales tagline; great copy for tourist brochures. Who would not want to visit the happiest place on the planet?

Visitors to the island nation’s swanky resorts could be forgiven if they believed they were in paradise on earth, what with the lush beauty that permeates the verdant tropical isles – that feeling often reinforced by “facts” like being in the world’s happiest place, according to a set of distant economic gurus whose brilliant minds churn out spectacular statistics.

But scratch the surface and one encounters a wholly different picture. Merilyn Tahi, co-ordinator of NGO Vanuatu Women’s Centre says the women of the happiest country in the world are among the most abused anywhere. The problem of violence against women and children and widespread sexual abuse is something that’s well hidden from the touristy persona of the increasingly favourite Pacific destination.

As many as 60 percent of offenders apprehended by the police are sexual offenders, she says (see story on page xx in this issue). The incidence of teenage pregnancy is also rising alarmingly. These statistics fly in the face of whatever figures or parameters that are used to determine that the country is the happiest place on earth. “That may be the opinion of the world. It is definitely not the opinion of the women and children of Vanuatu,” says the humble, mild mannered Tahi.

Yes, Vanuatu has most certainly conducted its affairs commendably these past few years and has registered an impressive economic growth rate, boosted its inbound tourism numbers and created a whole new revenue channel by exporting labour particularly to New Zealand under the Registered Seasonal Employer scheme. But it has done little to actively improve the lot of women and children who continue to bear the brunt of traditional attitudes toward them. Ask the women themselves.

Papua New Guinea

Then again last month, at the well attended inaugural Pacific Investment Summit in Sydney, a global risk management advisory company presented the risk profiles of Pacific island countries and explained how it advises its clients who seek to invest within the Pacific islands region on the risks of doing so.

According to the tools the company uses, the presenter said Papua New Guinea’s profile presented a higher risk. Obviously that did not go down well with the substantial contingent from the region’s fastest growing and most resource rich country that is courted by the likes of China and Australia.

At the end of the presentation, several anguished hands went up and questioned the presenters on what sort of data was used to arrive at the perception that the country presented a higher risk. The presenter was a little hard put to explain.

The problem with countries like Papua New Guinea and many others in the developing world is that numbers and data are hard to come across, even if they are compiled at all in the first place. So most opinion is formed by “perception” of anecdotal stories mostly gleaned from word of mouth and news sources, which indeed piece together into an overall picture that looks bleak.

In reality the law and order situation may be no worse than that in the developed world, for all we know. There is just not enough objective information and data to compare.

However, ultimately an investor weighs the level of risk with the quantum of both short term and long term return – something that hardly needs to be proved in the case of Papua New Guinea. For if that were not the case, none of the world’s core sector players would have been doing business in the country.

And what really can ensure or guarantee the security of your investment? No legal system is good enough. The global financial crisis that essentially played out in the developed world is proof enough. Nearer to home there is the equally sorry example of New Zealand’s dozens of finance companies that went belly up with billions of dollars of mum and dad investors’ hard earned money.

True, a lot of the stuff in PNG may not be up to scratch, but one would do well to take the opinions based on the “perceptions” of “experts” on matters of law and order and suchlike with a grain of salt – just as you would in the case of “expert’s perceptions” about Vanuatu being the happiest place on the planet – or for that matter any media spin that you come across.

Fiji

Also speaking at the Sydney summit was Warwick Hotels’ Pacific boss Jamal Serhan who said that despite all the negative advisories issued by New Zealand and Australia about travel to Fiji over the past couple of years and the doom and gloom of the global financial crisis, the Warwick chain the Pacific had the best ever occupancy rates.

If you were to go by the spin that has permeated the global and regional media since the global financial meltdown and the Fijian political situation, you would be forgiven if you believed that it was all but dire straits for the hotels sector in the region – particularly so in Fiji. Apparently this is not the case – at least according to one of the biggest and most successful players in the region’s hospitality industry.

Ultimately, there is neither fact nor reality. But one thing there is plenty of is spin.

And is completely up to you how you interpret it.

First appeared in Islands Business, September 2010

Engaging with Fiji – another opportunity lost

By Dev Nadkarni

Despite the unchanging rigidity of their isolationist approach towards Fiji, the political leaderships in Australia and New Zealand would now have all but realised that trying to keep Fiji out of the South Pacific regional equation was never going to be a tenable strategy.

This isolationist tack has come a complete cropper – it has achieved next to nothing. Suspension of bilateral ties, suspension from the Commonwealth, suspension from the Pacific Island Forum, travel bans, adverse travel advisories, besides all sorts of other measures have brought little change, if any, in Fiji.

Reams have been published on the lead up to the December 2006 military action, the regime and its style of functioning since then. And nearly all the ideas from politicians, academics and the media especially in New Zealand and Australia on dealing with the Fiji situation have centered on such isolationist strategies that have come up almost solely with punitive measures.

It is as though engagement can never be an option. That sort of rigidity is hard to explain. Especially so when the writing was clearly on the wall that the strategy wasn’t working and the situation could not be remedied with that tack. No matter what the situation within Fiji, there ought to have been more efforts from the Anzac nations to engage with it these past years.

Several windows of opportunity were lost, the latest one being last month.

With no recourse to any regional platform now that it has been suspended from the Pacific Island Forum, Fiji pushed hard for regional engagement through the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) – the sub regional grouping of Melanesian countries that was to have been held in Fiji last month.

Fiji has alleged that the meet was scuttled by the Anzac nations to predictable denials from both, as well as Vanuatu, which was supposed to have been prevailed upon not to attend the meet. The decidedly isolationist policy hitherto followed by Australia and New Zealand is what could well give credence to that allegation.

With the MSG meet not happening, Fiji thought up another ploy at engagement and invited regional leaders to the “Engaging with the Pacific” meeting just about a week later. Though several leaders, ministers and government representative attended, Australia, New Zealand – and Samoa – did not. And that was a huge opportunity missed by the Anzac nations.

Among other things, the Fiji regime presented its updated roadmap to the proposed 2014 election. The presence of political leaders from Australia and New Zealand or at least their representatives – no matter how junior – would have been extremely useful in that they would then have had an all new handle to hold the regime to account in the months ahead leading up to the 2014 election and the achievements of the stated milestones.

By not sending representatives and refusing to engage even tentatively at the most tenuous of levels, Australia and New Zealand have chosen to persist with their one pronged, unimaginative isolationist tack of trying to force Fiji into a tight corner with no room to manoeuvre.

Except that in this rapidly globalising world, there aren’t any corners anymore. If the traditional longstanding South has stonewalled it, a huge front from the rapidly growing, increasingly prosperous North has long opened up not only for Fiji but also for almost all other South Pacific nations.

Chinese and Korean investment in Fiji has grown tremendously in the past few years and with every passing month the country is further building up its ties with Asian countries. The Anzac nations know it only too well that the region’s future – including their own – is tied up with Asia. New Zealand is the first western nation to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, which is now not only poised to become its largest trading partner but also wants to buy big into its dairy sector.

Australia and New Zealand’s rigid stand notwithstanding there is no denying that Fiji is the hub of the Pacific and is too significant geopolitically for their simplistic, almost childish, isolationist non-strategy. Their persistence in following this tack beggars belief and exposes their leaderships’ paralysis in trying to come up with more sensitive, open minded and communicative approaches.

The Melanesian brotherhood has realised this. And more than just the warm fraternal ‘wantok’ feeling, it is the hard and practical knowledge that they are sitting on a great deal of mineral wealth both inland and offshore that is at work here. The potential of that offshore wealth is poised to grow with the redrawing of the continental shelf boundaries following changes to the United Nations Law of the Sea in the coming years.

The countries know that together they stand much to gain – and that explains why its leaders attended Fiji’s hurriedly called engagement gig with such alacrity. That message seems lost on the leadership of the Anzac nations that has gone on record saying that there will be no change in their Fiji policy.

Fiji’s efforts to engage with the region despite being suspended from the Forum need to be actually seen as positive step. The Anzac nations need to set their hurt false pride aside and engage at whatever level – to begin with even informally, outside the ambit of recognised channels out of which Fiji has been excluded in any case.

Nothing can ever be achieved by non engagement and isolationism especially in modern day geopolitics. Engagement and communication are key to diplomatic conflict resolution – particularly so when one of the parties sends all the right signals that it is game for it.

The flawed assumption that any engagement with the present Fijian dispensation would be illegitimate needs to change because inaction based on such assumption will go nowhere and negate any possibility and hope of addressing the situation.

The events that have taken place so far cannot be reversed and despite the ongoing controversial developments in Fiji, the regime has once again presented its plan for elections in 2014 – which, according to media reports have been received positively by the leaders who attended the meet. Attending that meet would have been a great opportunity to restart dialogue and work with Fiji to work toward an outcome that is best for its people and for the region as a whole.

The writing on the wall is clear. Sticking to their isolationist strategy is not an option and staying rigid will undoubtedly have huge consequences for the geopolitics of the South Pacific region in the years to come.

First published in Islands Business, August 2010

Time for business to power development in the islands

By Dev Nadkarni

Pacific island governments have never seriously looked at business and trade as drivers of development in all these decades. Thin populations, long distances from trading partners and lack of infrastructure, among other things, have been the all too obvious reasons pointed out for this continuing lacuna.

The emphasis, instead, has almost exclusively been to rely on aid and grants for funding development activity, which time and again throws up the aid versus trade debate in academic circles.

In a recent Pacific Institute of Public Policy discussion paper on the subject the institute’s executive director Derek Brien says, “most people equate aid with charity, but the reality is far more complex than that. The aid industry now spans so many disciplines, that it is impossible to determine its overall success or failure without delving further into the humanitarian, political, economic and social dimensions. Some countries, for example, use aid money to influence solidarity or security; these are rational foreign policy objectives but it is not aid. Let’s call it for what it is.”

