Posted at 04:21 on 04 September, 2013 UTC
For many years Pacific Island countries have been pushing for action over climate change and at this year’s Forum meeting they want New Zealand and Australia to step up and take a lead on the issue on the world stage.
The focus of this year’s summit in Majuro in the Marshall Islands is climate change and the hosts have already drawn up a declaration they want the leaders to sign.
But will Australia and New Zealand step up?
Hopes will not be high, as Don Wiseman reports:
A Marshall Islands cabinet minister, Tony de Brum, says the next five years will be the key to protecting Pacific islands from rising sea levels. He says if nothing substantial happens in the next five years the battle is halfway lost. Mr de Brum says energy has to be focused on climate change because it is a survival issue for the whole world, and the Pacific needs to lead the response.
“TONY DE BRUM: We think that the Pacific leadership should take over. The time for kicking the can down the road waiting for - you go first, you go first - is over. We need to focus attention on the issue, not only because it is a survival issue for us but it is in fact the survival issue for the world.”
16 years ago the then Tuvalu prime minister, Bikenibeu Paeniu, was in Wellington pleading for New Zealand to seek an urgent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Paeniu wanted New Zealand to argue at the upcoming Kyoto meeting for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. He told the New Zealand government in 1997 that for Tuvalu it was about survival - that the nine atolls were already suffering from the effects. That call went nowhere. At the 1997 Forum summit the island nations, pushing for a binding agreement on uniform cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, were stymied by Australia’s then leader, John Howard, who announced it was a very good outcome for Australia. Mr Paeniu was reported as saying ’There was no compromise. It was just "no, no, no, no"’.
Opening this year’s summit on Tuesday in Majuro, the secretary general of the Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, says climate change is a real and serious threat to the peoples of the Pacific.
“TUILOMA NERONI SLADE: With the recent experience of the Marshall Islands only a few short months ago of severe drought and tidal inundation, the theme for this year’s Forum meeting is most aptly on the mark.”
The outgoing Forum chair, the Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna, says they chose the theme of climate change leadership partly because of frustration that Pacific countries have felt in the past of being overlooked, ignored and undervalued. He says years of inaction on the part of those able to help in mitigation measures have left Pacific peoples disappointed and dissatisfied. He says he has worked over the past year as Forum chair to promote the principles of the Pacific as large ocean island states.
“HENRY PUNA: Island states that must take the lead to redefine themselves and their place in the world and then project that renewed identity to the rest of the world. Marshalling the Pacific response builds on that concept appropriately and thrusts the challenge forward - front and centre - as a pressing concern to us all.”
Marshall Islands cabinet minister, Tony de Brum, earlier called New Zealand’s recently announced commitment to cut emissions to 5 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 ’a joke’. But New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, speaking in Majuro, says he thinks his country has a good record on climate change.
“JOHN KEY: This is a very low lying atoll and they feel the real threat that climate change could present to them and their lifestyles and their country. From New Zealand’s point of view we do think we’ve got a good record on climate change. Certainly the target we set in 2020 of minus-5% is better than a lot of our other trading partners.”
But Mr Key seems to be missing the message that the leaders of small island states are sending.
“JOHN KEY: Their point is that if the projections for sea rise take place over say 50 or 100 years, in principle it could threaten very low lying states like the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu or Kiribati - that’s correct. On the other side of the coin there are many other things that we can do - mitigation on the ground.”
But the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, says people in the low-lying nations, such as Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, are already suffering the effects. He says while mitigation and adaptation funding is supposedly available, it is hard to get.
“ENELE SOPOAGA: You probably need in Tuvalu to spend one whole year to write papers, to write reports, to run workshops, to get consultancies, in order to come up with a bankable proposal. This is unacceptable while the land keeps on being eroded. So we have to do better than that.”
Enele Sopoaga also wants an end to talk of relocating people to avoid the impact of sea level rise. He says all the world is aware of the plight of the low-lying nations such as Tuvalu, but nothing is being done. He says this talk includes discussion on relocation but that is utopian and inappropriate.
“ENELE SOPOAGA: It should never be an option because it is self-defeating in itself. For Tuvalu I think we really need to mobilise public opinion in the Pacific as well as in the [rest of] world to really talk to their lawmakers to please have some sort of moral obligation and things like that to do the right thing.”
However the Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, wants the leaders to ensure there are proper legal pathways created for those that may be forced to relocate.
“FRANCOIS PIHAATAE: There is a need to address this immigration aspect and how to deal with these people, to move to either Australia or Fiji or New Zealand and their status too, and their dignity, culture and all of those things need to be addressed. If they go to Australia, do they become Australian citizens or do they remain Tuvaluan or i-Kiribati?”
The Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, says the leaders at the Majuro must make a firm commitment to take action on climate change.
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