UNGA 78: SG Puna at the Carnegie-SPF 3rd annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue, NYC

PIF SG Henry Puna

Morning Address at the 3rd Annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue,

hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Tokyo, in New York City.

in the margins of UNGA 78, 2023



Growing up on the islands of Aitutaki and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, I would never have imagined myself being catapulted to an important global platform such as this.

Nevertheless, I thank you for the warm invitation and the opportunity to offer some reflections to frame your conversations over the next two days. It is in opportunities such as this that we take pause to see how far we have come and look forward to what lies ahead.

If you look around us at the evolving global order today, I am sure you will agree that we live and exist in an increasingly polarized world — a world which continues to be dominated by the geopolitical tussle between two global superpowers. In the Pacific, we witnessed the introduction of foreign policy ideologies that seek to embed contrasting worldviews into our regional norms and standards. We see the strategic neglect of 10 years ago, being replaced by the proliferation of regional strategies and consortiums that serve to shape and influence engagement with and in our region — tantamount to, if I put it quite frankly, strategic manipulation. We see these points of external influence increasingly creep into all facets of our operations, both at the national and at the regional level.

Our blue Pacific continent is an increasingly contested space.

Regional and national stability is critical to maintaining and protecting peace and security, prosperity, and the well-being of all Pacific peoples. If I’m honest we must realize that the strategic interest and attention we enjoy today, will not last forever. And we must capitalize on it in a manner that will ensure sustainable gains for our region and for our people, for decades to come.

Our partnerships must be genuine and durable, and premised on understanding friendship, mutual benefit, and a collective ambition to achieve sustainable results.

For far too long now, we have been regarded as mere dots or specks in the Great Pacific Ocean.

We have had to contend with and manage the challenges of our geographical isolation, the tyranny of distance and the scarcity of resources in our island economies. But where we lacked individual endowment, we made up for in collective opportunities and resources.

This for us has driven the development of the 2050 strategy for the blue Pacific continent. For us, this is more than just a strategy. It is a political commitment to Pacific regionalism by 18 heads of state and governments throughout the Pacific region.

It is a collective vision for our future and the future of our people. It sets the foundation for directing how and on what we will work together as a collective. As a blue Pacific continent. This is the blueprint that we will hold our partners to account for in measuring the value of your intervention in our region. It is the blueprint that will guide partnerships in our region. The 2050 strategy is our guide to the future that we want to see, and the vision that we are working to achieve in response to the key challenges of our region in the 21st century, the primary one being the climate emergency. It takes into account our ongoing efforts to organize and position ourselves, so that we are operating from a position of strength in terms of progressing our own economic development goals. It recognizes the ocean and our oceanic resources as being central to our future. It reaffirms the centrality of our Pacific people and their well-being as being the core driver of our aspirations and goals.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am confident that we all recognize that we are currently in a time of contested strategic competition. This contest that has catapulted the Pacific region to a platform of interest, more broadly. We, to many around us, represent an area of strategic interest. We hear of the Belt and Road Initiative on the one hand, and we hear of the Indo-Pacific framing on the other. Often, we find ourselves navigating strategic maneuverings to lock us into a position on either issue. But our stance has been very clear. We will engage with any partner who is willing to work with us rather than around us. Indeed, this strategic interest has come with intense levels of engagement from external partners into the Pacific, both at the regional and national levels. But what we are seeing is a lot of engagement at all levels, but with little concrete actions and commitment. And this does nothing but further strain our already limited absorptive capacity.

Indeed, power dynamics and power plays are not and have never been a driver of our collective interest and advocacy as the region. Unlike the Indo-Pacific framing, the core focus of the blue Pacific continent represents our aspirations and our identity as the stewards of the blue Pacific. It has always been our right to determine our destiny as a region to define our goals and the future we want to see, and the preservation of our interests for our future generations.

The onus is on us to strategically capitalize on this and turn this interest into tangible outcomes for our people. It is no secret that for us, climate change is our greatest single security threat. We need urgent climate action and advocacy now.

We need to see a strong commitment to elevate ambitious and urgent climate action, now.

We cannot and should not be forced to constantly live under the threat of climate change and climate induced disasters while those most responsible for global warming continues to drag their feet when it comes to real and effective climate action.

We need to expedite and finalize the ongoing discussions on global climate finance by COP 28 including the funding arrangement for loss and damage and the new collective quantified goals.

On ambitious and effective climate action, we have consistently advocated for the need to see ambitious commitments that will keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The question has to be asked– how can we ensure stronger accountability through multilateral processes? Put simply, the work to be done is very clear. We call on our development partners to put aside your  self interest and profit motivations and join us in our fight against climate change.

We have gone far beyond the threshold of mere tokenistic support now. We need support that forces the change that we need to see.

Our very survival and that of our future generations is on the line. While we have continued our strong advocacy, we have also steadily built pioneering actions on climate globally these policies globally. For example, championed by Vanuatu, we have made ripples in international law with the call for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. Similarly, the leadership by Tuvalu through the advisory opinion to the international tribunal on the Law of the Sea, a progress of which I have been following very closely and with great interest.

Collectively, we have introduced watershed political pieces that will trailblaze new areas in international law, such as the declaration of Preserving maritime zones in the face of climate change related sea level rise, and to address our climate finance access challenges, we have designed the Pacific Resilience Facility, a Pacific-led and owned financing facility to address our ongoing finance access issues and to help build resilience at the community level.

In conclusion, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot underscore enough the importance of genuine and long-lasting partnerships, particularly to us in the Pacific. As we continue the voyage on this journey together. I can only hope that we will do so in a manner that is respectful of each other. I hope that we will continue to learn from each other and with each other as we forge a future for our countries, our regions, and indeed for our humanity.

Meitaki ma’ata, and I think you—ENDS



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