The vulnerability of the small island nations of the Pacific Ocean to the forces of nature and shifts in global economic development were the focus of speeches at the United Nations General Assembly today from representatives of five of the region’s countries.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters told the Assembly’s annual debate that Pacific countries faced hard work in the years ahead as they tried to overcome the effects of climate change, their distance and isolation from major markets, political instability and threats from communicable diseases.
Noting that the Pacific is bigger than Europe and the Middle East combined, Mr. Peters said its countries “have learned that regional problems require regional solutions,” backed by the support of international frameworks, such as treaties and agreements, on issues of importance.
He cited the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Agreement for Conservation and Management of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish stocks as two examples.
Mr. Peters also warned against the threat of “cheque book diplomacy,” saying New Zealand stood on guard to try to ensure that the smaller Pacific nations did not fall victim to it.
Redley Killion, Vice-President of the Federated States of Micronesia, said small island nations “are under greater threat than ever before” from climate change and rising sea levels, despite the fact that they contribute little themselves to the causes of the phenomena.
Micronesia and Palau are among several Pacific nations that have proposed an immediate moratorium on unregulated bottom trawl fishing because of its devastating impact on marine ecosystems.
Endorsing the proposed ban, Palau’s Vice-President Elias Camsek Chin said his country looks to the UN for leadership on maintaining the viability of the environment.
“Palau relies on the health of its amazing reefs and waters to provide food for our people and to support our tourism industry. Without these, we will not be able to develop a sustainable economy that will allow our children to live and work in their homeland,” he said.
Nauruan President Ludwig Scotty lamented the lack of any substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, or on the implementation of the commitments made at the Mauritius summit on Small Islands Developing States last year.
Manesseh Sogavare, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, said the failure to reach an agreement during the Doha Round of international trade negotiations continues to hurt the economies of the world’s small island nations.