Pacific Scoop

MPs apologise to Pacific over NZ failure to sign climate change pact

Climate change

Climate change … along with depleted fisheries and savage storms, this is one of the great challenges facing the Pacific. Image: Fiji Times

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott

Rising sea levels, falling fish stocks and more extreme storms have proven destructive and deadly, Pacific leaders told a Wellington forum at the weekend.

New Zealand Green MP Kennedy Graham launched an apology to delegates at the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum on behalf of New Zealanders who disagreed with the government’s decision not to sign the Copenhagen Agreement on reducing carbon emissions and alleviating climate change.

Other delegates spoke of the threat that rising sea levels posed to low-lying islands, the effect of overfishing and environmental changes on the Pacific fish stock, and the recovery efforts after severe storms in Samoa, Tonga and other countries.

APJlogo72_iconGraham told the forum that New Zealand had “failed to respond adequately” to the climate change threat, and the Pacific needed to send a clear message to the New Zealand government and other western governments that international action was needed.

He told Pacific Scoop that scientific evidence pointed overwhelmingly to climate change being a pressing reality for Pacific nations, with ninety-seven per cent of scientists supporting the idea that it was the preventable result of human activity.

“You are talking in terms of millimetres and centimetres – and it’s a time-factored thing. But there is nothing more important for the international community, than tackling climate change now – not in 2020 and not in 2030 – to avoid the problems of 2020 or 2050,” he said.

“We’ve heard, from the people that feel it and experience it, that it is there. What else do we need by way of justification for acting?”

Impact on life
Delegates from some of the world’s most low-lying islands explained how rising sea levels were affecting their way of life.

Kiribati MP Martin Moreti told delegates that sea levels had reduced the size of the island while pushing important coastal fisheries off-shore, and land crops had also been affected.

“We affirm the need for international action, and we need the support of one another as brother and sister to act for our own survival,” he told the forum.

Anthony Benavette, an independent Representative in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, said that beach and coastal areas had disappeared, landmarks had gone, and fishing stocks had disappeared as a result of rising sea levels in his country.

Palau Senator Jerrlyn Uduch Sengebau-Senior reminded delegates that “coral bleaching did happen” and “climate change is a reality” with severe environmental, economic and social consequences.

Noumea city councillor Tiaré le Goff said New Caledonia had faced a loss of biodiversity and other environmental effects.

Tafua Maluelue Tafua, a current Samoan cabinet minister and former North Shore councillor, said he had seen the firsthand consequences of several severe storms during his six years in Samoa – including cycles and floods that caused numerous deaths and widespread destruction.

Chinese overfishing
New Zealand Labour MP Shane Jones told delegates that protecting fishing stocks from overfishing by Chinese multinationals was essential to sustaining the Pacific economy.

“The European economy has been very sick and the US has been printing money to ensure that their economy did not completely collapse” so we must make sure “Chinese presence is a net positive and it does not lead to resource degradation”, he told delegates.

“We must not be blind to the potential in Asia but be vigilant, so that we are not the casualties or the victims of their economic expansion, but the beneficiaries along for the ride of economic growth.”

Jones told delegates that “the world will pass us by” if we fail to technologically and economically develop – but that included maintaining a sustainable fishing stock.

“I am alarmed when I go to the Pacific and see the huge numbers of international vessels, and I’m quite sure that those vessels in many cases are fishing that resource to a level where it will no longer be sustainable,” he said.

“When we let foreign investors come in and exploit our resource, ensure it works to the benefit of your children and the economy. If not, you’ll be living on tinned fish in the future.”

Concerns about over-fishing were also raised by other Tokelau’s Margaret Pedro, who said that tinned fish was replacing fresh fish as foreign vessels depleted stock.

The Cook Island’s Selina Napu said foreign fishing was undermining the local industry.

The six-day Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum ended on Monday.

Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment. Read their live blog: