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Trade and climate top talking points when Pacific Islands Forum opens

Tuiloma Neroni Slade

A pre-Forum meeting about climate change took place yesterday in Majuro with Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade from Samoa, and other dignitaries present. Image: Pacific Islands Forum

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Michael Sergel

Australia, New Zealand and the United States will be challenged to act on climate change when regional leaders meet for the Pacific Islands Forum in the Republic of Marshall Islands this week.

Trade, and climate policy are expected to be top talking points when the largest gathering of Pacific leaders gets underway in the capital of Majuro today.

Canoes, dancers and a village of solar-powered thatched huts will greet four hundred leaders and delegates from fifteen Pacific countries and thirteen partner states, in one of the largest events the nation of 53,000 people has ever hosted.

The Marshall Islands government will try to drive the conversation, with the Majuro Declaration recognising an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and calling for “climate leadership” from Pacific states and forum partners.44th_PIForum_RMI_Logo(1)

Marshall Islands President and Pacific Islands Forum Chair Christopher Loeak said climate change is the greatest threat facing his country and many others – and he hoped the declaration would be a “dynamic platform” for changing attitudes and policies in the region.

“We want the Majuro Declaration to demonstrate the Pacific’s climate leadership through the region’s accelerating transition to clean and renewable energy, and call on everyone, including the world’s biggest emitters, to do more,” he said.

“Waiting for a new global agreement in 2015 will not be enough. Accelerating climate action now, and well before 2020, is critical. With global leaders scheduled to come together on climate change in September 2014, now is the time to build our new wave of climate leadership.”

Laundry list
The Marshall Islands has widely adopted renewable energy, with solar panels in remote islands providing electricity for about a third of the country’s population.

Oxfam New Zealand director Barry Coates said New Zealand and other members were likely to show their support for similar projects in other parts of the Pacific.

Giff Johnson, editor of The Marshall Islands Journal, told Pacific Media Watch delegates will also bring a “laundry list” of other issues, including the Millennium Development Program, the upcoming review of the Pacific Plan, and the issue of including Fiji in the forum after elections next year.

Sustainable development, protecting shark and ocean life, increasing Pacific Island control over the fishing industry are also scheduled to be discussed during the four days of talks.

New Zealand prime minister John Key will lead the largest national delegation of 45 delegates, arriving Tuesday afternoon.

He said “hard work, openness and communication” would be essential to the forum, and said his government was “committed to development and stability” in the region.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was the most high-profile person on the guest list, due to arrive for post-forum talks on Friday.

While his attendance had not been confirmed, he was likely to raise North Korea and other security issues facing the Asia-Pacific region. US delegates would also discuss natural resource management, sustainable development, climate policy and economic growth.

The European Union’s delegation will be led by Commissioner for the Environment Connie Hedegaard. She told Islands Business that the EU fully supported a “push for immediate and more ambitious global climate action” at the forum.

China will also attend, pursuing a larger presence in the Pacific region and potentially talking milk powder with New Zealand representatives. Partner states Japan, Canada, South Korea, India, France, Italy and the United Kingdom will also send delegates to the Friday sessions.

A Majuro climate call
Before the Forum gets underway with a Small Islands Meeting Tuesday morning, the Majuro Declaration was the subject of a panel discussion Monday afternoon.

Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands Phillip Muller said the declaration was a government response to accelerated erosion, high waves and ongoing drought.

And Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands Tony deBrum said if Australia and New Zealand fail to commit to the Majuro Declaration, they would face a larger climate refugee problem further down the track.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, European Union Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Japanese Senior Vice Minister for the Environment Kazunori Tanaka all appeared, providing moral support to a stronger international response to climate change.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency Adnan Amin, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Business for Social Responsibility CEO Aron Cramer, and Executive Director of the Global Call for Climate Action Kelly Rigg also spoke.

The declaration will outline a regional commitment on climate policy ahead of global climate talks in 2015.

The draft declaration “recognises the complete insufficiency of current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the responsibility of all to act urgently to phase-down GHG pollution”.

‘Ambitious commitments’
It also “confirms the Pacific Island Forum’s climate leadership in the form of their ambitious commitments, targets and actions to reduce emissions, and their desire to do more with the cooperation and support of international partners”

Finally, it “calls on others – in particular Post-Forum Dialogue Partners, but also other governments, cities, the private sector, and civil society – to commit to be Climate Leaders by listing specific commitments, targets and actions that contribute more than previous efforts to the urgent phase-down of GHG pollution”.

The declaration aims to be a “dynamic document”, creating an “upward spiral” that commits leaders to “scale-up” their efforts to deal with climate change.

It aims to challenge not just New Zealand and Australia ahead of the Australian Federal Election on Saturday, but also Forum donors who are collectively responsible for a majority of global carbon emissions each year.

“We want the Majuro Declaration to demonstrate the Pacific’s climate leadership through the region’s accelerating transition to clean and renewable energy, and call on everyone, including the world’s biggest emitters, to do more,” deBrum said.

“Waiting for a new global agreement in 2015 will not be enough. Accelerating climate action now, and well before 2020, is critical. With global leaders scheduled to come together on climate change in September 2014, now is the time to build our new wave of climate leadership.”

Michael Sergel is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Journalism) student, who recently completed the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.