Now Reading
Climate Change is a major theme in US Treaty Talks in the Pacific
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Climate Change is a major theme in US Treaty Talks in the Pacific

Climate Change Looms Large In US Treaty Talks In The Pacific


At least one Pacific nation is asking for funding to aid in climate change resilience as the U.S. negotiates three crucial security treaties ahead a deadline next year.

The Federated States of Micronesia’s chief negotiator said that mitigating the effects of climate change is a growing priority. The country, which includes more than 600 islands scattered over more than 1,600 miles in the Pacific Ocean where rising sea levels and warming seas threaten traditional ways of life, was represented by the Federated States of Micronesia.

“It is becoming a security issue,” the chief negotiator Leo Falcam, Jr., said of climate change.

The Pacific nation’s breadth gives it one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world, claiming more than 1 million square miles of surrounding ocean.

Falcam stated that it is important to build infrastructure that can withstand storms that will worsen as a result of global warming. After a storm in April 2015, this is Paata Weno (Chuk). U.S. Embassy/2015

That ownership is one reason why the U.S. has been keen to extend the financial aspects of its treaty with the country, which also gives the U.S. military strategic denial rights over the nation’s surrounding waters, creating a significant buffer against potential adversaries in Asia.

The treaty with Micronesia, which is one of three U.S. agreements with Pacific countries known as the compacts to free association, provides these strategic denial right. All three treaties are currently undergoing renegotiations, as their economic provisions may soon expire. The deadline for Micronesia and the Marshall Islands is next year, while Palau’s is in 2024.

The area includes Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Similar to the size all 48 states in the contiguous U.S.. Rising tensions between the U.S. and China as well as North Korea’s increasing pace of ballistic missile tests have underscored the value of U.S. control over this massive segment of the Pacific region.

But the United States hasn’t held any formal talks with any nation Since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump’s administration Prioritized relationships in light of China’s efforts to strengthen its ties with Pacific nations.

Ambassador Joseph Yun previously conducted negotiations with North Korea. Courtesy: State Department

During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing on March 29U.S. Senator Joe Manchin criticised the Biden administration’s delay. He stressed the importance of the U.S.’s relationships with the Pacific nations and repeated his misinterpretation of Palau.

Despite the slow pace, Biden seems to be picking up the pace. Last month, He appointed Joseph Yun Ambassador as special presidential envoy for negotiations, a move that Hawaii’s congressional delegation The president has been urged to do so to do Since at most last summer.

Falcam said that he met Yun over the weekend and views his appointment as a positive move. Civil Beat sought to interview negotiators from Palau and the Marshall Islands as well but didn’t hear back in time for this story.

Need For Climate Mitigation

Falcam said that while formal talks haven’t taken place since 2020, several informal technical discussions have occurred with the Federated States of Micronesia.

“It hasn’t been wasted time from the FSM perspective,” Falcam said. “We have taken advantage of the time so that we don’t have to revisit those technical details once we’re ready to get to the negotiating table.”

Climate change can affect islands in the Federated States of Micronesia. Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat/2014

Trump’s administration wanted to extend the compact funding without any changes. This would have meant that the U.S. would continue to fund programs such as postal services connecting islands communities and federal deposit insurance for bank branches, as well as millions to support infrastructure and health care.

But keeping the  same level of funding doesn’t make sense to Falcam, who said that over time, the cost of providing health care and other services has risen and technology has changed. Climate change is another issue. He thinks the compact funding could play a role in funding infrastructure that’s more resilient to typhoons and sea level rise.

He’s not the only one. In a panel discussion about climate change in the region, Chip Fletcher from the University of Hawaii and J. Scott Hauger from the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies both stressed that the talks should serve as a conduit for mitigation.

James Naich is an ex-deputy ambassador for Micronesia and is not involved in negotiations. He said that climate change was an existential problem for the nation.

“You cannot talk about the future of this partnership without looking at the number one security issue facing the islands and that number one issue is climate change because climate change is already here,” Naich said. “It’s unrealistic to talk about the infrastructure grant, for instance, without taking a look at what climate change has done to the classroom buildings, to the primary roads, to the hospitals, to the airports.”

Although the Pacific island nations, like the compact ones, have contributed little to global warming in comparison with the U.S., their communities are already being affected by rising seas and worsening storms.

“You don’t look around for seashells to pay for those (costs),” Naich said. “You need money to do that and as much as you can say, ‘No in the islands, we drink coconuts, we go fishing,’ those are very romantic ideas. In this day and age we need money and of course we look to the U.S. for help and for partnership.”

This is a critical opportunity

But the U.S. isn’t the only potential partner for these nations.

U.S. government research has shown that Micronesia is heavily dependent on U.S. funds and the expiration U.S. Postal Service would be a huge blow to the country’s economy.

One aspect of the negotiations is funding for infrastructure. Here is a road in Weno, Chuuk. Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat/2014

But Falcam noted that while the U.S. is the nation’s “premiere strategic partner,” the country has other sources of international support.

“We are not attempting to be solely reliant on this compact for our resources,” Falcam said. “We have become a more integral part of a community of nations. Our ability to resource from multiple locations is maturing.”

That includes a “sound and friendly relationship with the People’s Republic of China,” Falcam said.

Awareness of China’s efforts to ingratiate itself with Pacific nations like Micronesia is part of what’s spurring Biden’s effort to resolve these talks and congressional pressure to do so.

Naich thinks that the compact funding should reflect the value of the military’s control over the region to U.S. national security, as well as the historical obligation of the U.S. to help the countries achieve self-sufficiency after gaining control over the islands during World War II.

Naich stated that fully funding a trust fund to help the country achieve returns that would allow it to stop relying upon U.S. grants would be a significant step in this direction.

Other countries such as the Marshall Islands have to deal with the legacy of nuclear tests, such Runit Dome, an old concrete dome built by America to store radioactive waste from both its Pacific testing and its Nevada Testing. According to reports, the dome has been removed. Leakage and raising local concerns about environmental damage.

Esther Kiaʻaina, former assistant secretary of insular affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior during President Barack Obama’s administration, knows firsthand how challenging it can be to obtain defense funding to fulfill treaty obligations.

But she noted that today’s talks are an opportunity for the military to respond to community concerns, in the same vein as the military’s agreement to shut down the Red Hill fuel facility and back away from its plan to create a new bombing range in the Marianas.

“Instead of studying what you think is safe, how about you clean it up?” Kiaʻaina said of Runit Dome. “That would be transformational, not just for Enewetak, but for the whole island, the whole nation-state, but for the region.”

The geopolitical situation in the region makes this a critical opportunity for the Pacific nations, Kiaʻaina said.

“There’s probably no better time for these nations to, number one, understand their value and utilize their value to fight for their people,” she said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.