While a relook at the whole idea of aid is long overdue and needs a whole new approach to accommodate new realities to be effective, it is also equally important to look at other drivers of development like business and enhance their role by boosting both investment avenues and local and regional capacity toward encouraging private business.

Hitherto there have been few government incentives for starting businesses in the private sector. In fact there was not even an initiative to promote business regionally until just three or four years ago when the Pacific Islands Public Sector Organisation (PIPSO) was formed.

Not that the regional governments haven’t realised this. Speaking at last month’s PIPSO workshop in Fiji, Secretary General of the Pacific Forum Tuiloma Neroni Slade said, “Under the Cairns Compact on Strengthening Development Coordination in the Pacific mandated by Forum Leaders last year, there is an expressed interest by Forum Leaders to consult and dialogue with the private sector, and a process is currently being considered to facilitate this.”

A beginning has been made but the idea needs more traction. The environment in the islands needs to be more business friendly. The costs of doing business – something that was also discussed at the workshop – need to come down for overseas investors to be attracted.

Encouragingly, deregulation in the telecommunications sector and the introduction of multiple service providers particularly in the mobile sector in several islands as well as changes in global aviation trends have considerably driven down the costs of telecommunication and air transportation across the region, which indeed is a welcome development for encouraging business.

Perhaps the biggest promise for business development in the region though is poised to come from the natural resources sector as the Melanesian islands have already discovered. The forthcoming extended boundaries of the continental shelf of each of the island nations thanks to changes in the United Nations Law of the Sea will bring vast swathes of the open ocean and the seafloor beneath under the sovereign purview of respective island affording them the possibilities of exploration and exploitation of mineral resources. Prospecting has begun in right earnest in several countries in recent years and mining and extraction is bound to follow soon.

Business has traditionally looked at the islands almost exclusively from the point of view of their tourism and hospitality sector potential. It must now look at them afresh from the angles of information technology services – especially given their prime location with respect to the time zones – and the natural resources sector. Both these have the capacity to boost regional investment greatly.

It is good that this new latent business potential of the islands region is now being recognised and showcased to the outside world by private agencies that have spotted it and see big possibilities for regional investment in multiple sectors.

Perhaps the biggest such initiative to date will kick off in Sydney next month over two days on August 12 and 13. The inaugural Pacific Islands Investment Summit is hosting an impressive number and variety of business leaders, investors, bankers, airline specialists, hospitality entrepreneurs, telecommunications specialists, business consultants besides government officials and a range of other delegates from all over the Asia Pacific region to participate in the event.

The event has received top billing in Australian government circles with the keynote address being delivered by Federal Minister for Trade Simon Crean who said, “Trade helps underpin sustainable economic growth, and developing countries require assistance to take full advantage of the benefits of trade liberalisation.”

The event organisers have roped in a range of presenters and speakers from across the Asia Pacific region including government investment officials from the islands. This summit hopes to examine events and policies that will affect investment decisions in the region in the coming economic cycle, including trade negotiations, political stability and the growing trend of Asian investment in the region – which indeed is already a reality in many of the island countries.

It is hoped that the event will help focus the interests of wider Asia Pacific regional investors on the growing possibilities in the islands. Papua New Guinea’s LNG project and the estimated US$ 15 billion United States military base in Guam – the largest infrastructure project ever in the region – have already made world headlines and are attracting a slew of investors from across the globe.

Meaningful investment with infrastructure to match, a friendlier regulatory environment that optimises the costs of doing business by rationalising and simplifying compliance costs and licencing regimes besides timely local capacity building are something that regional governments will have to address to meet any big private investment initiatives half way.

Meanwhile, the age old problems of the tyranny of distance, which has been the patent excuse of governments for explaining away the lack of investment in the islands will change solely because of commercial forces. Advances in transport and digital connectivity are bound to slowly but surely transform the hitherto lacklustre business climate of the region into a more interesting and competitive one in the islands. That indeed would be the ideal and welcome alternative to aid dependent development.

First appeared in Islands Business, July 2010

The media has a pivotal role in development

By Dev Nadkarni

Most discourse on development initiatives falls rather short on acknowledging the pivotal role the media can play as a catalyst in the development process – at least in the Pacific Islands region.

In my years of teaching, reporting and writing in the region, the lack of importance accorded to the media as an important partner in development has been quite obvious to me. At least when compared to academic development communication programmes in other parts of the developing world such as India.

For one, there is no structured course in development journalism in the media programmes of the region’s tertiary institutions. And this lacuna is not restricted just to media education at the tertiary level. It is rather systemic. The importance of factoring the media in the development communication process at any stage also seems utterly lost on government ministries, departments and agencies involved in grass root development portfolios such as agriculture, fisheries and any initiatives directed at rural uplift.

