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Changement climatique et biodiversité
Emmanuel Macron made a landmark visit to Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea in July, the first by a French President since Charles de Gaulle. The visit comes as climate change poses enormous risks for countries, communities and islands across a region seen as a laboratory for solutions to the environmental crisis.

Originally published in July, 2023, this article was updated on September 8.

“The Pacific Island States are today an exceptional workshop for solutions to prevent environmental damage, because they are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and face the challenge of preserving diversity,” says Virginie Bleitrach, Director of AFD’s Pacific Ocean Regional Office

With the vast expanses of water surrounding them, the Pacific Island States cover a third of the Earth’s surface, but only account for 0.03% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the annual cost of climate damage in these States is estimated at about 10% of their GDP, or $1 billion per year.  

Tropical Cyclone Pam (2015), for instance, destroyed the equivalent of 64% of Vanuatu’s GDP, with a total reconstruction cost amounting to close to 140% of the country’s GDP. 

The nature of these “great ocean States” also makes them the guardians of the world’s largest ocean basin  - covering a third of the planet - and a large proportion of global biodiversity. 

Further reading:  Pacific Ocean - 2019-2023 Regional Strategy

Forests also play a major role in protecting biodiversity and combating climate change. The forests of Papua New Guinea represent one of the world's most vital carbon and biodiversity reserves. Covering 78% of the territory, they are a vital source of food security for many Papua New Guineans, 85% of whom live in rural areas, making up an essential part of the country's cultural, linguistic and spiritual fabric. 

“These States serve as ‘great ocean States’: guardians of natural resources for their populations and for humanity,” says Virginie Bleitrach. This represents close to 10% of global biodiversity, 60% of the world’s tuna resources, and 30% of the world’s coral reefs across a third of the Earth’s surface. “They have a direct effect on our collective ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change in the coming decades.” 

This is why the 25,000 Pacific islands, which stretch from Palau to French Polynesia, needed to join hands to tackle climate change and the environmental damage threatening their existence. The 18 member States of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) are today guided by the “Blue Pacific” concept. It is set out in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which calls for advocacy on these critical issues, and to which France is committed. 

Further reading: How AFD Group’s Projects Protect, Preserve and Restore Biodiversity

Overcoming polarization

“France and AFD Group are present in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna,” says Virginie Bleitrach. “They intend to reinforce their presence, given the region’s crucial role in terms of climate and biodiversity protection.” During his visit to Papua New Guinea, President Macron is expected to conclude an ambitious agreement on forest protection, which dovetails with the ongoing work on biodiversity protection (including through the Kiwa Initiative).

Further reading: FEXTE: A Cooperation and Project-preparation Instrument

For its part, AFD is set to launch an €800,000 FEXTE technical cooperation project on the energy transition, which will establish a partnership between AFD and the operators ENERCAL (New Caledonia) and PNG Power in Papua New Guinea. They have requested technical assistance to capitalize on New Caledonia’s expertise in this field and strengthen cooperation between regional stakeholders, a core component of France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

With the capacity of the islands’ networks currently limited, FEXTE will finance technical cooperation in the electricity sector to build innovative solutions and overcome difficulties posed by the intermittent nature of renewable energy. 

Further reading: Blue Action Fund: A Major Player in the Protection of Marine Biodiversity 

France, a Pacific State

With three embassies to the island States France is the only member of the European Union in the region. AFD Group has been operating in the French Pacific Territories for 75 years, with a portfolio of nearly €3 billion. 

AFD is the only development bank covering this vast region, comprising 15 foreign countries and 3 French overseas territories, including the Cook Islands, East Timor, Federated Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis & Futuna,” says the Director of AFD’s New Caledonia office. 

These initiatives are reflected in the action plans for 2023/2024. Expertise France, alongside other partners, will be implementing a "Forest, Climate Change, Biodiversity" (FCCB) project funded by the European Union to the tune of €33.5 million. France will also support PNG's efforts by helping set up a "Forests, Nature and Climate" country package. With funding from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Expertise France will deploy an international technical expert (ITE) and technical assistance to the PNG government's inter-agency taskforce.

AFD Group and its Partners in Action

AFD Group will follow up on these activities with loan operations to finance the most pressing priorities in the region: climate- and disaster-resilient infrastructure (including green port facilities and flood control), green finance via guarantees and credit lines, and energy transition initiatives. The Group has also identified cooperation opportunities through grants ranging from €20 million to €30 million per year, focusing on the climate, biodiversity and oceans. They include the expansion of the Kiwa Initiative (Nature-based Solutions for biodiversity and climate change adaptation in the Pacific) and the CLIPSSA high-resolution climate modeling program for the entire Pacific region. 

It will also develop an Ocean Initiative with a view to UNOC 2025 in Nice, a disaster risk response with the French Red Cross, and the management of waste and public health networks from a climate perspective (in a broader Indo-Pacific approach). 

In addition, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) will benefit from capacity building to prepare for COP31, which may be held in Australia, and the pre-COP meeting in Oceania.