Closing Statement by the Hon Simon Kofe at the Regional Conference on Securing the Limits of the Blue Pacific: Legal Options and Institutional Responses to the Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Maritime Zones, in the Context of International Law

Delivered by Hon. Simon Kofe

Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Tuvalu

17 September 2020

Dame Meg Taylor, Excellencies, and Colleagues, greetings again from Tuvalu.

The work undertaken last week during the Regional Conference on Securing the Limits of the Blue Pacific has been truly outstanding, and I am gratified to see that last week’s hard work has been formalized in the outcomes document for this critical event. I would like to thank the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, all Forum Member countries, CROP agencies, UN agencies, and legal experts for taking active steps to realize the 2019 commitment by Forum leaders that Pacific maritime zones will be maintained and secured regardless of the impacts of sea level rise and climate change.

In my opening statement, I emphasized the stewardship that Pacific Island States, as Big Ocean Countries, have over the Pacific Ocean. This stewardship includes the responsibility to take the actions that have been taken at this conference. We have reviewed our cultural, historical, and legal connections to the sea. We have discussed the legal challenges and implications of the impacts of sea level rise and climate change on Pacific maritime boundaries and maritime interests. We have also looked strategically at our options moving forward. This work is difficult, it is time-consuming, and sometimes can also be frustrating, but it is the only way to make future-looking strides and develop a strong legal response to sea level rise.

Our leaders made a commitment to the Pacific Ocean and our maritime boundaries in 2019 because the Pacific Ocean connects us—it drives us to look out for each other as we look out for ourselves. In Tuvalu, we often talk about shared ownership, or kaitasi and this conference has illustrated the spirit of kaitasi. We are not only culturally linked through the Pacific Ocean, but, through this conference, we have also made concrete moves to ensure that these links can be maintained and even strengthened despite sea level rise. We have asserted joint ownership over all aspects of our Oceanic stewardship.

The outcomes of this conference, which include reaffirming our Leaders’ commitment to secure maritime zones against sea level rise, pledging to ensure that maritime laws recognize maritime boundaries as secure, and working to develop regional norms for sea level rise and maritime zones, demonstrate that we take our shared ownership over this issue with all seriousness. On top of this, I would reiterate that, as we work together to realize our shared commitment, we must also enact national policies and legislation to promote and formalize our agenda on the international plane. By developing national legislation, we can boost our regional response, and ensure that we, as Pacific nations, are the trendsetters for taking action on sea level rise and climate change.

Just as we have demonstrated our shared responsibilities to each other by participating in this conference, we must also tell the global community that they too have a role to play in kaitasi. We must all take ownership of climate change and sea level rise as shared global problems that can only be overcome through joint action. Developing a global legal response to maritime-zone entitlements is a major part of this effort.

I am highly encouraged by the outcomes of this regional conference, and the interest you have all shown in the conference process. As the 2020 Tuvalu Foreign Policy, Te Sikulagi, clearly states, “Tuvalu is committed to taking responsibility for the entire Pacific region in the same way it takes responsibility for domestic issues. In all things, solutions will be created that are amenable to all within the region.” Let us continue to work through regional forums to ensure strong, responsible, and collective legal responses to sea level rise and climate change.

Fakafetai lasi.

[ENDS]

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