Andris Piebalgs, the European Union's Commissioner for Development, traveled to the island nation of Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific Ocean, on Wednesday to present the EU's proposal to fund projects aimed at addressing poverty and other consequences of climate change in the region. In return, the Pacific Island states will vote with the European bloc at upcoming international climate negotiations. These nations will receive €90 billion from the EU. While this is not a huge amount in EU terms, it represents 19.5% of the nominal GDP of Vanatu. The Pacific Island countries are isolated developing countries that have suffered from frequent natural disasters and are particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Climate change has already had a visible impact on the area due to rising sea levels and increased erosion. These changes pose a serious threat to inhabitants' ability to engage in agricultural practices. This is significant, given their heavy reliance on natural resources. Further, 80% of the population lives near the coast, making them even more susceptible to displacement due to rising sea levels.
During his visit, Piebalgs made several proposals, including a program to strengthen Pacific economic integration through trade and a program to support climate change capacity development for Pacific Islanders. He also proposed to implement adaptation projects in the area, including reforestation of watershed areas and reduced-impact harvesting. Finally, he proposed €20 million for the Pacific Regional Program On the Reduction of Risks From Natural Disasters, an organization that helps prepare the nations for future natural disasters, while bolstering their ability to respond after a disaster has struck; €12 million to fund a program to reinforce the management of costal, terrestrial, and marine environments; and €4.3 million in humanitarian aid for the area's Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction Program. While in the Pacific, Commissioner Piebalgs will also visit projects that the EU has previously funded, including a wind farm in Vanuatu and the Vanuatu National Disaster Center and Meteorological Services.
The Pacific region receives more EU development aid per capita than any other region. However, the Pacific Islands are still not on track to meet most of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) put forth by the United Nations. Over two million Pacific Islanders are living in poverty. This region also has a very high infant-under-five mortality rate, with 64 out of every 1000 children dying before they reach the age of five. Delivering effective aid is also more difficult in this region due to the highly dispersed population, numerous languages, lack of infrastructure, and large distances between countries. Nevertheless, Piebalgs’ most recent visit suggests that the EU is going to continue to support the region in meeting the MDGs. Prior to his visit, Piebalgs noted that climate change and natural disasters have hindered the region's development, economic growth, and progress toward meeting the MDGs. However, he said that "it is time for us to take the lead in rallying substantial international community support for the Pacific's climate change adaptation efforts." He went on to call on all EU Member States to participate in the EU-Pacific partnership to fight climate change and poverty.