In the absence of any structured role for the media, therefore, there is little to connect development agencies, government departments and the ultimate recipients of the fruits of development – the people – to encourage a two way flow of information that could make the process both more meaningful and efficient. And this, too, at a time when communication technology is continually content delivery and information mechanisms increasingly decentralised and cheaper as each year passes.

As for the media outlets themselves, there seems to be a sense of apathy wrought by a lack of a chain of communication with the government. Programming aiding development ideas such as farming and environmental issues have therefore languished over the years.

So the Media Planning Seminar organised by the South Pacific Commission in Nadi, Fiji last month, which brought together regional media practitioners, government officials of the agriculture and development sectors and non-government organisations was a welcome development.

I was called to do a presentation on the role of media in development at the seminar and I couldn’t but help go back some 25 years to the days when I was personally involved in agricultural development programmes using non-electronic media in southern India, aided by Swedish and Canadian aided initiatives.

At a time when there were no computers – or for that matter even electricity in the region that we were working – our job was to communicate to unlettered farmers the principles of scientifically planting and growing drumsticks and such other subsistence – not cash – crops.  We designed pictorial ‘visual aids’ that were read out by the government extension officers, who always seemed to have a great rapport with the farmers. Over two years, the project was a success and was replicated in several districts.

I also recalled a couple of other development communication projects devised by the Indian government that involved village barbers and traditional midwives to communicate a range of messages from using fertilisers to making known risks of HIV. Many of these were quite successful in raising awareness and probably would not have been as effective if other mass media were used as the primary mode of dissemination.

The key to success here is the disseminator. In the Indian cases mentioned here these were the extension officer, the barber and the midwife. They were all trusted people and their word carried weight and credibility. This was the most important factor in conveying the message convincingly and ensuring the desired result.

In the case of the Pacific Islands this disseminator is the island governments’ extension officer. Every presenter at the seminar whether from Fiji, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia or the Solomon Islands explained how the extension officer’s word was so trusted by the agriculturists and community members. They had a personal relationship with many of the farmers and their advice was heeded, they said.

But what is alarming is that island governments, in their zeal to ‘streamline’ their departments and control costs, are beginning to cut out this extremely vital link between the development agencies (like the governments themselves) and the people at the grass roots level. The speaker from Vanuatu said that in the new scheme of things, the government was making no allocations for these extension officers any longer and that their numbers were dwindling. Presenters from other countries also echoed this sentiment.

What governments need to realise is that no matter what, the trust people put in a known human face is irreplaceable by anything else including smart, new technological gadgetry. Cutting out this vital link that connects governments, development agencies and communities – in the case of the islands the extension officers – is detrimental to the flow of information in both directions in any development process.

It was good to see the seminar, which was facilitated by funding from the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) grouping and EU sponsored organisations, highlight these and other factors of importance relating to the media’s role in the grass roots level development process.

While empowering extension officers the mandate to communicate in both directions as well as with the regional media, governments must also include the media in their scheme of things as an inseparable partner in the process. Government functionaries need to learn to appreciate the importance of the media’s role. This needs a change in perspective – the media needs to be seen as a handmaiden to development eschewing the far more prevalent tendency within the powers that be to demonise them.

This calls for media education at all levels of government involved in the development process – especially key decision makers, spokespersons and most importantly extension officers – as well as other stakeholders like NGO development partners and even funding agencies.

The outcomes document at the end of the seminar has outlined the importance of bringing various disparate entities of the development process such as scientists, lawmakers, government decision makers, implementation agencies, funding organisations and communities on to the same page to recognise the importance of the role of the media in turning the wheels of development more smoothly and efficiently.

This realisation and appreciation by all stakeholders of the key roles that trusted extensions officers and the media play could indeed be the basis for the adoption of new unwired technologies in the development process as they are only bound to proliferate with the growth of mobile phone and wireless communication devices as is being increasingly seen around the developing world.

The role of the extension officer and the media can only be enhanced by routing the content deliverable by new communication technologies through them. The sooner the governments realise the indispensability of extension officers and the importance of empowering them to communicate more meaningfully with the media and other stakeholders the better it will be for the development of Pacific communities.

First appeared in Islands Business, June 2010

New hare-brained tax will affect Pacific tourism

By Dev Nadkarni

The tourism industry in the Pacific region has joined the chorus of its counterparts around the world to denounce the United Kingdom’s half-baked Air Passenger Duty (APD) to bring it centre stage ahead of the elections in that country.

The tax is an excise duty charged on flying passengers from airports within the UK to destinations outside on aircraft with capacities of 20 or more seats. The tax has a cascading scale related to distance, which makes long distance flying considerably more expensive.

The taxes were introduced in 2007 but new rates have applied since November 2009 and are set to rise again from November this year. If the present plans still hold, a passenger travelling from the UK to any Pacific destination including cities in Australia, New Zealand or anywhere in the Pacific Islands will have to pay a whopping 170 pounds surcharge on their ticket price.

The tourism industry in the Pacific region has raised grave concerns over the huge negative impact this is bound to have on the entire region’s economy, calling the tax ill conceived and draconian much like travel organisations from around the world, particularly from developing countries.

