Pacific Island nations taking the lead in sustainably managing ocean resources, but call for international support to cope with climate change

Leaders of Pacific Island developing nations attending a regional United Nations meeting here yesterday appealed to the world to help them deal with the impact of climate change and protect their marine environment to ensure their well-being and very survival.

Addressing a special forum on Pacific Island developing countries on the first day of the annual session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), H.E. Tom Murdoch, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Kiribati said climate change and ocean acidification were the greatest threats to Pacific Island developing nations.

“The Ocean is fundamental to our cultural identity, livelihoods and growth prospects. Our green economy is very ‘blue’. It has been said that we are not a small island developing country but rather a large ocean developing economy. We are trying to do our part in the sustainable management of our ocean and marine environment.”

As part of this effort, Kiribati has established the largest marine protected area in the Pacific – the Phoenix Islands Protected Area comprising 408,250 square kilometres, or 11%, of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

On the energy front, Tuvalu has made significant commitments to renewable energy aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2020.

“We are totally dependent on fossil fuels for our energy needs. The recent rises in the price of oil has presented us with enormous challenges,” said Mr. Lotoala Metia, Minister of Finance, Tuvalu. “Our government has committed our country to ambitious energy targets which we hope will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Opening the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries which was the first item of business for the 68th session of ESCAP being held from 17 to 23 May, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Dr. Noeleen Heyzer said the well-being of the subregion was crucial for the rest of the world.

“Our Pacific nations must be seen as stewards in search of support - curators of our largest natural global assets - the oceans on which human life itself depends. The health of the Pacific, and its effective and equitable management, is critical to Pacific island countries but is equally a regional and a global responsibility.”

The session on the Pacific was convened to review the subregion’s position for next month’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Highlighting the ecologically “fragile and vulnerable” status of Pacific small island developing States (SIDS), Permanent Representative of the Government of Fiji to ESCAP, Ratu Meli Bainimarama, said “our small size, limited resources, geographic dispersion and isolation from markets, places us at a disadvantage economically and prevents economies of scale.”

Given these “unique vulnerabilities”, the Finance Minister of Kiribati said the international community must provide the subregion with new and additional support to deal with climate change.

The Special Body was a follow up to the July 2011 Rio+20 Pacific preparatory meeting which had agreed that the Rio conference must highlight the special case of SIDS; recognize the need for a much stronger international commitment to sustainable management and development of the Pacific Ocean, and that addressing climate change is fundamental not only to sustainable development and survival of Pacific SIDS but also critical to the future of the planet.