Statement by the President of the Republic of Kiribati H.E. Mr. Anote Tong at the 29th session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, 16 June 2015, Suva, Fiji
Hon. Louis Michel; Hon. Fitz Jackson, Co-Presidents of the Joint Assembly;
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of ACP Member states and the European Parliaments;
Distinguished invited guests;
Ladies and gentlemen
As is traditional, allow me to start by sharing with you all our blessings of:
‘KAM NA BANE NI MAURI’ (Health and peace to all)
Co-Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a pleasure, on behalf of the government and the people of Kiribati to address this auspicious Assembly on an issue that touches the lives of all of us, if in varying degrees of severity. As an island state and a region of more ocean than land, we certainly applaud and welcome the focus on Oceans and Climate Change in your deliberations. For, never in human history has the health of our oceans and planet earth been so much challenged!
At the outset I would like to convey my appreciation to Honourable Jackson and Honourable Michel, Co-Presidents of the Assembly for highlighting a challenge which requires not only global commitment but more importantly urgent and immediate global action. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey my congratulations to the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States for realizing their 40th Anniversary this year, a milestone that would not have been possible without the able stewardship of our Co-Presidents and of course those of your predecessors.
In contrast to a somewhat adversarial start at Copenhagen in 2009, in more recent years, we have seen significant and positive developments at the global level in respect of commitments to address climate change. Whilst the European Union, as a whole, has been unwavering in its support to our respective regions, it has not been until in the last year with the commitments by the largest economies (and polluters) the US and China and the recent focus by the G7 summit on climate change that we, small island development states from the ACP, have begun to feel that the global community may at last taken seriously what the IPCC and science have been saying. For those of us on the frontline of this challenge the realities of what has progressively been happening on the ground to our communities unequivocally sends a strong message of threat to our very survival.
As someone who has been closely involved with this issue over the years it is most gratifying for me to note this positive development. But let us ask ourselves what it is that we as a global community have achieved – especially in ensuring the future for the most vulnerable communities. Yes we are all now saying that climate change is the most significant global challenge. But would any of us now be in a position to return to our people and tell them "Do not worry anymore we your leaders of the global community have formulated options to ensure that no matter how high the sea rises, no matter how severe the storms get, there are credible technical solutions to raise our islands and homes and the necessary resources are available to ensure that all will be in place before it is too late." Many have asked what is it that I expect to come out of summits such as this or Paris at the end of this year 2015. My answer is simple – ACTION; urgent action that would guarantee that the future of our global community will be secured; action that guarantees that no one will be left behind and most importantly action NOW. That is the answer that my people would wish to hear.
I recently attended the Third International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held in Sendai, Japan, to agree on a new set of global goals for disaster risk reduction. The conference in Japan was followed by the G7 Climate Risk Insurance conference in Berlin, where it was highlighted that Kiribati and other similar states faced with the slow but sure onslaught of sea level rise did not fit the current climate risk insurance model.
However, the underlying message from these summits, was the undeniable fact that if there is to be a solution, it should be one that is acceptable, effective and just to all involved. If there is to be action, it should be action that goes to the root of the cause, action that is not just about facilitating recovery, but about strengthening a nation’s resilience through addressing the underlying drivers of risk. I have no doubt that we all agree that to build resilience we need resources, economic resilience.
Co-Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Whilst it is commendable that there have been significant pledges of financial assistance, there remains the challenge of accessibility and the translation of these pledges into what and to where it matters the most. We welcome the assistance by the various agencies with the capacity which provide the needed conduit but it is equally important that such assistance does not get eroded in the process.
The ACP-EU Joint Partnership is one that has spanned 40 decades, and one that has forged solidarity on various fronts. We have seen and witnessed the challenging journey that the world has taken on the issue of climate change where divergence has eroded confidence to address an issue putting the very existence of human life at stake. The solidarity of the ACP-EU Joint Partnership is one that I have every confidence will assist its member states not only in accessing these global resources, but equally important in facilitating where the focus should be for the benefit of its individual member states.