Tourism is among the top three income generators for most countries in the Pacific region and is the top sector for employment in almost all of them. Long haul tourism contributes significant numbers and the industry fears this segment would be most affected by levies like the proposed APD, the Pacific Tourism Leaders Forum has said at its recent meeting in Sydney.

The announcement of the APD raised alarm bells throughout the region’s tourism sector and catalysed the formation of this forum. It comprises major stakeholders from the region’s travel and tourism industry including public and private sector operators and bodies. The forum is a broad representation of the communities the businesses serve around the region.

Participants at the forum organised by the region’s largest travel body, the Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA), feared taxes such as the APD would act as new barriers to trade and development within the region, given its high dependence on the tourist dollar.

The effect would be far worse if other European governments decided to adopt a similar levy in the near future, which they will probably do because of the high awareness of climate change issues there. The effect of the regressive tax would prove catastrophic for the smaller economies in the region, the forum has said.

The tax is politically motivated and is clearly the result of poor policy making. It is without doubt the fallout of the flawed thinking that has guided the largely discredited carbon economics by overzealous accountants and consultants who saw an opportunity in the worldwide alarm raised by the spectre of global warming and its supposed anthropogenic causes.

It is difficult to understand that a global economic power like the UK could be so insensitive as to come up with such a draconian tax. Come to think of it, it is just a tax and like all taxes and levies will solely serve the purpose of adding revenue to government coffers with absolutely no benefit to the environment which it purports to protect.

The move could have far more serious consequences for the economy, wellbeing, peace and prosperity of the region and could have an effect far worse on the environment that supposedly saved by flying fewer passengers over long haul destinations.

One of the attractions of the Pacific region is its pristine beauty for which it has been known for generations of travellers. The long haul tourism industry has in fact helped preserve natural environments because of the income they bring into regional governments. Threats to tourism income could well lead to pressure on natural resources as locals look to other sources of income including leveraging these resources for cash.

The effect of decreased revenue receipts from tourism in a region that depends on it in the main would devastate both the economy and the environment of particularly the smaller nations around the region. This was poignantly demonstrated by a hypothetical case study by a German academic at a recent tourism meet in Samoa to which a reference was made in the March 2010 issue of Islands Business.

The Forum has made a strong appeal to the UK authorities to reconsider the tax because of these impacts on regional economies that could have a domino effect on the world economy as well as the fragile environments of one of the world’s most pristine and exotic regions.

The effect of such a tax would be felt immediately and would delay the recovery of the region’s economies from the global recession. In the longer term, it would continue to threaten these economies and the livelihoods of millions of people across the region besides endangering the environment, the forum has said.

An instance of how a dip in long haul tourism and transport could affect the region is borne out by the fall out of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland last month: New Zealand, for example, lost several million dollars a day in tourist revenue since flights were grounded, to speak nothing of delays in vital freight supplies like the seasonal flu vaccines that were grounded in France.

Which brings me to another aspect of dangerous atmospheric emissions and their greenhouse effect. Though it has been widely disputed, the UK Treasury is sticking to its forecast that the APD tax measures will result in a cut by about 0.3 million tonnes a year of carbon emissions by 2010-2011, and all greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 0.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

According to sources that have been monitoring the hard to pronounce Icelandic volcano, it has been spewing 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per day. If this were to continue happening across a whole year, it would have emitted some 15 million tonnes – or roughly that amounting to the annual emissions of countries like Austria or Portugal.

The 60,000 plus flights grounded since the volcano erupted apparently saved 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – a mitigation of sorts, if you will. But just suppose this volcano was not situated in the path of one of the world’s most crowded air spaces and instead was in some remote part of the world that would not have necessitated the grounding of flights.  That would have meant several additional million tonnes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The question is what in the emission control strategies that the world is dreaming up would have helped counter carbon spewed by such a natural calamity? Who would pay for such an unexpected surge in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases? What effect would this have on targets set at world conferences to deal with the problem such as Copenhagen? Will all targets be dynamically adjusted and carbon taxes raised every time there is a surge in atmospheric carbon following every Eyjafjallajokull or – god forbid – a future Krakatoa?

First appeared in Islands Business, May 2010

Carbon clouds could leave tourism gasping

By Dev Nadkarni

Copenhagen or not, the carbon mania continues to rage and is beginning to generate early signs of waves of panic not only in businesses and industries across the board but also several countries around the world.

Governments of a growing number of developed countries, especially in Europe, are pulling all sorts of rabbits out of their bureaucratic hats to disincentivise carbon emissions and promote green alternatives.

With carbon currency and complex systems to trade in them now a veritable fait accompli, there is little that the developing countries can do than whine and whinge while they wait in growing trepidation as the inevitable scenarios of confusion begin unfolding in the next twelve to twenty four months.

This will have repercussions on wide ranging industries around the world and countries furthest removed from Europe and the United States would be affected the most because of their sheer distances from those markets. Countries in the Pacific region, the remotest from Europe will be affected the most.

