Heads of State and governments as well as ministers and delegates participated in a High-Level Dialogue on climate change and biodiversity at the Pacific Community Headquarters in Nouméa, New Caledonia. Reference was repeatedly made to the previous climate dialogue at SPC that led to a wide coalition between European and Pacific actors in support of the Paris Agreement, described as an “equitable and irreversible agreement demonstrating solidarity” by French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian. The latter also said that the French development agency (AFD), is becoming a full-fledged development bank entirely aligned with the Paris Agreement and active in the Pacific region.
In opening the discussion, SPC Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, also expressed deep satisfaction at seeing a high level of convergence on essential issues between SPC’s island and metropolitan members; and at seeing confirmation that SPC continues to play its historical role as “Meeting House of the Pacific”. Mr Philippe Germain, the President of the government of New Caledonia, in his capacity as president of the SPC Conference, emphasized that the region’s resources and stability are of global strategic significance.
The following SPC Members took the floor:
- Speaking for Fiji, Mr Jone Usamate, Minister for employment, productivity and industrial relations, encouraged many ‘talanoas’ to take place in implementing the Paris Agreement (talaona is a Fijian word describing an inclusive dialogue leading to good decisions).
- Speaking for Pitcairn, Ms Laura Clarke, Governor, said that “to save Tuvalu is to save the world” emphasising that Pacific nations are at the forefront of climate change. She also highlighted innovative policy steps taken against plastic pollution.
- Speaking for Tuvalu, Mr Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister, said that and thanked France for its continuing engagement and persistence on climate change.
- Speaking for Samoa, Mr Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister, recalled that his country is a sanctuary for several species threatened by climate change including whales, sharks, turtles, and also mangroves. He emphasized the need for protection against destructive fishing practices.
- Speaking for the Solomon Islands, Mr Milner Tozaka, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, insisted that for low-carbon economies such as his country, the Paris Agreement was a matter of survival. His country was doing what it could within financial constraints.
- Speaking for Nauru, Mr Baron Waqa, President, said “the talking is over” in the face of climate change and that for Nauru’s 10,000 population, France was a good friend with a strong influence. He recalled that Green Fund and other financial instruments are difficult to access for Pacific countries.
- Speaking for Tokelau, Ms Paula Faiva, Manager for Climate Change, set the debate at the moral level, as her country saw biodiversity and climate change from an “oceanic-pono” perspective (pono is a Polynesian word that refers to righteousness and equity) and recalled the Polynesian Leaders Group’s Declaration on the Ocean calling the Pacific “a biodiversity treasure, a showcase for nature, which we are happy to share with the rest of the world and for which we urge respect and protection” in 2016.
- Speaking for Vanuatu, Mr Charlot Salwai, Prime Minister, reiterated the commitment of his country to the Paris Agreement despite the limited resources and constraints of Pacific Islands.
- Speaking for Wallis and Futuna, Mr David Vergé, President of the territorial assembly, emphasized that consumption patterns have an impact on the planet and called for more responsive and advocated for greater regional integration of French Pacific territories.
- Speaking for Papua New Guinea, Mr Rimbink Pato, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, expressed that his country, home to the third greatest tropical forest after the Amazon and Congo basins, wished to keep building upon partnerships with European partners. New mechanisms to access EU funds would help small countries.
- Speaking for Palau, Ms Faustina Rehuhew Marugg, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism, emphasised that the region is rich in traditional knowledge that could be tapped into.
- Speaking for Kiribati, Mr David Teaabo, Interim High Commissioner to Fiji, reaffirmed the commitment of his country to the Blue Pacific and said that efficient regionalism started with members and their capacities. He called for the support of France on issues such as maritime security and environment thresholds, e.g. on atolls.
- Speaking for Niue, Mr Michael Jackson, Member of Parliament, said his country, albeit a very small greenhouse gas emitter, was on target for climate and biodiversity objectives: its energy mix would be 80% by 2025 and 40% of its Exclusive Economic Zone was already marine protected areas.
- Speaking for French Polynesia, Ms Maina Sage, Member of the Parliament, said that, for thousands of years, the Pacific had been an area of freedom and exchanges. Climatic migration was not an acceptable option for Pacific Islanders who do not live on continents. She called for the international community to live up its commitments.
- Speaking for the Cook Islands, Ms Bredina Drollet, Chief of staff to the Prime Minister, expressed disappointment that funding for small island developing states is decreasing and called to her country’s European partners to advocate in favour of financial help to island countries.
- Speaking for Australia, Ms Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for international development and the Pacific, said her country was on track to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement, and is keen to deepen economic and security links and to share what Australia learnt in protecting “superb but sensitive coral reefs” including the Great Barrier.
- Speaking for New Zealand, Mr Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, said his country would deepen and intensify its commitment for climate change, building upon existing and developing partnerships.
Over the years, the Pacific Community has been very active on issues highlighted by participants. To take but a few examples among several others, the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems division works on alleviating pressure on coastal fisheries; the Biopelagos project contributes to a better management of high sea natural resources; the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime division has helped mainstreaming climate change into water, agriculture, health and natural resources; the RESCCUE and INTEGRE projects, led by SPC’s Climate change and environment program, contributed to increase resilience and the management of coastal resources through an ecosystem-based approach; and the Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac), supported by SPC, provides tide and sea level information and builds capacity Pacific Islands.
In conclusion, Mr Le Drian used words of Pacific languages to express the wish that the ongoing Talaonas would lead to wise usages of Moana, the Great Ocean.