His Excellency President Anote Tong

President addresses climate forum

President’s Speech, Malé, Republic of Maldives’s, 10 November 2009:  As a Leader of one of the most vulnerable Small Island Developing  States, I am obliged – indeed I have a duty to the people I serve – to  provide options for my people and to prepare them for the worst case  scenario.  This is a duty that we all share as Leaders and governments  of the most vulnerable countries.  We are the human face of climate  change.  We represent the frontline in the queue of casualties and if  the world continues with business as usual then there is no doubt that  other countries will be next on the frontline and eventually the whole  of humanity will be on the frontline.

Each of our countries has its own strategies to address the  challenges we face.  While we should continue to push for deep global  emission cuts to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the  atmosphere to a safer level to ensure that casualties of climate change  is minimised, the fate of those on the frontline now should be  addressed.

Adaptation strategies have indeed been effective in dealing with  the problem caused by sea level rise in the short term but the ability  of some countries like mine to adapt within their national borders will  be eroded along with their islands.  It is inevitable, therefore, that  adaptation options for low lying countries in the long term must include  as a last resort relocation to higher ground in other countries.  The  implications of what such an eventuality would mean for our people are  unthinkable and raise many questions for which we do not have any  answers at this point in time.  I have been accused on many occasions of  being too defeatist.  I say I am being pragmatic and realistic.

A number of likely strategies for relocation have been put  forward by different countries for their people.  Some are arguing for  the recognition of environmental refugee status under international law  while others are seeking foreign lands to purchase for their people.

We, in Kiribati, are currently undertaking a comprehensive  evaluation of all of the options available, including: preparing cost  estimates of building up our islands to levels that would ensure their  integrity in the face of rising seas this century; the prospects of  purchasing lands in other countries; assessing the viability of  artificial floating islands; and, as a last resort, migration to other  countries. The study will necessarily involve a detailed analysis of the  implications of all of these options from the social, economic and  legal perspectives. Based on the outcome of this study we will then be  able to make a more informed decision on the option or indeed the  combination of options (which is more likely to be the case) we will  take. But whatever options we take, the bottom line must be that it must  maintain as much as possible the integrity of our identity, culture and  dignity as a people. It will also be the case that the success of  whatever options we adopt will depend largely on the commitment of the  international community to participate in the solution. The solutions  will require significant resourcing and co-operation on a global scale.  In spite of being in danger of repeating my earlier comments made in  other fora I would like to say once again that models which directly  address some of these issues already exist and are in operation. The  annual quota of migrants accessing New Zealand and the up skilling of  our people in Australian institutions enabling them to access the  international labour markets are examples of what are achievable given  the political will.

I have been keeping track of developments on the Climate Change  Talks leading up to Copenhagen and I must admit that progress has not  only been disappointing but moreover does not seem to be in accord with  the sentiments expressed by Leaders at the UN Climate Change Summit in  New York in September this year. At the Summit discussions there was  clear political commitment at leadership level for an agreement to be  concluded – to seal the deal at Copenhagen. The current status of the  Talks would lend speculation to one of two possibilities: either that  our officials have proceeded without regard for the clear mandate by  leaders to seal the deal; or that (and I hope this is not the case) this  is a deliberate attempt by some to ensure that indeed the deal is not  sealed. Assuming that the commitments made at the Summit were genuine  and in an attempt to put the whole process back on track, it seems that  the way forward would be for the UN Secretariat to come up with a  summary document which reflects the political commitments made at the  Summit and incorporates the points on which consensus has been reached  during the Talks and identifies those issues which remain to be resolved  for further consideration. We have come so far and it would be so  irresponsible of us if we were to discard all of the positive progress  made so far because we could not reach agreement on the rest. I, for  one, had never been so optimistic as to believe that total agreement  would be reached in one sitting. I submit therefore that whilst dialogue  must continue on outstanding issues it is imperative that we seal the  deal at Copenhagen on those issues over which there is agreement. During  the UN High-Level Climate Change Summit there was speculation that the  current deadlock on some issues would indeed occur and a proposition was  put forward that perhaps we would do better to adopt a political  document outlining points of principle rather than to delve into the  details for fear of getting bogged down – a scenario which indeed has  occurred.

It may be worth considering such an option during our discussions  in this Forum. For some of us the possibility of coming away from  Copenhagen without an agreement is something we cannot afford to happen  given the severity and urgency of our situation.

On some of the more specific issues to be addressed at Copenhagen  we believe that there has to be a rational mechanism for availability  of whatever resources might be pledged internationally so that resources  are applied effectively and in accordance with some priority listing. I  also believe that the Kyoto Protocol should form the basis for  negotiations of a post-2012 arrangement so that we are not reversing the  trend of developments made so far.

In closing, I wish once again to extend my deep appreciation for  the initiative taken by you Your Excellency in convening this timely  Forum and to your Government and your people for the warm welcome and  hospitality extended to us since our arrival to your beautiful country  and for the excellent arrangements made for these discussions.

Thank you.

For more information, please contact: Government Of Kiribati, Office Of Te Beretitenti (President), P.O. Box 68, Bairiki, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati. Telephone: (686) 21183 Fax: (686) 21902