PIF Secretary General Henry Puna’s Statement at the IFRC and ICRC’s ‘Planet Red Summit’.
Tackling the humanitarian impact of climate change and pandemics. Together
12 – 14 October 2021
Bula vinaka, kia orana and greetings from the Blue Pacific. I must begin by respectfully acknowledging the Red Cross Red Crescent, for the lifesaving and tireless work you do every day, in our Blue Pacific and around the world.
I thank you very much for this opportunity to join your deliberations on solutions to address two of the greatest threats facing the world today – climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am a firm believer that global challenges, such as climate change and the pandemic, can only be overcome through concerted global effort. Without a doubt, we all have an important role to play.
Indeed, we achieve more by working together. This resonates with the theme of this Planet Red Summit, which is timely because the one Blue Planet we all share and call home, has hit code red. Urgent, ambitious action is required, to bring humanity back from catastrophic global impacts. As the iconic code red emblem for these times, this event provides a powerful and poignant reminder, that we must get back on track, to a 1.5 degrees net zero future.
Here in the Blue Pacific, climate change is our daily lived reality. At current 1.2 degrees of warming, we face prolonged droughts, unexpected floods, and warming oceans and rising seas. Our low-lying islands are submerged, our coastlines eroded by high seas, and our crops damaged by saltwater intrusion.
The economic cost of climate-induced disasters to our Pacific region was estimated at US 1.5 billion dollars last year alone. And we were hit by 5 powerful and devastating Category 5 cyclones in the last 5 years. With each disaster we suffer loss of life, loss of livelihoods, and the loss of decades of development gains.
And of course, we know we are not alone in facing this climate crisis. We see flooding in Europe and China, severe hurricanes in the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US , and droughts ravaging many parts of the globe. Climate change and extreme weather events have caused a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years, disproportionately impacting poorer countries.
As the Red Cross and Red Crescent, I know you see, you feel and you respond to the devastating impacts of climate change and the pandemic, in your humanitarian work, every day.
And yet despite these unprecedented impacts, despite the devastation, despite the science, our world is alarmingly off track to cut emissions, build resilience, and reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must now change this course. We must act urgently. We must act with the future of humanity in mind.
As the Blue Pacific Continent, we are doing what we can to address the climate change and the COVID-19 crises. We owe it to our children’s future to combat these crises. While the world needs to do more, it also needs our urgent effort.
The Kainaki Lua Declaration on Urgent Climate Change Action Now, issued in 2019 by our Leaders, continues as our clarion call, for urgent global climate change action.
In August this year, Pacific Leaders issued the groundbreaking Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones, in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise. It is a strong and decisive step, towards securing our respective homes now, and into perpetuity.
And to build Pacific resilience in the face of disasters, our Leaders have established the Pacific Resilience Facility, to help finance disaster preparedness across our sea of islands We in the Pacific do not want to stand by and wait, for the next disaster. We want to be able to prepare. And we know that every dollar spent upfront on resilience and preparedness, saves approximately seven dollars in recovery costs.
While these are important regional solutions, fundamentally it is the world that needs to act, particularly the big polluters, if we are to end this climate change crisis.
That’s why the COP26 meeting taking place in Glasgow in under three weeks is critical. It is our best opportunity to keep the 1.5 degrees threshold within reach, and avoid a global climate catastrophe.
World leaders, like Pacific leaders, must affirm climate change, as the single greatest threat facing all humanity. We all must act with urgency. All countries must commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and finalise the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement.
Developed countries must deliver on the US 100 billion finance commitment, pledged under the Paris Agreement, and establish a new climate finance goal for post 2025, with dedicated finance for loss and damage.
And for our Blue Pacific Continent, COP26 must deliver the effective integration of oceans into the UNFCCC.
Put simply, we cannot understate the urgency of what we must achieve, at COP26. Our Blue Planet is at code red. We can change this course, but we all need to act, and we all need to act now
The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the impacts of the climate crisis, and devastated the fragile economies of our Pacific Island Countries. Many economies in the region have recorded negative growth in 2020, with tourism-dependent economies losing 30% to 40% of national income. As the pandemic rages on, so will the spiralling impact on developing economies. Economic and social hardship payments to help those left jobless, are leaving Pacific economies at breaking point, as governments are forced to go through reserves and savings, to provide financial relief to citizens
Apart from exposing the region’s existing vulnerabilities, the pandemic has also exacerbated inequalities for marginalised groups – women, persons with disabilities, children and older persons. Our region’s death rate is 1.9 deaths per 100,000 people compared to a global average of 20 deaths per 100,000 people. But our gender-based violence statistics, already amongst the highest in the world, have skyrocketed. Helplines and calls to crises centres have doubled, tripled and quadrupled as the psychosocial effects of this pandemic, continue to match the alarming rate of violence against women and children, due to lockdowns and job losses.
Working as one Blue Pacific can make a significant contribution, to our national and global efforts to combat the pandemic. What we have done and achieved so far through our collective efforts in response to the pandemic, is a testament to the effectiveness of regionalism.
As a region, our Pacific Island Forum Leaders responded quickly and collectively, to confront the pandemic by invoking the Biketawa Declaration–which is our regional framework, to collectively respond and support one another, in times of crisis.
Pacific Island Forum Foreign Ministers established the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, and thereby initiating a Member-driven enabling political environment, to efficiently and effectively respond more immediately, to Member countries’ requests for assistance.
Additionally, Forum Economic Ministers, in recognition of the unintended socio-economic impact of the pandemic, established a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce in 2020, to identify the region’s economic recovery priorities, and oversee its implementation.
Key to the region’s recovery is the importance of COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, including the resumption of regional travel, and the importance of leveraging emerging opportunities to support our regional recovery efforts, in particular, the growing prominence and utility of digitalisation.
In closing, just like our Leaders and communities across our Blue Pacific, as the Red Cross Red Crescent, you bear witness to the climate change crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic, on the lives of millions. You can speak with moral authority on the urgent action needed by our peoples, and our planet.
Together, we must sound the alarm, and ensure all countries and all sectors are part of the solution. We must act now for all of humanity. We must act now for our one Blue Planet. I wish you well in your discussions and look forward to the outcome of this Planet Red summit
I thank you.