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.
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