REMARKS: SG Puna, Leaders’ Summit keynote panel at World Climate Industry Expo 2023

Keynote by Forum Secretary General Puna

at the

Leaders’ Summit Keynote Panel: Ocean Conservation in the face of Climate Change World Climate Industry Expo 2023
27 May 2023 – Busan, Korea


Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Friends

Kia Orana and Warm Pacific Greetings to you all.

First, let me thank the Government and the people of the Republic of Korea for the invitation, and the opportunity to be part of this very important summit. Korea is a friend to the Pacific, and through your institutions such as the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, your nation supports strong partnerships, on Ocean Conservation and Climate Change globally. It is an honour to be here, sharing some key Pacific perspectives on this very critical and timely global issue.

1. The ocean covers 70% of the planet; absorbs 30% of global CO2 emissions; absorbs over 90% of the heat from global warming; produces over 70% of the earth’s oxygen. In essence, the Ocean is vital in our fight against climate change, and in our fight for our very existence.

2. For the Blue Pacific continent, we are the Ocean, and the Ocean is who we are. Indeed, our Leaders reaffirmed the region’s stewardship of the Blue Pacific Continent, including through collective responsibility, commitment and investment, in its ocean and lands. It is the lens through which we see the world, and our place in it as people of the Pacific. The Ocean is our greatest resource, providing the basis for most of our economic and tourism activities, and home to the biggest tuna resource in the world. It contributes US$2.5 trillion annually to the global economy – a figure which is expected to reach 3 trillion by 2030. It provides food, jobs and income for almost 3 billion people, mostly from developing countries.

3. Excellencies, let me get straight to the point. Ocean conservation is vital to our survival, our way of life, our economies, and, as the theme of this occasion clearly states, absolutely essential in addressing Climate change. The same ocean that sustains the Pacific, sustains Korea, and indeed the whole world. We MUST all do what it takes, to end over-exploitation of our ocean and its resources.

We MUST reduce global CO2 emissions to mitigate ocean acidification.

We MUST set aside ocean conservation areas, to preserve our unique coral and marine species.

We MUST protect our marine ecosystems, and the rich biodiversity of life that exists in our Oceans.

We MUST invest in Ocean research and observation systems, to fully study and understand the impacts of climate change on the ocean.

4. The science is clear. Warming ocean surface temperatures are also impacting long-term climatic changes, and climate change is in turn, impacting our oceans. We are now caught in a vicious cycle.

5. Currently, at approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius of average global warming above pre-industrial levels, our seas are rising, our oceans are warming and becoming acidic. It is driving the endless cycle of increased frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones, typhoons, storm surges, water security issues….and the list goes on. We only need to look south eastward from where we are to see the truth of this statement with the damage being wreaked by Super Typhoon Mawar. Our communities’ coastal defenses have been breached, our resilience continually tested, and it is wreaking havoc on our environment, and devastating the lives of our people. Ladies and Gentlemen, the tides are changing. And we need to hold back these changing tides. It is a monumental undertaking, but one we MUST face, and overcome.

6. Of all these impacts and calamities brought on by the Oceans-Climate nexus, I want to highlight the threat of Sea-Level rise. Rising sea levels have eaten away at our coastlines, caused coastal flooding and erosion, displacing our people. Our Leaders have responded to this reality. They have led the charge with their Pacific Islands Forum Declaration, on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise. This is a key, collective response to ensure legal stability, security, certainty and predictability of our maritime zones, guaranteed under the Law of the Sea, notwithstanding climate change-related sea-level rise. It reaffirms for our large ocean states, the full enjoyment of sovereign rights, jurisdiction and privileges under the Convention. We continue to call on all states, to join this initiative.

7. Excellencies, our Pacific Leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent last year. At the heart of the 2050 Strategy lies the recognition that our ocean geography, ocean resources, and ocean identity, are central to our future well-being and security.

8. Excellencies, the shared prosperity and security of our Blue Pacific, and our people, can only safely exist if the international community pursues efforts, to limit global warming to below 1.5⁰C. Mobilizing action to limit global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts is paramount. It will protect the ocean and its dependent communities from the threats described above and maximize adaptation opportunities. We call on the international community, to meet or exceed their obligations and the timelines set out under the Paris Agreement and deliver more ambitious climate action.

9. The good news is that even as our oceans are threatened by the impacts of Climate Change, they continue to be our biggest asset in the fight against climate change. Oceans are the biggest Carbon sequestration mechanism, but the sequestration process no doubt also puts pressure on the health and resilience of the oceans, through the inevitable increasing levels of oceans acidification as a consequence.

10. In the Pacific, our member countries have set ambitious marine conservation targets, with many countries already setting aside sizeable areas as Marine Protected Area (MPAs) such as the Cook Islands. * Some have also set their sights on ‘No Fishing Zones’ in their EEZs. For example, some member countries have a ‘30 by 30’ marine conservation target, aiming to set aside 30% of their total marine areas as protected and marine conservation areas by 2030.

11. I am pleased to say that the Pacific nations carry a world-leading vision for the future of our ocean but are living with a disproportionate burden from the state of our ocean along with other small island nations, due to climate change, pollutions, and other impacts, not of our making. You could say our sea of islands is being left with a bill, that we did not incur.

12. Excellencies, I cannot end my remarks without mentioning the concerns raised by our Pacific Leaders, on Japan’s plans to discharge over a million tonnes of contaminated nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, over the next four years. Our Leaders continue to reiterate strong concerns for the significance of the potential threat of nuclear contamination, to the health and security of the Blue Pacific, its people and prospects, and the importance of ensuring international consultation, international law, and independent and verifiable scientific assessments before any discharge can be allowed to proceed

13. In closing, let me commend and thank the people and government of Korea, for your ongoing work and support on the Ocean-climate nexus. Through the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, your partnership with our region and our values is clear. We look forward to support from you on our Pacific call for an agenda item on the Ocean-Climate nexus at the upcoming COP28 in the UAE. The inclusion of the Ocean- Climate discussions to the apex of global climate negotiations, is not only logical, but necessary. With your support and together, I know we can ensure the development of a work programme on Oceans, within the UNFCCC process.

I thank you. –ENDS


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