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Remarks at the 45th Pacific Islands Forum by the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Outgoing Forum Chair, HE Mr Christopher J. Loek

45th PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
REPUBLIC OF PALAU
29 JULY – 1 AUGUST 2014

REMARKS BY THE
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS
AND
OUTGOING FORUM CHAIR
H.E. MR CHRISTOPHER J. LOEAK

 

Your Excellency, Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., President of the Republic of Palau
Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum and spouses
The Vice President and Ministers of the Republic of Palau
The President of the Senate and Speaker of the House Delegates
Paramount High Chief Reklai and the traditional leaders of Palau
The Chief Justice and members of the judiciary
The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Distinguished Heads of Delegations of our Post-Forum Dialogue Partners and CROP Agencies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the Clergy
The people of Palau
Ladies and gentlemen


Alii. I have the honour to take the stand as the outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, a great privilege bestowed on the government and people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Thank you for allowing me to act in your name in pursuance of issues of common concern for the people of our Pacific Islands Forum.

I offer on our behalf our sincerest condolences to the families, particularly to those in our Forum Family, who have died unnecessarily and tragically on flight MH 17. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. There can be no justification for this act and seek that justice to be seen and done.

Overview of work carried out since the last Pacific Islands Forum

Honourable Leaders,

Allow me to provide a short overview of the key activities during my tenure as Forum Chair.

Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership

Last year by adopting the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, we committed ourselves to tackling head-on one of the biggest challenges of our time – climate change. The Declaration placed climate change front and center in the regional agenda focussing our efforts to spark a new wave of climate leadership, noting, amongst other issues, the detrimental effects of increased greenhouse emissions and wholesale change to not just our region, but to the planet.

I am pleased to report of the important inroads we have made thus far. Under your direction the Declaration was presented to the UN Secretary-General during last year’s U N General Assembly as the Pacific’s Gift to the world. The United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the European Union, California and Hawai’i signed onto the Declaration. Encouragingly Costa Rica, France, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand have lent their support to the Declaration.

The Declaration complements and focuses our energies on the forthcoming Third UN Small Island Developing States Conference in Samoa and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. We must build on the momentum gained from the Declaration so that it does not become just another regional pronouncement, but something that has real and long lasting results.

I am pleased to note that the incoming Forum Chair has chosen to maintain our focus on climate change, albeit on a different but related strand - the Ocean. I applaud the Republic of Palau for choosing the theme: The Ocean: Life & Future. The ocean surrounds, connects and divides us. It provides nourishment but has the potential to threaten our very existence. It enriches with the abundant resources it offers, provided we act responsibly and in a sustainable manner.

Pacific Plan Review

Honourable Leaders,

You will recall that two years ago in Rarotonga we commissioned the independent review of the Pacific Plan, our blueprint for regional cooperation and integration. After extensive and exhaustive consultations we considered last year in Majuro the Review’s preliminary findings presented by the chief reviewer, Sir Mekere Morauta.

The review found areas of success, but also where progress had been less than hoped for. It concluded that the Pacific region was at a crossroads and needed regionalism more than ever before. The Review recommended a revised Pacific Plan as a “framework for advancing the political principle of regionalism through a robust, inclusive processes of political dialogue, the expression of political values about regionalism and sovereignty, and the decisive implementation of key, game-changing, drivers of regional integration.”

At our special meeting in May in Rarotonga we discussed the Review’s recommendations, the result of which is a draft Framework for Pacific Regionalism that will be fully considered this week.

Without pre-empting our final consideration, I expect the Framework for Pacific Regionalism will mark an important shift in our approach to managing regional issues not by locking regional priorities into a list, but through a Framework which focuses on a robust process for priority-setting. This will help ensure that Leaders are requested to oversee only highest-priority initiatives that have strong implementation and funding plans that will bring significant benefits to the region.

Biketawa Declaration activities

Honourable Leaders,

Also in Rarotonga, we also considered the Report of one of the mechanisms at our disposal established to respond to regional crises, the Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji.

We welcomed the Group’s most recent visit to Fiji this year and noted the view of the Group that Fiji has made some significant progress towards preparations for elections and a return to parliamentary democracy.

While progress made in Fiji towards the expected election in September is largely guided by Fiji and her people, we should also acknowledge the role played by all, including many Forum members. We look forward to the outcome of the election and a way forward, based on the fundamental Forum principles enshrined in the Biketawa Declaration.

Economic issues

Our Economic Ministers recently met in Honiara and deliberated on topical economic issues focused on strengthening economic linkages, particularly in relation to improved linkages for the tourism sector as the impetus to regional economic growth.

There was focus on the meticulous processes to access climate change financing, noting the mounting cost of adaptation and mitigation. In addition, most member countries explored further options for financing post-disaster recovery, including a general support to the extension of the Pacific Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Pilot Programme.

Non-Communicable Diseases

I want to touch on the manmade dangerous epidemic that is, Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs). Seventy five percent of deaths in our region are NCD related. Most of our countries have higher rates of premature deaths below the age of sixty than other regions. The top ten countries with the highest overweight and obesity rates in the world countries are from our region.

The economic impact of NCDs is particularly worrying given the impact on our economies. NCDs require larger commitments from national budgets, at the expense of other priorities, not counting the impact on productivity, investment and education. The social costs of NCDs cannot be discounted either by the care provided by family members and the effect of premature deaths on surviving family members leading to further hardship and poverty.

While we acknowledged the threats posed by NCDs when we met in Auckland in 2011, we need to build on efforts taken since. The Pacific NCD Roadmap is one such action aimed at strengthening NCD prevention and control in the Pacific region proposing the adoption of key strategies to target the consumption of products that contribute to NCDs. The Roadmap also acknowledges the importance of primary and secondary prevention of NCDs as a more efficient use of scare resources.

Sustainable Development Goals

With less than 500 days to the deadline of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), discussions on what will replace the MDGs are coming to a head. 

Recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Open Working Group finalised its proposals for a new set of SDGs to replace the MDGs.  The Working Group has proposed 17 goals and 169 targets.  We welcome the inclusion of the unfinished business of the MDGs – work on this by our countries, including my own, will need to go on after 2015 as most of our countries will not achieve the MDGs by the deadline. 

We are also glad that the gaps in the MDGs have been addressed.  We also welcome the inclusion of a proposed goal to ‘Take urgent action to combat climate changes and its impacts’, as well as the proposed goal to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’. 

However, the significant increase to 17 goals and 169 targets compared to the 8 MDGs and related 21 targets and 60 indicators will prove challenging to monitor progress if such a large set is indeed agreed to next year.  Our region must therefore remain committed to the final negotiation phase, continue to advocate for priority regional issues and highlight practical challenges for small island developing states when faced with a large number of goals and targets.

Conclusion

Let me be the first of many during this week to acknowledge the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, for his leadership of the Secretariat and contribution to the region in what has been a challenging last six years, especially when we faced with the Global Financial Crisis, unprecedented natural disasters, political challenges and emerging security and environmental threats. I wish him and his spouse well.

I am particularly pleased to be passing on the reigns to a fellow Micronesian Leader. This will ensure the continued engagement with the Forum’s Northern members. The Republic of Palau will take our Forum to bigger and brighter things.

In closing I wish to extend to you all my heartfelt thanks for entrusting me with the leadership of the Forum for the past year and I ask that you extend the same to my successor.

Kommol tata and mesulung

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