2021 PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM LEADERS 51st MEETING
OUTGOING FORUM CHAIR – TUVALU PRIME MINISTER, HON. KAUSEA NATANO
Friday 6 August
Excellencies, honourable Leaders, it is indeed a pleasure to address you as Forum Chair one last time. At the outset allow me to acknowledge you all, fellow Leaders, for your enduring support in our numerous endeavours together as a Forum family over the course of these past two years. There is no question that without your support, it would have been very difficult to discharge my functions as Chair of this august organization.
Let me also convey my thanks to the Secretary General, Mr Henry Puna, and your Secretariat, and indeed our broader CROP family, as well as our Dialogue Partners and the broader Pacific community for the support conveyed to Tuvalu over the course of our chairmanship.
In the same vein, I also take this opportunity to acknowledge former Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor, for her invaluable stewardship and vision over the course of her tenure, but especially during Tuvalu’s time as Forum Chair.
As I reflect on our tenure as Forum Chair, I am reminded of the theme which Tuvalu chose for the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum: “Securing our future in the Pacific”. Indeed, Honourable Leaders, I believe our collective actions and achievements over the past two years have no doubt been in the continued service and attainment of this objective. The work on the 2050 Blue Pacific Strategy, the work to safeguard and protect our maritime zones in the face of sea level rise, the development of strategies to facilitate both health and economic recovery from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are, but examples of the building blocks designed to contribute to ‘Securing Our Future in the Pacific’.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt proved a formidable challenge to our normal way of life in the last two years. It has by far been the worst pandemic to ever hit the global community since the pandemic of 1918. Yet, as a region, we did not sit idly by, but chose to proactively mobilize the appropriate national and regional mechanisms to respond as governments and as a collective to the crisis. The establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway under the Biketawa Declaration for instance has enabled the movement of nearly 300 metric tonnes of medical and humanitarian supplies as well as 200 technical staff across the region.
In addition to this, and through the assistance of the COVAX facility, as well as support from Australia and New Zealand and our other partners, we are continuing the roll out of vaccines to our communities in order to respond to the pandemic.
On the climate front, Climate change no doubt remains the greatest security threat to the Blue Pacific Continent. Developed economies should do more in terms of meaningful climate action, which is imperative now more than ever, noting the current trajectory of global warming as recently reported. If we continue on in this trajectory, the world will likely miss the target of keeping global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, in the next century. This will no doubt be disastrous for the Pacific. Notwithstanding, we cannot rest on our laurels. To the contrary we must continue on with the work. I am confident that underpinned by the Leaders calls under the Kainaki II Declaration, I believe our Pacific voice has become more united and focused, and our messaging has become a lot clearer and more pronounced in our global advocacy for robust climate action on adaptation and mitigation, over the past two years.
On the resilience discussion, we have not lost sight of the need to build resilient Pacific communities and to look for new and innovative means to do so. To this end, I note the Leaders endorsement in 2018 of the Pacific Resilience Facility, as a Pacific initiative designed to strengthen community level preparedness and resilience to climate change impacts.
On the issue of sea level rise there is no doubt that Sea-level rise continues to threaten the very core of our existence – our statehood, our sovereignty, our people, and our identity. Indeed, our past, present and future economic development strategies and nation building aspirations are based on the security and permanency of our maritime zones against sea-level rise. This is a defining issue for us, as the security and certainty of maritime entitlements that we generate from our maritime zones under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention no doubt contributes in a meaningful way to the full realisation of our Blue Pacific Continent.
On this front, we are responding collectively through our work on our maritime zones, and to this end, I look forward to our discussions on the draft Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise. With our endorsement, the Declaration will strategically position us to shape international thinking and put our region at the heart of international discussions to resolve this issue.
Colleagues, securing our maritime zones is also about securing our interests against transboundary threats. Just over three months ago, we were presented with a new but familiar and urgent threat to the security of our future. Japan’s plans to release nuclear waste into our Pacific Ocean places our region at the receiving end of potential nuclear harm; and our Pacific Ocean is once again the target of radioactive waste storage. Our timeline to ensure that no harm will befall our Blue Pacific Continent is just over 18 months.
Excellencies, I commend you all for the important dialogue with Japan. But I urge that we heighten our efforts in the months to come, consistent with our commitments at the PALM9, and more importantly in compliance with our international law obligations. Honourable Leaders, it is indeed our legal and moral obligation to secure our future against nuclear threats and to uphold a key product of our 50-year history – our South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.
The endorsement of this declaration no doubt presents us a momentous occasion to once again re-affirm the values that matter most to us as a region. In this context, I am speaking about cementing ‘regional solidarity’, ‘cohesiveness’, ‘strong collective’ and ‘family’ as cornerstone principles in our work on the international plane, and in our journey together into the future.
Honourable Leaders, the value of the Pacific Islands Forum is that through our collective commitment and action, we are able to address the issues that are of most importance to us all in a frank and respectful manner. As we have come to realise in our journey as an organization, that sometimes the nature of the issues that confront us require robust political dialogue and intervention. At times solutions are elusive and difficult to arrive at.
But ultimately, I believe that our unique Pacific Way of resolving issues – including our ability to resolve issues through our unique way of talanoa and dialogue; our ability to agree to compromise in the interest of our collective; and our ability to reach consensus even on the most sensitive of matters underpins the very architecture of our organization, and will always ensure that we, as a Pacific family, will always resolve our disagreements and issues in a dignified way, and remain united as a region.
Colleagues, you would recall the protracted discussions at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders retreat in relation to climate change. These were no doubt robust and frank discussions but among family. In the end we reached a highly constructive outcome in the form of the Kainaki II Declaration – the Forum’s strongest political statement on climate change in its 50 year history. Honourable Leaders, this is a true testament not only to the strength of our voice, but also the strength of our unity as a collective.
As you are well aware, we are in the midst of another dialogue within the family, related to the potential withdrawal of our Micronesian brothers and sisters from the Pacific Islands Forum. On this front, let me be cIear in my belief that the way forward for this matter requires the same approach: continued dialogue about what we each seek, compromise for the greater regional good, the reaching of consensus based on our Pacific ways and traditions, and ultimately unity and solidarity.
Fellow leaders let me go further and reiterate my belief that unity and solidarity for us is not simply a nicety, but a necessity, placed upon us by the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances which we face, shaped by our own history and the conditions confronting the globe such as that of tCOVID-19 and climate change. And it is in context of these challenges that we must think and act not as individual small Island States not as Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia, but as a single interconnected one Blue Pacific Continent. On this basis, Honourable Leaders, I urge that each of us continue to engage in the political dialogue mechanism process with this strategic imperative firmly in mind.
Honourable Leaders, in closing, and on the occasion of this the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum, I am inspired by the sentiments of the founding fathers of the Pacific Islands Forum, who sought to chart their own course towards a region of peace, harmony, security and prosperity.
In the context of some of the greatest challenges to ever face our Blue Pacific, I believe that our ability to achieve our founding fathers’ vision, and to secure our future in the Pacific, is as one Forum family, motivated by the strength and purpose of a unified Blue Pacific Continent.
As Tuvalu’s time in the Chair draws to an end, I am confident that the people and the government of Fiji, as the Forum Chair will continue our proud legacy and urge us to greater heights and achievements in the months ahead.
Fakafetai Lasi, I thank you.–ENDS
Check against delivery, August 6, 2021.