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H. E. Mr. Anote Tong, President

25 September 2008

Statement Summary

ANOTE TONG, President of Kiribati, focusing his remarks first on climate change, said that for many years, States had “tirelessly” appealed to the United Nations to provide solutions for those seriously affected by the detrimental impacts of global warming.  Those appeals had failed to produce practical solutions for people living in low-lying small island developing States like Kiribati.  The science on climate change was irrefutable, and the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had projected an increase in sea-level rise of 0.4 metres within this century.  That was “quite alarming” for people living on low-lying small islands.

Therefore, mitigation and adaptation strategies would continue to be integral to the climate change response, even though this would ultimately only provide short- and medium-term solutions.  In the meantime, small island States would need to face up to the reality of being unable to support life, and plan accordingly.  Kiribati, which was not a major emitter of greenhouse gases, would nonetheless do its part to explore renewable and efficient energy technologies.

Kiribati was a country with low-lying coral atolls and islands rising no more that two metres, and as such, required adaptation strategies, he said.  Coastal protection through seawall construction was the main adaptation measure, and it did not have the resources to extend that protection to private properties.  On climate change initiatives, he acknowledged Australia’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and New Zealand’s pledge to increase financial support, among others.

Low-lying small island developing States, like his own, were on the “frontlines” of the climate change calamity, and mitigation efforts would not be able to reverse their situation, he said.  The question had been raised about what to do when people started to flee their countries due to environmental catastrophe.  Relocation required long-term forward planning, which was why his Government had developed a long-term, merit-based relocation strategy as an option for his people, “so that when people migrate, they will migrate on merit and with dignity”.

Regionally, he said, the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in August had adopted the Niue Declaration on Climate Change, marking a “new chapter” in initiating the first ever high-level climate change declaration in his part of the world.  Internationally, he welcomed that climate change had finally been given due recognition as a security issue.  He was deeply concerned that there had never been discussion of the fate of those whose existence was seriously undermined by climate change, and he urged the Assembly to address that challenge.

Noting that Kiribati was proud to be home to the largest marine protected area in the world, he said the Phoenix Islands were among the most isolated islands on the planet, largely untouched by man.  The preservation of those islands, and the surrounding ocean, was Kiribati’s gift to humanity, but it faced the possibility that those islands would become uninhabitable within the century due to rising seas.

The food crisis, he said, was being felt more acutely by those living in drought-prone, resource-poor and infertile small island developing States, such as his own.  He appealed to the global community to assist the most vulnerable nations, with food and energy security strategies.  On graduation from the list of least developed countries, he said Kiribati was among three Pacific least developed countries to be considered for graduation.  While not a graduation indicator, environmental vulnerability should be taken into account.

[Source: GA/10754]