Protecting the Health and Wellbeing of the Blue Pacific
Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Statement
UNGASS on COVID-19, December 3, 2020
Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, PIF Chair
Mr President, Excellencies, I have the honour to address you all on behalf of the 14 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum, with presence at the United Nations. As Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum and the Blue Pacific continent which covers one third of our planet’s surface, we are determined to overcome old and new challenges that threaten our region.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents an immediate and devastating threat to the Pacific and global community. We are deeply concerned about the rapidly worsening health, economic and social effects that COVID-19 has had across the globe. Our region is now faced with a three-pronged crisis. The impacts of COVID-19, the devastating effects of climate change and natural disasters, and fragile economic health of the region as a consequence of SIDS inherent vulnerabilities. We remain mindful of the interlinkages between these crises and that recovery measures will need to be designed in consideration of and in strong response to the three-pronged crisis.
Our leaders place the health and wellbeing of the Pacific peoples and Ocean as our greatest priority. Recognizing that COVID-19 poses significant pressures on health systems around the world, our region took bold actions to restrict its spread to and within our region, enforcing unprecedented containment measures resulting in two-thirds of our Member States remaining COVID-19 free, the only countries in the world to do so from the onset of the pandemic.
While our measures have saved countless lives, they severely restricted our links to each other and the world, including the timely procurement and distribution of essential medical supplies that would support any consideration of reopening our Pacific borders.
Furthermore, global response measures to COVID-19 have had devastating socio-economic impacts on Pacific economies, affecting key drivers of growth including the private sector, trade, tourism, remittances, and fishing license fees to name a few. The Pacific region is now forecast to contract by an unprecedented 6.1% in 2020. As the pandemic rages on, existing inequalities are deepening, and vulnerable communities are being further marginalized.
These circumstances have drawn our region even closer together to explore innovative, inclusive solutions to addressing COVID-19. Now more than ever, multilateralism is needed, and must be a cornerstone of our regional and global efforts to combat the pandemic. The Pacific has a proud history of harnessing regionalism to address common issues, and we have continued that legacy by invoking the Biketawa Declaration as one of many mechanisms to address the pandemic.
In doing so, and under Tuvalu’s leadership, our Foreign Ministers created the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 (Pathway). The Pathway developed five regional protocols to facilitate the transportation of critical medical and humanitarian supplies across the Pacific to assist our people.
Our Foreign and Economic Ministers maintain open dialogue, discussing and sharing approaches to addressing the harsh effects of the pandemic. We recall and reaffirm their Statements on COVID-19 and urge the United Nations and development partners to support identified issues and assist with recovery efforts across the Pacific through well-coordinated efforts aligned with national and regional priorities and plans.
We further acknowledge the need to ensure that the region’s collective efforts and resources for alleviating the impacts of COVID-19 are targeted towards the most vulnerable, in particular women and girls, and persons with disabilities.
As we look towards our recovery, investment in our health infrastructure is of paramount importance to secure our peoples from ongoing and future health crises. Our peoples deserve the highest quality healthcare, which is also affordable, accessible, and available to all. We commend the efforts around the globe to develop safe and affordable treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
Our Pacific economies rely heavily on open borders for travel, trade, and business. Without treatment and a vaccine which our people can trust to mitigate health concerns, devastating disruptions to all our interdependent economies will continue unabated. The Pacific must have timely access to treatment and a vaccine that is safe, affordable and has been subject to stringent regulatory approval, when it is developed. Within that context, we urge global leaders to support the equitable and affordable distribution of safe COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to all peoples of the world.
We remain cognizant that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security, and wellbeing of peoples of the Pacific. Accordingly, we will maintain our collective advocacy, efforts, and ambition to combat climate change, despite the deferral of COP 26 to November 2021.
We reaffirm the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that based on the current rates, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C by as early as 2030, unless urgent action is taken by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and abate the climate change crisis.
We demand stronger mitigation action to put us on a 1.5°C pathway, including investment in low emissions technologies. We recognise 2020 as a milestone year for the Paris Agreement and urge that COVID-19 should not derail the global momentum and ambition required by all parties to deliver on their Paris Agreement commitments.
We call on the international community to recommit and urgently accelerate climate change action now, as called for in the Pacific Islands Forum Kainaki II Declaration, and ensure that all development financing and programming for COVID-19 align with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.
For the members of the Pacific Islands Forum. The call to action is clear. We must come out of this pandemic more unified, safe, and resilient as one blue Pacific continent, and indeed, as one blue planet.
I thank you. Fa’afetai. —ENDS
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