REMARKS: Forum SG Puna at Climate Futures Summit, UoM Australia

University of Melbourne

Remarks, Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General

Henry Puna
6th October 2022


Excellencies Distinguished Quests, Colleagues
Kia Orana and Bula Vinaka. I bring you Warm Pacific Greetings

1. At the outset, let me thank the organisers of this event for the opportunity to speak to you and to provide Pacific perspectives on the greatest existential threat facing mankind today and our collective future. Let me also acknowledge the former US Vice President, the Honourable Al Gore, for his leadership in Championing Climate Change issues and for being a friend of the Pacific. I also acknowledge the University of Melbourne for the invitation, especially as we prepare for COP27 in a few weeks time.

2. Excellencies, as the Honourable Al Gore alluded to, our Pacific Forum Leaders have declared a State of Climate Emergency, emphasising the need to take urgent action now.

3. The question that we need to ask is how we got to such a state. Pacific Leaders have for a long time held the moral authority on the issue of Climate Change and its impacts on our nations and our people. We started by recognising Climate Change as a threat to our environment which quickly progressed from a threat to a crisis and now to an Emergency. Yet we have had the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC since 1994. This clearly shows that those most responsible for causing Climate Change have not taken this issue very seriously.

4. We have seen the impacts of Climate Change escalate even further to now pose a Climate Security Risk for the region, to the point that we will shortly launch the Security Risk Assessment Framework, a tool to help member countries carry out assessments on the potential security risks posed by Climate Change.

5. Climate Change threatens our people’s livelihoods and our blue economy, it threatens Land availability and useability, putting pressure on Food, Water and Health security. Climate Risk exacerbates disasters and erodes the Resilience of our vulnerable communities and our economies, it threatens our Oceans, our coastal areas, our resources and with the issue of Sea-level rise, it threatens our Statehoods, Territorial Integrity and potentially our regional stability.

6. In the Pacific we have watched with sadness communities having to be relocated, leaving behind their ancestral homes and ties to Vanua or Fanua, their customary lands and their heritage because of the impacts of climate change. More recently, we saw the suffering and devastation caused by unprecedented floods in Pakistan. Today, climate change affects the lives of everyone and every living thing on earth. Without exception, the solutions to the crisis can only come when the interests of the planet come before self-interest.

7. At the regional level, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, with a dedicated thematic area on Climate Change and Disasters, will be our strategic compass and the northern star by which we will navigate ourselves for a sustainable, prosperous and resilient Region. It defines the collective future we want for our children and provides strategic pathways for how we can face the challenges ahead.

8. Our Leaders have also endorsed the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific which advances a multi-sectoral and integrated approach towards addressing climate change and disasters, the Boe Declaration promoting climate change as a security issue, and the Pacific Resilience Facility which seeks to provide small grants to build community resilience. These are key frameworks that outline the priorities that are shaping the regional climate actions being implemented in the Pacific.

9. In 2020 Forum Leaders made a bold and decisive move to up the ante with the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level rise – a strong and decisive step to secure our Blue Pacific Continent – now and into perpetuity.

10. Indeed, our Pacific island nations may be small, but we are large Ocean States controlling a vast magnitude of the world’s ocean resources, larger than many of the biggest countries in Europe and Asia. Therefore, we take the responsibility of being custodians of the largest ocean in our Blue Planet very seriously.

11. As we prepare for COP27, you may be aware that the Pacific Island Developing States, PSIDS through the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the G77 negotiating groups, have asked for the inclusion of an Agenda item on Loss and Damage, and more specifically a Loss and Damage Financing Facility. This is a redline for the Pacific.

12. We continue to suffer the devastating impacts of climate change despite our efforts to mitigate against and adapt to the changing climate. We have come to realise that there are limitations to Climate Adaptation and Climate Mitigation. Some things you just cannot adapt against, like the loss of customary lands or the loss of traditional fishing grounds, eroded away by storm surges and rising sea levels.

13. Excellencies, beyond these limitations, our economies continue to be battered by the devastating losses and damages due to the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards. The science is clear that climate change is the biggest contributor to these trends. I am reminded of the words of the Secretary to the Government of Tonga when Tonga presented their recovery plan following the devastation caused by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption and consequent tsunami. He said, “And that is our recovery plan until the next disaster hits”. This is the sad reality for many of us in the Pacific, managing from disaster to disaster and dealing with emergencies within crises.

14. Based on our experience, one of the key challenges faced by countries in committing to their Nationally Determined Contributions is not having enough scientific-driven information and data, financial support and the capacity to develop and implement their contributions.

15. On that issue, I cannot emphasise enough the continuous call by the Pacific Island countries for easier access to climate and disaster risk financing. We know about the various financing mechanisms and we have been told time and time again that the developed nations have committed to mobilising US$100 billion annually to help developing countries avert and minimise the impacts of climate change. However, we all know that this target has never been met and whatever money that has been mobilised, we cannot access equitably or get a fair share of it relative to the Climate Change impacts we have to endure. Small island Developing States like us in the Pacific, are made to jump through so many hoops and hurdles to get the needed financing. I urge you all here today to put pressure on the developed nations to live up to their commitments under the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC.

16. Excellencies, with COP27 just around the corner, it is good to see countries like Australia putting forward their revised Nationally Determined Contributions, to help bring down emissions. However, it is disappointing to see that a large majority of the developed nations have not submitted revised or ambitious NDCs inline with the 2050 net-zero targets.

17. Going forward, I would like to highlight three actions to accelerate Climate Action in Small Island Developing States:

18. First is the importance of dedicated climate finance and technical support towards SIDS from development partners and donors. In the Pacific, much of our climate action efforts are conditional on international support. To facilitate assistance, our countries have developed NDC Implementation Roadmaps and Investment Plans. The success of these depends on developed countries aligning their climate finance support to these investment plans. To put simply, it means ramping up the climate finance allocated to SIDS from the mere 1.9% of global climate finance mobilised in 2019, which equates to a 25% reduction in real terms, of climate finance allocation towards SIDS. It also means doubling adaptation finance from the 21% level in 2019, hence the call on developed countries to honour their commitments in mobilizing the USD 100 billion climate finance goal.

19. Without adequate finance, Small Island Developing States cannot transition to low-carbon economies and adapt to the negative repercussions of climate change. Provision of such finance is also critical in reducing the instances of us experiencing loss and damage. This is the impetus for calling for an agenda item on Loss and Damage at COP27.

20. Second, countries are encouraged to improve policy and legislative frameworks for climate change actions, and mainstream climate change action into development planning. On this front, it is encouraging to see Australia and the United States making moves to legislate aspects of their Climate Change efforts. In the Pacific, some of our Members have recently developed climate change legislation and transitioned the climate change agenda into central agencies such as Ministries of Finance. This will strengthen coordination between the technical ministry in charge of implementation and central ministries and promote awareness of climate and resilience development finance needs. Climate Actions should be part of fiscal planning and budgeting, highlighting the critical need for financial support from partners and the private sector to meet the conditional targets.

21. Finally, capacity building and south-south learnings and sharing of experiences between Pacific SIDS and other developing countries are critical to accelerating the implementation of NDCs. This will assist SIDS to translate planned actions outlined in country NDCs into bankable projects for bilateral, multilateral and private financing, including the Green Climate Fund.

22. Excellencies, in closing, I urge all of us here and especially the large polluting countries to come to COP27 with real solutions. Let us make COP27 an implementation COP, moving us from discussions to action. The future of our collective civilization is at stake and in the words of one of our Pacific Leaders, ‘Save us to save yourselves”

I thank you.

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