Port Vila, Vanuatu

18 May 2019

Secretary-General’s remarks during joint press encounter with the Prime Minister of Vanuatu Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas

This visit has two main objectives: to express solidarity with the Pacific and the Pacific Island States and express our admiration and gratitude to the people and government of Vanuatu.
First of all, solidarity with the Pacific. The Pacific is on the frontlines of the devastating impacts of climate change, but the Pacific has not contributed to climate change. On the contrary, even if the islands are so small that they would never have a meaningful impact, the truth is that we see a lot of investment in the Pacific in renewable energy and in other forms of mitigation that should be followed and copied by some of the most developed countries in the world.
The Pacific has the moral authority to request all countries to be able to abide by what the international community and the scientific community consider essential: that temperatures will not rise by more than 1.5 degrees by the end of the century and that for that purpose we reach carbon neutrality in 2050.
During my visit to the different islands of the Pacific I’ve been saying time and time again that these objectives are possible and only depend on political will. We have the technologies, the instruments and the money to do it globally – we need the political will to achieve these objectives and that’s why I’ve been insisting on measures like the absolute need to move the taxation of salaries to the taxation of carbon. I’ve been insisting on the need to stop subsidies to stop fossil fuels. I’ve been insisting on the need for no more coal power plants to be built after 2020, and many other measures that are essential for the objectives that we want to achieve to become possible and for the Pacific islands not to suffer the devastating impact that higher rises of temperature would inevitably cause.
I just came from Tuvalu and you can imagine the anxiety of the people of Tuvalu seeing the ocean rise three centimetres every year when their highest point is only five metres high.
On the other hand, this visit is also to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the policies that the government of Vanuatu has introduced. Vanuatu is a country that is extremely prone to natural disasters from volcanoes to earthquakes to the consequences of climate change. But Vanuatu has adopted a very effective policy on resilience and adaptation that I believe is also an example to be followed and an ocean’s policy that is absolutely exemplary. If I may, it is for me a very positive thing to see that instead of a plastic bottle of water we have here this bottle that is multi-use, it can be a demonstration that we don’t need to use the so-called single-use plastics. Vanuatu is again giving an example that should be followed by all countries in the world.
I have to say that in my office single-use plastic bottles have also been abolished which means that the example of Vanuatu is having some positive impact.
So it is important that those good examples coming from countries that are small and are not very rich are recognized and followed globally. On the other hand, we also believe that countries that by their own effort achieve graduation and become no longer part of the list of the least developed countries, that they get the support that they need from the international community and that their vulnerability and sustainability should be taken into account. Countries should not be punished because they are successful in their economic policies but on the contrary that should lead to an enhanced support to their capacity to overcome vulnerabilities that naturally exist because of the external shocks that are affecting them.

On the other hand, I’m very grateful for the premises that the government of Vanuatu has allowed us to have, so the United Nations has a single house in the country, and we’ll be committed to fully support Vanuatu in its policies of development and in its policies naturally related to climate change. On the other hand, we registered with enormous interest the offer of Vanuatu to contribute to our peacekeeping operations and I’ll do, immediately when I’m back in New York, the consultations necessary to see how we can work in that regard.
All the other concerns that were expressed by the government of Vanuatu will be fully taken into account as we consider this partnership a strategic partnership for the UN.
Question: The forestry department is conducting its first inventory in 30 years of the forests of Vanuatu. Can you give a message to the people that are going out there into the field doing this hard work?
SG: Well, what they’re doing is of enormous importance. Not only do we need to avoid to releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but we need to be able to capture it and of course planting trees is one of the most important ways to guarantee that objective. So whatever the department of forestry is doing is something that deserves our strongest encouragement.
Question: It’s not just about Vanuatu. It’s something that the world can participate in, carbon credits, carbon schemes, how do you see it?
We are insisting a lot with countries that they need first of all to avoid deforestation, second to increase our capacity in relation to planting trees, and to use in agriculture, forms of agriculture that are not so detrimental to the planet. There is important work being done in different countries, there is research in this regard, and we strongly support that need. We can have a sustainable agriculture and we need to have more and more forests in our world.
Question: Secretary-General, I’m asking on behalf of my colleagues of The Guardian Australia, they asked if you had any advice for voters today. How heavily should climate weigh in their decision today?
SG: As you know I’ve been in politics for many years and I’ve had many elections in which I participated as a candidate. I can tell you that we never liked in our country when foreigners started to discuss our own electoral campaigns. As I learned it in Portugal, I’m following that principle. I never comment on electoral campaigns when they are taking place. After the elections take place and governments are elected, of course we discuss with governments problems of common interest that exist, but I will not interfere with any electoral situation anywhere in the world. It’s not a question about Australia, it’s a general policy.
Question: Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that the environment and climate change should weigh heavily on voters’ conscience as they enter any polling.
SG: I do not give advice to voters, I trust that voters will be able to make the right selection based on their own values and principles. When I vote I follow my values and principles.
Question: From Vanuatu broadcasting, you mentioned something about the cyclone Pam. After that the international media described a lot of Vanuatu people as very resilient. We will continue to experience cyclones and people will be eager to hear from you. We suffered a lot during the cyclone in Vanuatu.
SG: Adaptation has two dimensions that are fundamental. One is to build resilience, to limit the consequences of those disasters but the second is support to the populations impacted. I have to say that in the discussions we had, I noticed the very strong commitment of the government in order to fully respond to the needs of the people impacted and a strong appeal for the international community to be more active, namely in relation to those that have to be displaced. We are fully in line with this and we’ll do everything possible to increase international support to populations impacted by the kind of disasters you mentioned.