Sep 21, 2019
At first glance, Ireland and the Pacific Islands might not seem a natural fit. The countries seemingly share few cultural similarities while being separated by three continents and some 10,000 miles of ocean. But, at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual Meeting in Fiji in May, Ireland, the 18th biggest economy in the European Union, made headlines by announcing a $13.4 million fund aimed at building climate change and disaster resilience in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are predominantly located in the Pacific. It’s the country’s first-ever single donor fund and will primarily support technical assistance and capacity development in the SIDS, with some projects expected to commence this year.
In an interview with ADB, Ireland’s Minister for International Development Mr. Ciarán Cannon revealed there are more similarities between Ireland and the Pacific countries than one might think, appealed for united global action on climate change, and made a compelling case for why investment in the Pacific is so necessary.
The interview was conducted over the phone and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Explain why you and your government strongly support this Trust Fund initiative?
This is our first ever single donor trust fund, announced at the ADB annual meeting in Fiji. It was a very important location to make the announcement as the geographic focus of the fund is small island developing states and Fiji did an outstanding job in hosting the event. We are delighted to be working in partnership with ADB which has a long and respected track record and reputation within the whole Asia Pacific region. We are very proud to partner with them in this endeavour. All the work in bringing this single donor trust fund to fruition is based on a solid track record of our engaging with SIDS and it is an important milestone in Ireland’s interaction with small island states. It serves to underline our strong diplomatic, bilateral and cultural interactions.
Why the focus on climate and disaster resilience?
Ireland is deeply committed to climate action. We launched our government’s climate action plan for Ireland. Climate change and disaster resilience is also at the heart of our government’s new International Development Policy. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent. Most recently the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian. These are the major challenges facing small island developing states today and our focus on climate change reflects the consultations which we had with our partners around the world prior to establishing the trust fund.
Why target the Pacific and not elsewhere?
I have been to Fiji, Samoa and Nauru over the last 12 months. I have met with members of government in those places, hearing of their challenges, hearing of their ambition to build each nation’s resilience to climate change. All 16 Small Island Developing States that are members of the ADB are eligible to apply to the fund because the majority are based in the Pacific region with the remainder based in Asia. We continue to work with the SIDS in the Pacific region, to ensure they can build the kind of resilience they need to build and also working with them to ensure they have a fundamental role to play in the strategic direction of this fund.
The Pacific Islands are small and dispersed countries, with small populations and limited economies, which means investment there has the potential to be extremely transformative. Was that one of the attractions in your decision to invest in the Pacific?
Very much so. When I was at the ADB meeting in Fiji I was very pleased to have bilateral meetings with Finance Ministers from Pacific countries and I consistently heard their ambition for the development of their countries, especially to give their young people the chance to succeed in the world. It was heartening to hear that. The investment we intend to make through the trust fund will have a tangible impact on the ground and will allow these partner countries to make significant changes they want to make in a short space of time. They are ambitious to do that.
What are some of the similarities that you see between Ireland and the Pacific countries?
We live in a world unfortunately which is increasingly characterized by self-interest. It can sometimes feel like the voices, the interests, and the challenges faced by small island nations are side-lined. Ireland is an island nation in Europe, on the other side of the world, but we are still very familiar with some of the challenges island nations in the Pacific face and we want to work together in solidarity with them to address these challenges and make our collective voices heard. Ireland’s strategy for partnership with SIDS builds on our shared experiences. For example, I noticed that when I visited Fiji, Nauru, and Samoa that those countries, like Ireland, have a history of emigration stretching back a long way and they are geographically peripheral to important regional economic markets. Ireland and the Pacific islands also have a very long maritime tradition, the sharing of customs through story-telling and singing of songs. These are all elements of Irish history that we see replicated in so many small island states around the world. Through our SIDS Strategy we are committed to deepening partnerships with Ireland and the Pacific, building on a very strong foundation that exists already of friendship and mutual understanding.
How may the ADB-Irish Trust Fund be used as a model for other European countries?
Ireland is one of very few countries with a dedicated SIDS Strategy that lays out tangible actions, a blueprint to scale-up support for the SIDS. This trust fund commitment across 6 years provides for all involved in the fund to take stock of the fund’s progress on a yearly basis through annual consultations which will importantly include not just Ireland and the ADB but all of our partners in the SIDS who want to participate. We will share lessons learned and plan ahead in an inclusive way. There is some innovation in our approach, and we hope it can be used as a model and adapted by others. I think if you look at the shared concerns by our European partner countries, obviously climate change is a huge part of that. It is now a universal threat acutely felt by smaller, low-lying islands. As an island in Europe we have that natural affinity with small island states globally. We are exceptionally influential when it comes to the development and implementation of EU policy and when it comes to the issue of shared priorities within the EU I think Ireland’s work partnering with SIDS nations will come to the fore and be exceptionally influencing. I think our EU partner countries will be looking on with a great degree of interest as to how this trust fund operates and how ultimately it succeeds in achieving its ambitions.
Why should European countries be concerned about the vulnerability of Pacific island countries to climate change?
I would argue that Pacific island states are the “canary in the coalmine” in terms of climate change globally. They have seen the worst effects of climate change, but they are ultimately not responsible for climate change globally. I think it is reflective of the European Union’s ambition as a whole to reach out in solidarity to countries that are worst affected by climate change. The SIDS countries in the Pacific are very far away from Europe geographically, but I think our EU partner countries will be looking with a high degree of interest to see how this trust fund operates and hopefully some of these countries will seek to replicate it in the future.
You talked earlier about the trend globally of countries acting out of self-interest. What is the argument against doing so?
Ultimately it is about ethics and morality. It’s about essentially doing the right thing. If there are other benefits from that including economic stability and social cohesion that’s a good thing. This trust fund is real, it’s tangible, it is Ireland putting its money where its priorities lie. Through it, we are working with small island states on the other side of the world to show this global approach in terms of establishing really strong partnerships. This is the antithesis of that inward-looking approach which is slowly but surely becoming a significant challenge for all of us in the future. It is important for countries who believe fundamentally in using a global approach to tackling global problems to go out there and be seen to do that.
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