x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Green ties link UAE to the Pacific region

A programme fostering ties between the country and the region will include nearly 200 millions of dirhams being spent on climate change solutions and renewable energy.

The Arab League plans to open a regional office in Fiji, probably in Suva, the South Pacific's largest city.
The Arab League plans to open a regional office in Fiji, probably in Suva, the South Pacific's largest city.

DUBAI // A programme fostering ties between the UAE and the Pacific region will include millions of dirhams being spent on climate change solutions and renewable energy. The Partnership in the Pacific Programme, first floated in February by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, aimed to create "meaningful co-operation", his ministry said.

Funding of US$50m (Dh183m) will be administered by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development for development projects that deal with education, the environment, social and healthcare services, and infrastructure. Several Pacific countries had already submitted proposals, the ministry said. "We are looking for a two-way partnership. We want to not only assist, but also to learn," said Lana Nusseibeh, the ministry's director of policy planning. "Our initiative with the Pacific island states forms part of a genuine diplomatic outreach towards a model for co-operation in a number of key areas, including renewable energy, economic development, co-operation on global issues and other related challenges."

The UAE and the Pacific region had common ground on climate change concerns and the development of renewable energy, Ms Nusseibeh said. According to a ministry policy brief, the Pacific is on the "front lines" of climate change. Although the small island states of the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, they also lack energy security, which the UAE hopes to address through the programme.

The first high-level contact between the two regions came during the campaign to host the International Renewable Energy Agency last year, when Reem Ibrahim al Hashimi, the Minister of State, visited the Pacific. In February this year, Sheikh Abdullah toured the Pacific and established diplomatic ties with several countries. Sheikh Abdullah's visit was also the catalyst for the Arab League-Pacific Island Summit in Abu Dhabi last month. The high-level meeting brought together Arab states and members of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States, which includes the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

At the end of the summit, the Arab League said it planned to open a regional office in Fiji. The Pacific states are considering establishing similar representation in the UAE. "The UAE has a partnership programme with the Pacific island states, and this partnership has now laid strong foundations, which were initiated by the Emirates," Sheikh Abdullah said during the summit. "The fact that these countries are small doesn't mean that their weight is small too. These countries give us a very important indicator about the impact of global warming."

The Pacific is not a traditional recipient of support from the UAE or the Gulf region. According to the Government's recently released foreign aid report, in 2009 there were no Pacific countries among the 90 states that received humanitarian or emergency assistance from the UAE. Australia, which has provided assistance to the region for decades, said it welcomed additional efforts to improve the islands' situation. A recent report by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) noted that rising poverty is evident in the region, where around one third of the population live in poverty.

"Australia welcomes the United Arab Emirates' development engagement in the Pacific," said Chris Elstoft, an assistant director general with AusAID. "We particularly welcome the UAE's intention to assist the region in developing renewable energy alternatives to counter the heavy reliance on fossil fuels." Dr Mustafa Alani, senior adviser and research programme director at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said the outreach towards the Pacific is in line with the UAE's recent foreign policy efforts.

"The UAE is now looking globally in terms of its diplomatic strategy," he said. "[This partnership] doesn't cost a lot, but will have a big impact on these small states." @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae