Small Pacific island nations say climate change is a matter of life and death and their leaders have agreed to forge a unified voice on the issue ahead of a global summit later in the year.
On the eve of the official opening of the 41st Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), a meeting of the seven Smaller Island States (SIS) of the forum held a four-hour talkfest in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila.
Climate change was the most pressing matter on the agenda, and after discussions Niue’s premier and outgoing SIS chair, Toke Talagi, told reporters the group planned to hold a meeting in Kiribati later this year specifically targeting the issue.
He said the islands, some of the smallest in the world, will “be co-ordinating our negotiation stance” in preparation for December’s global climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico.
“I don’t think there is very much of a difference in accepting that climate change is happening and accepting the fact that we need to do something about it,” Mr Talagi told reporters gathered at Le Lagon Resort on Tuesday.
“I think it’s just the mechanisms that we need to look at to determine a way forward.”
Mr Talagi said the SIS had moved beyond its disappointment following last year’s summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a push for a legally binding international treaty to promote long-term action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was snubbed in favour of the Copenhagen Accord.
“We believe at this moment that signs are positive in that Copenhagen gave us an indication of where we are, and what we need to do is move forward from there,” he said.
More than 120 nations signed the three-page statement out of Copenhagen and voluntarily pledged $US30 billion to help poor countries cope with the short-term effects of climate change, but the small nations of the Pacific hadn’t seen much of it, Mr Talagi said.
“We believe at this moment that the processes are taking too long, the funding that should be provided to assist us should be better co-ordinated,” he said.
Mr Talagi acknowledged the decision of some SIS nations to sign the statement created ripples among the group, but climate change was an “extremely urgent” issue that required solidarity from the states.
“We do have differences, we accept that, but that should not in any way impede us from determining a way forward and a better way
forward,” he said.
“We are the most vulnerable in many respects and therefore we’ve got to take the lead.”
“It’s a matter of life and death for some, perhaps all,” added Palau’s president and incoming SIS chair, Johnson Toribiong.
Later on Tuesday, following a meeting of the Pacific nations in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Edward Natapei told reporters it was understandable that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was not attending the PIF leaders’ summit on Wednesday and Thursday.
Ms Gillard, who is busy with the federal election campaign, is among four Pacific leaders who will be absent from the annual summit, including Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua, who also has election commitments.
Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia and Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Michael Somare will also miss the summit, but Mr Natapei said the leaders’ absence did not devalue the meeting.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who is attending the PIF on behalf of Ms Gillard, is due to land in Port Vila early on Wednesday morning.
Australia is the current chair of the forum – a position held by the last nation to host the meeting – and will hand over the responsibility to Mr Natapei at an official opening event on Wednesday.
All 15 nations represented in the PIF will meet on Wednesday and Thursday, with post-forum dialogue slated for Friday.
Mr Natapei said the leaders would be discussing Fiji and its progress towards democracy during the talks on Wednesday and Thursday.
Fiji was suspended from the PIF last year when its interim government refused to back down on plans to delay elections until 2014.