The concept of food miles is getting increasingly entrenched into the psyche of shoppers in some European countries, more so among the wealthier ones of the lot. As the green message gets across, people will be loathe to buying stuff that has travelled long distances because of the fossil fuels burned in getting them there, instead preferring local goods or goods from countries of origin that are nearby.

Those not turned on by ecological altruism to eschew buying goods that have travelled from afar will be fobbed off by the higher prices that these products will attract because of carbon taxation unless the original manufacturers have been able to offset them by proven green measures in their manufacturing processes.

New Zealand has great reason to worry because Europe is a large market for its dairy as well as other agricultural products. That is the reason why companies are in a mad race to adopt environmentally friendly raw materials, processes and transportation modes. There is a great big race to establish green credentials in preparation for the green winds that have begun to blow from the developed world.

What does the pristine, far less developed and even far less industrialised Pacific Islands region has to do with all this, one may ask. Plenty, unfortunately – and unlike New Zealand and Australia, the islands simply do not have too many viable alternatives to get out of the tangle.

The islands’ biggest or second biggest revenue earner continues to be tourism – well, at least for most of them. One of the biggest industries to be hit worldwide by the new carbon initiatives is the several trillion dollars worth tourism and travel industry, which also happens to be perhaps one of the biggest human resource intensive businesses in the world.

And one of the biggest impacts of the new carbon initiatives is going to be on the travel and tourism business.  To begin with, the European Union will start listing flights leaving or arriving any of ports in the European Union member countries in its planned carbon trading system from the year 2012.

The United Kingdom has already announced such a scheme and flights between there and Australia and New Zealand are expected to cost at least a hundred pounds more for the lowest class of travel when the carbon tax kicks in towards the end of this year. Vary and smart travellers will in all likelihood see this coming early and book well in advance because the tax is formally levied, postponing the full brunt of the system for some months but say, from about a year and a half out from now the effect on people travelling out of the United Kingdom will be near total.

Quite clearly, the system aims at putting growing disincentives against travelling long distances and though long haul tourists do not form a major segment of the Pacific Islands’ tourist profile, it is indeed significant and will have a telling effect – most of all on charter destinations such as French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

Discussing the impending scenario in a high level industry meeting recently, one aviation thought leader said the aviation industry had grown to become an easy and politically popular target for imposing all kinds of disincentives, particularly of the environmental variety, quite out of proportion to the carbon emissions it actually produces.

In the coming months, there is little doubt that different components of the travel and tourism industry will begin to make their voice heard in a more concerted manner, to speak nothing of contemplating taking legal action, which indeed will spin the whole carbon debate out of laboratories and government bureaucrats and accountants’ offices on to international law courts.

In fact there are rumblings that major travel organisations in different parts of the world are already examining a legal recourse. Regardless of the outcome – carbon tax or not – ecological awareness is here to stay and will probably change the way future customers view products, services, activities and places through a fast evolving ecological prism.

The moot question is, how can economically and infrastructurally fragile environments like the Pacific Islands prepare for these future scenarios?

[subhead] Traipsing through the islands is not all fun

It’s fun to let one’s hair down once in a while and throw caution to the winds. It’s great to get into the holiday mood, become a little more cavalier than usual in everything you do as you laze around in flowery, colourful clothes and jandals.

It’s terrific to forget the regimens of the western world and be as casual and carefree as you possibly can while you enjoy the balmy tropical climes in the islands soaking yourself in coconut milk and more sinister stuff. That’s the picture perfect stereotype of island life.

A while back as I inched forward in the exhaustingly sluggish immigration queue at Nadi airport, a Kiwi dad howled at his overly jumpy and noisy son, “Look kid, we’re not in New Zealand, this is Fiji – I can spank you right here, you hear?” He was clearly delighting in the fact that the little brat had no recourse to report his dad for abuse. It’s a free world here in the islands.

One wonders if that’s the sort of cavalier “anything goes in the islands” attitude that imbued the Television New Zealand reporter who made a rather sweeping comment that Samoa was “awash” with guns and drugs. Unsurprisingly, the Samoan government was livid and sued the broadcaster. New Zealand’s Broadcasting Authority fined the broadcaster and asked it to pay damages to Samoa and the Crown.

More on that elsewhere in this issue. The pity though is that the Kiwi reporter in question is Pacific born and bred.

First appeared in Islands Business, April 2010

Call the climate bluff once for all

By Dev Nadkarni

How well life imitates art.

When one of my favourite novelists, Michael Crichton (who died last year), wrote about how a group of influential climate scientists and diehard environmentalists in collusion with big firms involved in mega funded climate change projects hired experts to detonate explosives to set tsunamis in motion to prove their point just as a major global conference on the subject gets under way, I thought it was a bit over the top – even for a work of fiction by someone like Crichton.

