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Environmental Issues To Be Discussed At Pacific Islands Forum - 2001-08-17

The Pacific Islands Forum is celebrating its 30th anniversary on the tiny republic of Nauru. But some of the most influential members of the 16 Pacific member nations aren't attending, a clear sign the group's future is shaky.

Environmental issues are dominating discussions in this year's meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, the world's smallest republic.

Topping the list is global warming and the dangers posed to the Forum's many tiny island nations if the sea levels continue to rise.

The problem of global warming is most pressing for Tuvalu, which is in danger of slowly sinking into ocean over next few decades. 12,000 people live in the nine islands of Tuvalu where no land is more than five meters above sea level.

Many in the forum are concerned that member Australia has failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty on reducing emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming.

But little progress is expected because Australian Prime Minister John Howard is not attending the Nauru meeting due to scheduling conflicts. This is the third time in six years that Mr. Howard has sent a representative to the forum.

But many other regional leaders are also missing. Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Mekere Morauta is also not in attendance, citing political problems at home. Papua New Guinea is again facing economic and social challenges amid violence and demonstrations against the privatization of government assets.

In Fiji, crucial post-coup elections are scheduled to start next week, prompting caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to skip the five day summit.

Problems over the corrupt distribution of foreign aid in the Solomon Islands also kept its leader Manasseh Sogavare at home.

With nearly a third of the forum leaders absent, it is not clear what, if anything, will be accomplished. The group's future seems increasingly uncertain.

The 16 member Pacific Island Forum was formed in the early 1970s in angry response to France's nuclear tests in French Polynesia.