REMARKS: Tonga Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism Hon. ‘Utoikamanu accepts Chair of the ESCAP 79th Session, 2023

Acceptance speech

Her Excellency Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu,

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Tourism, Tonga
Chair of the 79th session of the
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Madam Executive Secretary, Excellencies, Heads of States and Heads of Governments, Distinguished Delegates,
We gather here as we stand halfway through implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We find ourselves at a turning point.
Countries in the Asia and Pacific region continue to face cascading socioeconomic impacts from the coronavirus disease pandemic, from ongoing geopolitical conflicts and the ever accelerating climate crisis.
400 million people in the region are denied access to safe and nourishing food because of the cost-of-living crisis. Catastrophes associated with climate change, coupled with the loss of biodiversity, with high levels of pollution, claim lives and cause suffering, instability and pain.
Governments grapple with the challenge of protecting people, especially the most vulnerable, amidst soaring food and energy prices. Fiscal space is constrained; borrowing costs are sky-high and continue to rise; debt burdens are increasingly unsustainable.
The progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is remarkable for only a few of the Goals. As a region, we will not achieve most of the SDGs unless progress accelerates significantly and notably so on climate action. What is needed is a reversal of trend.

This is why the deliberations of the seventy-ninth session, guided by the theme “Accelerating climate action in Asia and the Pacific for sustainable development” are so critical for the region.
Temperatures continue to soar. Ocean levels continue to rise, and we know how this impacts on climate change induced extreme weather events. We also know all too well the devastating impacts on people, livelihoods and the future of our children this has. Dangers can only intensify; they will exacerbate the manifold development challenges we experience and, notably so in regard to poverty and inequalities.
The Asia and Pacific region is known to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
As a region, we must take swift and unified measures. We must rally to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Collaboration among nations will be essential to accelerate climate action. No single country can, alone, combat the many and complex issues of a fluctuating climate.
This session’s results will be critical. This is especially the case for the resolution “Accelerating climate action in Asia and Pacific for Sustainable Development”.
Countries have demonstrated their willingness to cooperate and to act in unison for the wellbeing of the people in Asia and the Pacific.
ESCAP, as the most inclusive intergovernmental platform in the region, can and must foster strategic cooperation for addressing the transboundary nature of climate change and for sharing best practices and technologies for mitigation and adaptation.
For the Pacific, this is a lifeline.
The Pacific Small Island Developing States contribute less than 0.03 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The very nature of their geographies, however, means they are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. ESCAP has been and must continue to be an important platform to advocate for regional and global action to achieve the region’s climate goals.
For decades now, we from the Pacific have been making it clear how vital it is to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius limit.
Let our deliberations translate this urgency into action.
It is an honour to Chair a session where countries not only reach an agreement on a resolution on climate action. What counts is a continued and strong commitment to remain supportive of countries in special circumstances in the region.
This commitment, this collaboration, must deepen even further as we tackle our many challenges from the environment, to including people with disabilities, space applications, digital collaboration, disaster risk reduction, urban development, and the relationship between the ocean and climate change.
Countries in the region are getting ready for a thorough overview of the Sustainable Development Goals at the SDG Summit this year.
The review outcomes hopefully will provide more direction for effective and accelerated measures needed to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals.
In line with this, the outcomes of our discussions will give an extra push as nations prepare for the fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2024, where we will evaluate the capacity of small island developing States to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.
Let there be no doubt, if we want to achieve lasting results across the SDGs and with a very compressed timeframe, we must bolster and accelerate our cooperation at the international and regional levels. The conclusions and recommendations of this seventy-ninth session of the Commission are critical to give us a strong start and roadmap for much needed action when little time is remaining to meet the ambitions of the SDGs and the challenges of climate change.
It is by joining forces that the countries in the Asia and the Pacific can hasten action on climate change and thus lay the foundations for a more hopeful and sustainable future for all in the region and beyond.
Let us begin our work.
I thank you.


Image credit: UNESCAP

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