Co-Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen,
What then are the options available for our regions, for our respective nations?
In Kiribati we have adopted a strategy that would ensure that the country or parts of it remain above sea level in whatever form into the future. The concept of floating islands and the concept of raising our islands from their current height to maintain heights above the predicted sea-level rises are no longer mere speculation, but concepts with real possibilities.
The challenge of climate change demands that we must think outside the bounds of convention, outside of our comfort zones, because these are extraordinary challenges and will definitely call for extraordinary and unconventional solutions! But we have also acknowledged the reality that whatever measures we take to remain above the rising seas and more severe weather conditions they will not be able to accommodate the current level of population; we do not have the scale of resources required to do that and it will be most unlikely that the level of resources needed will be forthcoming – not unless there would be a radical change in global thinking and commitment.
In spite of our expressed desire never to leave our homelands such a wish would not be achievable without the availability of the necessary resources. Relocation must therefore be part of our strategy for adaptation and for us this involves the preparation of our people for such a possibility. With assistance from our partners and our neighbours we have already begun the process of upskilling and the training of our young people so that they will be qualified and have the choice, if they wish to do so, to migrate on merit as people with dignity and confidence in their new environment.
On the issue of relocation I do want to place on record my people's and my own deep gratitude to the Government and the people of Fiji for their most compassionate offer to accommodate our people if and when the need arises. I am very mindful of the cultural and political sensitivities involved and I wish to assure that these are important considerations that my government respects and takes seriously. Let me assure the government and people of Fiji that we have no immediate plans to migrate en masse. However, I applaud Fiji for rising to the moral challenge – vinaka vaka levu Fiji.
As an ACP region, we share a common resource, the Ocean. The Ocean provides and sustains us, yet as can be seen from the impacts of climate change raise a new major survival challenge for our people, particularly those of us from low-lying and coastal regions.
For far too long, human activities in the name of development, and our single-minded pursuit for short term gains and profits have had severe impacts on the health of our oceans and have resulted in what we are seeing now, the depletion of fishery stocks, increasing ocean acidification and coral bleaching, just to mention a few. As custodians of the oceans and beneficiaries from its resources, we have a shared responsibility and obligation to protect and preserve a resource that provides for not only our economic development and sustenance, but that of the world as a whole.
As an island nation with fisheries the only main resource at its disposal, it is only natural that as a government we are pursuing greater participation in this industry. Greater participation with returns that are fair and just for our people. With the Pacific EPA stalled, it may be an opportune time to re-think ways of moving forward, ways of ensuring that the partnership forged here, on balance are fair to those involved. My country has a resource that has the potential to elevate it above the challenges that it faces, elevate it beyond its dependence on external assistance, assistance that at times appear inaccessible and at times out of focus with our priorities.
But it is not just about the economics of fisheries, it is also about taking full responsibility as part of this global community. As a small island but large ocean state, and as part of our obligation to preserve such a resource, Kiribati closed off more than 400,000 square kilometers of its EEZ – the Phoenix Island Protected Area – or commonly known as PIPA from all forms of fisheries extraction. PIPA is rich in marine life and possibly one of the only remaining breeding ground for skipjack tuna. The closing of PIPA has not been smooth sailing, but as a government, we considered that this is a necessary sacrifice and contribution for the good of mankind.
The challenge now is enforcing such closure, enforcing the sustainable extraction of this global resource. The means to enforce are not easy, nor that readily available to owners of such resource – at times they appear harsh as seen by the direction taken by Palau – however they are necessary and with the stage of the Oceans as they are now, very critical. It is only fair that we all play our part to preserve our Oceans, our one and only Planet as responsible global citizens.
With these few words, allow me to share with you all our Kiribati traditional blessing of TeMauri, TeRaoiaoTeTabomoa, (May Health, Peace and Prosperity) be with us all.