REMARKS: Tuvalu at CHOGM Small States Ministerial Meeting

COMMONWEALTH HEADS OF GOVERNMENT MEETING

Remarks by Hon Minister Simon Kofe, Tuvalu

at the Commonwealth Small States Ministerial Meeting

23 June 2022,

• Excellencies, Heads of Delegations, Senior Officials and Colleagues
• Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Co-Chairs, I would like to raise an issue here that is of critical importance to my nation Tuvalu and the many nations in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and other regions threatened by the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.

2. Last year, the Pacific Islands Forum issued a Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise asserting that the maritime boundaries of Pacific Island Countries are fixed and cannot be reduced due to the impacts of climate change on land territory. It is this declaration that I would like to bring to the attention of the members and to seek your support and endorsement.

3. Climate change remains our single greatest threat. Climate change-related sea-level rise is the defining issue that imperils the livelihoods and wellbeing of our peoples and undermines the full realisation of a peaceful, secure and sustainable future for our region and indeed for our planet. This has been further and alarmingly confirmed by the recent IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

4. The relationship between climate change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones is of fundamental importance to our Blue Pacific region. As large oceanic States within the Blue Pacific, Pacific Island countries have a profound connection to and reliance on the ocean, which is at the heart of our geography, cultures, and economies. Our past, present and future development are based on rights and entitlements guaranteed under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Climate-change related sea-level rise presents a threat to these guaranteed rights and entitlements under UNCLOS.

5. For the Pacific the implications of sea-level rise, which could include, inundation of basepoints, reduction of maritime zones, potential loss of territory, sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, would have far-reaching consequences for the region and its peoples, in terms of their survivability. I call upon the members to consider these issues and in particular the legal implications of sea-level rise on the Statehood of our members that stand to face the complete inundation of their land territory. The stakes are indeed quite high.

6. Securing our maritime zones against the threats of sea-level rise is therefore a major priority for our region today. I also call upon the members to explore legal avenues to secure the Statehood of countries

7. Honourable Ministers, I believe we all share this very same concern, given that a large number of our Members are either coastal States or small island developing States noting that 47 out of 54 Commonwealth countries having marine coastlines and 45% of our Commonwealth countries are small island developing States most vulnerable to climate and ocean change.

8. To secure the future of our nations and our people, I take this opportunity, on behalf of the Pacific Island Forum, to address this distinguished Meeting on the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level Rise (‘Declaration’).

9. In view of those concerns regarding climate change-related sea-level rise, our Leaders in 2019, committed themselves “to develop international law” to ensuring our maritime zones are secured irrespective of the impacts of climate change related sea-level rise. This commitment culminated in Forum Leaders passing the Declaration at their meeting on 6 August 2021, commemorating 50 years of the Forum.

10. The Declaration upholds and is premised on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS). Indeed, it recalls with pride our long history of support for the law of the sea, underlining that coastal States, particularly Small Island Developing States and low-lying States which are specially affected by sea-level rise and climate change, have planned their development in reliance on the rights to their maritime zones guaranteed under UNCLOS.

11. Fundamentally, the Declaration seeks to address the relationship between climate change-related sea-level rise and maritime zones, which we understand was not an issue that was specifically contemplated by the drafters of UNCLOS, but which is of concern to all of us, including small island developing States and low-lying States.

12. Indeed, this is an issue at the heart of all Small Island Developing States, coastal and low-lying States.

13. Honourable Members, we firmly believe that maritime zones, once established in accordance with the 1982 UNCLOS and notified to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, will be maintained as such, along with rights and entitlements flowing from them, without reduction notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate change-related sea-level rise.

14. Excellencies, we offer the Declaration as a considered, moderate and targeted solution to the global issue of climate change-related sea level rise, and I take this opportunity to call on all Member nations of the Commonwealth to join us by supporting the Declaration.

15. I am very pleased to share that formal endorsement and support have been received from all Members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Members of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), as well as Members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. I make special mention as well of the support for this Declaration by the House of Lords.

16. Honourable Ministers, formal support from the Commonwealth will strengthen our global solidarity and provide a big step forward to creating a global norm that all States, all nations, and their people shall continue to enjoy their sovereignty and sovereign rights irrespective of climate change-related sea-level rise.

17. We urge that as time and tide waits for no man, it is time that we at the Commonwealth, show our solidarity and come together to address this threat to our global security.

18. With those brief remarks, I thank you.–ENDS

 

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About CHOGM 2022:

The theme for CHOGM 2022 is ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming.’

This theme highlights how the 54 member countries in the Commonwealth family are ‘innovating, connecting and transforming’ to help achieve some of its biggest goals, like protecting natural resources and boosting trade. It was chosen because Commonwealth countries are connected by deep-rooted networks of friendship and goodwill.

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