Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Honorable Enele Sopoaga’s remarks to the Regional Meeting on Climate Change and Migration Workshop

Suva, Fiji

7 December 2016

Representatives from Pacific Island Countries
Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Mr Iosefa Maiava, Head of UNESCAP Pacific Operation,
Ms Osnat Lubrani, UN Resident Representative,
Representatives from European Union and International Labour Organisation,
Representatives of United Nations organisations, regional organisations and governments,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to speak at this Regional Meeting on Climate Change and Migration in the Pacific. I am particularly pleased to be invited to speak at this Meeting, as the issue of climate change and migration is very present in our minds.
At the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey earlier this year, I called for a UN General Assembly resolution to commence work to develop a legal regime to protect people displaced by the impacts of climate change. The problem of people displaced by climate change is a growing global problem. Recent studies suggest that over the last 7 years, an average of 62,000 people have been displaced by climate related events, every day. These people are not refugees as defined under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees as they have not suffered political persecution.
So we need to find a way of guaranteeing climate change displaced people basic rights under international law. The Tuvalu government has drafted a UN General Assembly resolution and I hope copies can be made available at this meeting so that we can receive feedback on this proposal.
I have no doubt that this will not be an easy campaign; but it has to be done.  I believe that with your support; the team work and navigating together through the regional and United Nations forest of processes would no doubt will result in a good outcome.
At this juncture I would like to make it very clear that it is very important that we differentiate between migration due to employment and economic opportunities and migration due to the effects of climate change, as these are totally different issues altogether and require different approaches to address them.  I believe that today’s meeting will provide more concrete understanding on migration and climate change.
As people in this region know very well, the issue of migration, refugees and displaced people touches on very sensitive issues. In this context we are very aware of the tragedy and suffering that surrounds the migration policies of some of our regional neighbours.
For this reason alone, this regional meeting is very timely. I understand that it is the culmination of activities and lessons learned from the Pacific Climate Change and Migration Project. I want congratulate the European Union for taking up this initiative in the Pacific region. I also want to thank UNESCAP and the International Labour Organisation for their role in implementing this initiative.
I understand that this meeting will build on existing work under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Communiques, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and other international and regional initiatives. Its purpose is to identify key priorities and responsibilities for advancing commitments under key international and regional policy frameworks concerning climate change migration and displacement.
It’s very important that we have this discussion on migration and climate change in a sensible and forward thinking manner. Climate change displacement and unplanned relocation are highly disruptive to livelihoods, culture and society; and require proper, well-planned interventions to support people in their efforts to adapt to the challenges.
While we talk of migration, we should not give the impression that people want to leave their homelands. Maintaining sovereignty, self-determination, cultural identity and territorial rights are of primary concern to Pacific Islanders in any form of climate change-related. Forced displacement is a last option.
There is no chance that I as a Leader of an Atoll nation who is at the fore front of climate change, could accept a tag or a label of a climate change refugee.  All of us gathered here today should strive to do all we can to protect and save our atoll islands from drowning due to the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
Nevertheless migration is an option for many Pacific islanders. Many Pacific island countries have a proud history of labour mobility. In Tuvalu’s case this labour mobility issue is always focusing on providing employment and economic opportunities, hence we have merchant seamen working on ships all over the world. We have students studying in Cuba to become doctors and others studying in Taiwan and Morocco to become engineers. We live in a truly globalised world. So we need to plan for migration as an economic option and at the same time, plan to address climate change displacement.
I certainly hope that this meeting will come forward with a clear set of strategies to address migration issues. As a start, we must develop regional arrangements for greater labour mobility. We should also be expanding the Pacific Access category visa system. I understand the World Bank released a report earlier this year calling on Australia to introduce an Australian Pacific Access category visa. I certainly hope that Australia carefully considers this. While we welcome the system of temporary visas for fruit pickers, it is no substitute for a more permanent arrangement.
Saying that, guaranteeing a safe future for our citizens must be our first priority. We must build strategies to adapt to the impacts of climate change and find ways of building back better after climate related disasters have struck.
In Tuvalu’s case, my government has enacted legislation to create a climate change and disaster survival fund as a means of ensuring that funds are set aside for when they are needed. The 36 million US Dollars GCF approved project on Coastal Adaptation, contributes to our efforts in holistically building Tuvalu resilience against the effects of climate change.
My government has also proposed a Pacific Climate Change Insurance Facility as a means of providing support to countries in our region after a climate related disasters. This is a further step to building our own resilience and I hope that all of you will support this long-needed initiative.
One last point, there is a dire need for effective coordination at all levels. You will agree with me the sudden plethora of interests in climate change, which is inundating SIDS/SIS. So let us also coordinate better internally, regionally, and globally.
So I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this meeting. I certainly hope that it comes forward with a regional action plan that will deliver concrete option to address climate change and migration.
Finally I wish to reiterate my gratitude to the European Union for supporting this initiative and certainly hope that the EU will continue to engage in this critical issue.
I am deeply honoured to declare this Regional Meeting on Climate Change and Migration open.
I thank you
Tuvalu Mo Te Atua

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