In 2004, as I read State of fear, a novel based on the politics of global warming (and a fair bit of which is set in the South Pacific island nations), I was nagged by a sense of disbelief: I like works of fiction to be in the realm of the plausible. Fiction based on real life – not pure fantasy.

People of science going to such lengths in the novel seemed fantasy to me for in my rather naïve worldview; scientists are among the most trustworthy humans. True, all generalisations (including this one) are humbug but that’s the way I’ve always believed all scientists are: honest in their beliefs and true to their work.

But the weeks since Copenhagen have proved Michael Crichton right (and exposed my naivety): like everywhere else in life, there are exceptions among scientists too.

The bollocking for the global warming acolytes in the scientific establishment began with the leaked emails of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). The missives eloquently told a sordid story of hostility to climate scientists with an opposite view that went against the view they were advancing, as also manipulations of documentation, distortions and data doctoring, not to speak of disparaging email messages.

The imbroglio is now a subject of investigations and one of the main scientists has had to shamefacedly step down. He has since been reported telling BBC that in the past 15 years there has not statistically been “any significant” global warming, though he said he personally believed the world was warming.

And this organisation – the CRU – happens to be one of the main sources, which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bases its science on.

In the following weeks, it got worse for the global warming fundamentalists. British newspapers reported that one of IPCC’s key findings on melting glaciers “may have been simply taken from a press interview with an obscure Indian scientist.” Based on such a flimsy premise, the IPCC had made a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

It was later found that the scientist quoted in the interview had expressed his opinion only as a surmise. He was untraceable when reporters tried to contact him.

In the wake of this Himalayan glaciergate, the Indian government’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh told the media, “We should not depend only on reports from the UN body.  Its fault was that it didn’t do original research and derives assessments from published literature.”

The Indian government has now set up the National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology to undertake its own research. This is bad news for the IPCC, which is now increasingly under the scanner (including reports that its chief drives a gas guzzler for city driving).

Like the University of East Anglia, the IPCC also uses NASA’s research, which, too, has come under scrutiny in recent times. When NASA scientists discovered errors in their logs and corrected them, the findings showed 1934 as the warmest year (instead of 1998, which was previously touted as the warmest) and 1921 was found to have been the third warmest in the past century. So, there were warmer years long before jets and big smokestacks filled the skies with their carbon-spewing activity.

It boggles the mind to think that it is such carelessly collated data, sometimes unabashedly fudged by vested interests and erroneous observations by scientific institutions that pour scorn on anyone who legitimately challenges them, that played a large part in shaping Kyoto and Copenhagen. And of course, went a long way in making US$ 100 million for Al Gore’s documentary.

What an inconvenient truth.

Such questionable observations and ‘findings’ by the pliable scientific establishment ably aided by the ever willing handmaiden that is the global instant media has driven governments, economists, lawyers and accountants to conjure up complex trading regimes such as cap-and-trade in the interests of a chimerical greener world that exists only in certain kinds of computer modeling techniques.

Ultimately, it is the mums and dads of the world who will fork out these costs – whether they understand their basic premise and how they are calculated and believe they are justified or not (surveys in Australia as also in several other developed countries show a majority of the people do not understand what carbon trading is and how its mechanism works. It is today a major issue confronting the Australia today).

The fad like phenomenon of food miles and carbon footprint, though extremely pretty and ennobling as concepts but based on the same faulty science, could actually prove counterproductive in the medium term, as a German speaker at a conference on tourism investment in Samoa demonstrated last month.

If people worried too much about their carbon footprint and stopped travelling to a faraway island nation that depends on tourism for revenue, sooner rather than later, the islanders will be forced to leverage their natural resources by resorting to deforestation, logging and the like – causing even worse and immediate environmental degradation than the damage caused by jet fuel if people travelled there.

Happily, at the same conference we also heard that climate change and sea level rise hadn’t yet touched the consciousness of the global investment community in a manner that deterred them from seriously considering investing in the poor, sinking Pacific Islands. This is indeed good news for the economy of the islands that can at least look forward to some forthcoming investment, not having to contend with scared investors touting sea level rise as their latest reason not to invest in the islands.

To say all this is not at all to deny climate change. That climate change is happening is beyond any doubt. No one has better experiential knowledge of it than the people of the islands, especially of the atolls. It’s a reality that stares them in their faces – and they can do without the spin of the alarmists whose extremism can do more harm than good.

What we need is a method in this environmental madness; not zealotry based on questionable science but a modicum of honesty and a willingness to deal with the problem at the local ecosystem level as much as at a global level. It is for honest and right thinking people to make that happen. We need to get real in the real interests of the planet, not the beliefs in our untested, imagined and many times fanciful theories.

Going back to Crichton’s fictional scientists who created a tsunami to prove their point and ensure continued funding, I wonder if global warming extremists secretly believe it was the climate skeptics who conspired to dump snow like never before in a 100 years on Copenhagen and Europe as the big jamboree unfolded there. That same scenario has been played out across the United States and Canada in subsequent weeks and months.

