45th PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM OPENING CEREMONY
Remarks of His Excellency,
Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.
President of the Republic of Palau
July 29th – 31st
Good evening everyone.
Welcome to Palau.
Like our brave navigating ancestors, you have endured the storm to reach our Palauan shores to attend this very important Pacific Leadership meeting.
The turbulent seas that surround us are an appropriate metaphor for the complex issues that we face as Pacific Island Nations. It would seem that the Ocean recognizes the importance of this meeting and has decided to provide us with a little warning that she deserves more attention!
But before I speak to our theme this year, I would like to express my appreciation to all of you for selecting Palau to host this year’s 45th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting.
I would also like to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Governors of Palau and our environment partners who are hosting this event and who have been supporting the entire planning effort for this year’s forum.
Kom Kmal Mesulang!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Pacific Forum Island Countries have long been viewed as the conscience of the world, and this meeting provides an excellent opportunity for Leaders to undertake a frank exchange on our national and regional plans and priorities for the coming years.
This 45th Pacific Islands Forum convenes at a very unique juncture in time during this “Year of the Small Island Developing States”, convening just before the SIDS Conference in Apia, the Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York and well in advance of the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and the new climate change agreement in 2015.
Let us use this unique opportunity, where these events, like the stars above, have aligned in the Pacific’s favor, to unite in a wave of solidarity as we navigate to the shores of Samoa in support of Prime Minister Tuilepa’s vision of “Genuine and Durable Partnerships”.
My friends, we all know that the Ocean is the foundation for our way of life. It supplies us with our sustenance, it nurtures us and it provides us with the basis for our strong Pacific Island cultures and our very identities.
The economies, local livelihoods, cultures, food security, and sustainable development of Our Pacific Island Countries depend on the health and vitality of our marine and coastal environment. This health is dependent on our ability to sustainably manage and conserve our marine and coastal resources, which enables our Small Island States to enjoy a greater share of the benefits derived from our resources.
However, we are all also aware that issues such as overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution, coastal runoff, global warming and growing ocean acidification, have weakened the resilience of our marine ecosystems and diminished our fish stocks. These attacks on our environment and our ocean threaten the very foundation of our Pacific Island life and future.
It is therefore time that we begin to listen to the science of the Ocean and immediately respond to many clear findings. But we should not listen blindly to our scientists and data collectors. When we hear that the data shows that fish stocks are stable, we must be willing to question such data with our own experiences. Every fisherman here knows that fish stocks are dwindling significantly, whether we are talking in-shore or off-shore species.
Recognizing that our Pacific Ocean is under siege, let us join together to take stock of our past actions, and raise the stakes in this very important lead-up to the SIDS meeting in Samoa and UN General Assembly meeting in New York, where, with global partners, we will define our post 2015 Development Agenda.
We must now move beyond scientific studies and political statements. We must roll up our sleeves and get to work. We need responsive initiatives, realistic and workable financing mechanisms and real partnerships that respond to the issues that we face.
We must recognize that the only long-term solution to ocean warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification is a deep global cut in CO2 emissions.
Issues of food security will continue to be a growing threat. We will need to protect not only our fisheries, but also respond to related issues of Non-Communicable Diseases and Invasive Species.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the marine environment has always provided sustenance for our islands. Each of us has developed creative response to protect this primary island resource, including Palau.
For generations upon generations, Palau’s Council of Chiefs has preserved marine resources by placing vulnerable reef areas off limit to fishing. This traditional conservation method, known as “bul” preserved the livelihoods and food security of the Palauan people in a simpler time. However, the modern leadership of Palau has come to understand that the “bul” is no longer a sufficient response to the growing outside pressures on the environment caused by modernization.
That is why Palau, over the past decade, has focused on mobilizing modern mechanisms to meet these needs to ensure a sustainable future. For example, we have declared and met our Micronesia Challenge Commitment to effectively protect 30% of our near-shore and coastal marine environment and 20% of our forests by 2020. We have made this commitment possible by funding this effort through the imposition of a Green Fee, a fee that is paid when you leave our island.
Let me be the first to say “Thank You” for your contribution to our conservation efforts.
We have also created the world’s first Shark Sanctuary, wherein we prohibited shark finning, the taking of sharks, certain reef fish, turtles, rays and marine mammals, and moved commercial fishing 50 miles from land. And now we are in the process of declaring the Palau National Marine sanctuary, which will create a no-take fisheries zone and a highly regulated fisheries zone for domestic fishing needs.
We ask for your support in this effort and recognize that Ocean protected areas are an integral and necessary part of our larger effort to ensure a sustainable fisheries economy in our region.
In requesting your support, we would ask that you take into consideration our unique circumstances, as you should with each and every Pacific Island nation, rather than bundling us into one big basket and entitling us “small Pacific Island Country.” Let us all respect the concept of sovereignty and the choices that each of us make after careful consideration.
For this 45th Pacific Islands Forum, our proposed Palau Declaration, entitled “The Ocean: Life and Future” seeks to mobilize Palau and our Pacific members towards more vigorous commitments to a sustainable ocean economy through a mixed management approach. In Oceanscape, this is also known as a “Mixed Plate Approach” and it acknowledges jurisdictional rights, encourages action, facilitates adaptation to our rapidly changing environment and recognizes that what works best for one community or country may not work best for another.
Within the context of this Declaration, we are asking members and partners to register their current commitments and to undertake new initiatives that will help each Pacific Island Nation, and the region as a whole, to establish a sustainable framework for future development.
This framework will require a stronger regional bond and will certainly be enhanced by a more concise Framework for Pacific Regionalism. But for regionalism to be effective, we must understand that regionalism is all about looking out for one another. This includes an appropriate respect and commitment to our Small Island States. Failing to recognize the very real impacts of Climate Change and failing to participate in an essential global response simply does not qualify as a regional commitment.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the key to this entire process of building a sustainable future will be Partnership; Partnership between Public and Private Entities, Partnership between our Pacific nations, Partnership with developed nations, Partnership with CROP agencies, and Partnership with international funding agencies.
I would ask that each of you focus on your own partnerships and make significant commitments for future action to meet the reality and scope of our Ocean and development challenges.
A good example of partnership is the peer review process established under the Forum Compact. This process is grounded in the fact that our islands share many of the same characteristics and challenges, and it simply makes sense for us to share ideas and learn from each other’s success as well as our failures.
We are pleased to announce that Palau’s peer review report has been completed and is now available for you review and reference.
Friends, only through strong partnerships will we be able to meet the challenges of a Stand-Alone Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans that will serve as our Pillar for future action. Only through these Partnerships will our SIDS Call for Action in Samoa through a stand-alone SDG reverberate to the United Nations and to the World.
Only through real partnerships will our children enjoy a future, molded and defined by our Pacific Ocean, a future that they justly deserve.
At this meeting, we must look to build on past achievements and respond to new challenge, including: Increasing the resilience of our marine ecosystem; Setting the stage for fair sharing of the economic benefits of sustainably managed marine resources; Establishing national and regional programs ensuring sustainable fisheries, such as the development of PNA and the FFA; Encouraging marine-based tourism development; and Expanding on our numerous conservation achievements, such as the Micronesia Challenge and the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Project.
Let us celebrate our collective efforts as custodians to our shared resource, the Pacific Ocean.
Thank you all and I look forward to engaging with all the leaders to ensure a way forward to protecting our Ocean, the life and future of our Pacific Island Nations.