First appeared in Islands Business, March 2010

The Cop-outhagen was a dead certainty

By Dev Nadkarni

The lame, toothless outcomes of the Copenhagen jamboree were wholly expected. After two years of preparations and two weeks of intense negotiations – not to mention the tons of CO2 spewed into the skies by 35,000 junketing politicians, boffins, journalists, activists and allsorts at the cost of hundreds of million dollars – the document cobbled together in the end is a pathetic attempt at face saving by the world’s top leaders, with scant regard to the severely threatened existence of vulnerable nations like those in the Pacific.

While committing to limit emissions so as not to cause a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – widely accepted as a crisis point – it is clear the leaders of the countries had their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs.

The agreement means little because, first, it is not binding (and a binding agreement was a desired outcome at Copenhagen especially after all those millions of man hours of research and negotiations over so many years).

Second, the large developing countries have refused to be transparent about their emission cuts. They have not agreed to any verification regime for their claims of emission cuts despite having made demands of tens of billions of dollars to assist them in mitigation programmes and alternative energy initiatives. In short, nobody is accountable for any defaults.

Adding insult to injury especially to the people genuinely affected by climate change like low lying Pacific atoll countries whose very existence is increasingly threatened as each month passes, the leaders have said that the document is a “good beginning”.

Beginning? What then was Kyoto? And Rio before that if they care to remember? If every mega climate jamboree is a new beginning, nothing will ever get agreed upon and the cause of the genuinely threatened populations will never be addressed. But politicians and boffins are continuing to soldier on. They will “build” on this document at the next convention in Mexico slated for next year, they say.

It is interesting that the very governments that fund the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and declare unanimously that they are absolutely convinced by its findings about anthropogenic (man made) global warming find it so hard to come to an agreement on how to deal with the problem.

And it is not far to seek the reasons, though they may be different for different groups of nations. But clearly, there are reasons that are common for all concerned and we’ll come to that in a moment.

For the fast developing large nations particularly of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India, China), it’s about economic progress – they understandably do not want any hindrances on their road to prosperity and will brook no pressure in committing anything that will affect their targets. The developed world would commit only if the developing world does. So it’s a classic catch 22. It always has been. And that’s the single biggest reason for the Copenhagen disaster.

But the underlying common reason for all this fudging could well be that no one is thoroughly convinced about anthropogenic global warming, though no one will publicly admit it. It would be political suicide and shame on a global scale to publicly doubt anything that the countries’ well-funded, can-do-no-wrong, Nobel laureate baby, the IPCC, says.

Surveys around the world show that there is a growing body of people that do accept that climate change is real but seriously doubt that human beings are the only or the biggest factor causing it – though they certainly agree they are a factor. Quite obviously, there would be many politicians and bureaucrats who share this view. Anyone who has even an iota of doubt would loathe making commitments on the basis of something that is iffy in the very least. But it would be suicidal to air their honest thoughts especially in global forums.

The Copenhagen non-outcome is a classic cop-out, which is a natural consequence of unconvinced leaders forced by political correctness to make commitments on the basis of unproven science that is not acceptable universally by the scientific community; a commitment that could have grave consequences on the economies of their nations – consequences perceptibly real than the premise of anthropogenic global warming. This is the inconvenient truth.

In the meantime in all that squabbling and din, as always, the real issue and urgency of the effects of climate change, especially of the low lying nations in the Pacific and coastal populations in the poorer world have been drowned.

There was great empathy displayed toward Tuvalu and Kiribati in our region from several quarters at Copenhagen but their pleas failed to make a mark on the negotiations.

Tuvalu made several impassioned remonstrations asking the countries to commit to a rise in temperature of no more than 1.5 degrees. It was unsurprising that it was ignored and had to cut a sorry figure. Unfortunately in toeing the 1.5-degree line too hard, it put the anthropogenic global warming theory ahead of the dire consequences of climate change that it faces. It took the IPCC findings a little too seriously for the rest of the world, certainly the big developing countries, who thought 2 degrees was adequate – and that too, with no strings attached.

Tuvalu and Kiribati should have raised the pitch of the issue of their survival irrespective of the science involved.  It should have focused purely on the human aspect: the danger to their fragile, subsistence economies; the snuffing out of their livelihoods; the very disappearance of their nations.  An emotional appeal shorn of taking the unsteady and unconvincing crutch of anthropogenic global warming, even if it was the one offered by the IPCC, would have been far more effective.

It is amazing that amid all the din of climate negotiations and band aid mitigation measures financed by half-promised funding by rich nations all put together in a document that is supposed to be “a good beginning”, there is no mention of the most important issue of all, irrespective of the science that is causing climate change and sea level rise: the actual threat to their lives faced by the people of the low lying Pacific Islands.

The small island nations need to tell the world in no uncertain terms to keep their science and negotiations aside while coming up with a worldwide policy to address the problem of their very survival.

Shame on the world’s leadership for brushing this all important issue under the carpet.

First appeared in Islands Business, January 2010