His Excellency President Anote Tong

‘Global collective action’ needed

H.E Beretitenti Anote Tong’s Statement on the occasion of the Dili International Conference, Dili, Timor Lester, 27 February 2013…

His Excellency President Anote Tong

His Excellency President Anote Tong

Opening Remarks

Our gracious host, H.E. Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister of Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste; Fellow Leaders; Members of the G7+; Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Noeleen Heyzer; Distinguished participants; Ladies and Gentlemen;

I bring you warm greetings from the people of the Pacific on whose behalf I am both honored and privileged to address this gathering – Kam na mauri!

It gives me great pleasure to join this gathering – a gathering which I believe is unique and convened for the first time bringing together voices of the most fragile and conflict-affected states. This is long overdue and I thank the conference conveners and all those involved in making this possible, notably UNESCAP, AusAID, the Pacific Institute of Public Policy as well as the g7+ group for deeming it fit that this happens today in this beautiful country.

I wish to thank and acknowledge with appreciation the warm welcome and excellent hospitality extended to all of us since our arrival yesterday morning by the Government and people of Timor Leste. Mr Prime Minister, I must say that already, we feel so much at home by the overwhelming hospitality, attentiveness and endless smiles of your staff and people – Obrigadu!

Challenges: Meeting the Millennium Development Goals

Let me begin by taking us back to that critical moment in 2000 when our leaders at the time gathered in New York to set the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. As I reflect on what were they were thinking at the time, I conclude that it is for one crucial purpose – to set in place landmarks which would guide our course towards achieving a better and secure future for our future generations.

Now with less than two years away from the cut-off date of 2015, we have rightly begun to ask ourselves questions; Are we on track towards achieving these goals?

I have no doubt that for many of us, the answer would be no. And of course this raises the next question – Why is this? What is preventing us from achieving the goals? This takes us to the heart of our gathering today – to assess what has prevented us from achieving our MDGs in the context of our fragile situations and how do we frame the post 2015 development agenda bearing in mind those obstacles.

I believe that to determine and plan for the future, we must reflect on the past and learn from our experience, most particularly our mistakes, for they hold the key to the answers and perhaps offer solutions to our problems. As a region, we from the Pacific took the opportunity to do that yesterday. I believe that a detailed report on the outcomes of these consultations will be submitted separately but let me encapsulate them from my perspective.

I acknowledge that much can and must be done to improve our own internal management of our affairs by putting in place policies and tools which will address the inequities existing within our borders and within our control in order to work towards our MDGs. However it is also true that for most of us, the lack of positive and in some cases the reversal of progress towards achieving our MDGs were often attributed to factors outside our control – such as the global financial crisis, fuel price hikes, severe natural disasters, lack of control in determining returns on our resources and so on. Our deep vulnerabilities to these external shocks were made blatantly clear. I believe that if we, as a global community are serious about addressing these issues then support must be provided to the so called fragile states to build their resilience against these external factors so that their people may be assured of living worthwhile lives – one of the keys objectives of the Pacific Plan.

Climate Change also came out very clearly as an issue which has and will increasingly dominate the national development agenda of most countries. For some countries climate change will threaten their very survival as nations and the future of their people. Needless to say, that this is clearly one of those external factors bedeviling our progress towards achieving not only our MDGs but our very future survival. And of course the solution to this challenge is beyond the capacity of any single nation but requires collective global action.

In the Pacific, the degree of our fragility and insecurity will increasingly be due to climate change and the implications it poses on various aspects of our lives ranging from food security, health, increasing salinity in our water lens, our resources as well as our very survival and existence.  I have no doubt that in many of the Pacific Island countries, we have and will continue to receive endless requests from our local communities to assist in building seawalls to protect and rebuild properties damaged by natural disasters and even help local communities relocate and rebuild their communities.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot pretend to ignore the reality and the extent of damage that climate change has posed on our communities and island states. There is simply no choice. The reality is, regardless of how much effort we directed towards our MDGs, any progress will be negated by the inevitable and increasing severity of climate change. For those countries on the frontline of this challenge and already feeling the impacts, the question will be over the allocation of resources between addressing the impacts of climate change now and in the future or delivering on our MDG targets. I make these comments simply to emphasize the increasing dominance of climate change on our national and indeed the global agenda.

I want to take a few moments to share with you our response to the climate change challenge. In Kiribati, we have recently developed our own national adaptation framework and disaster risk management plans to guide our work in this area.  This framework embraces two principles – accepting the reality of climate change impacts (the science) and making the commitment to ensure that our home islands remain in existence for as long as possible. This framework is based on a whole of nation approach involving Government, the legislature and the people but in order to implement this strategy we will need substantial resources. We hope that much of it will be forthcoming from our partners and also hope that some we can provide ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that much of our fragility is a product of our own perception of ourselves. In the Pacific we refer to ourselves as small island states whereas in reality we are large ocean states, custodians of some of the planets vast resources. By way of example, let me once again refer to our experience in the Pacific for I have no doubt at all that the same situation will apply to other regions and countries. In the Pacific we collectively possess one of the most extensive Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) on this planet which is host to the last remaining healthy stocks of tuna. Extensive deposits of deep seabed minerals and in some countries oil and gas deposits have also been identified within these EEZs. So far, exploitation of these resources whether fisheries or oil and gas have invariably been at the initiative of those countries with the capacity to do so – usually our developed partners – and invariably in most if not all cases the rate of return on these to resource owners has been minimal.

In the case of fisheries the usual rate of return would be around 5 to 8 percent of the landed value of the fish caught. The value of the fish caught in our waters in Kiribati alone would be between 400 to 500 million dollars annually. Based on these numbers it is quite conceivable therefore that if the right conditions were facilitated to ensure more equitable returns to fragile nations which own the resources, then the ability of these fragile states to withstand any external shocks to their development progress would be considerably enhanced.

Closing remarks

Ladies and gentlemen I believe we must take the initiative to chart our own course in leading global thinking on areas that are crucial not only to the wellbeing of our people but to the whole of humanity. It is time we must step forward onto the global stage as independent, sovereign and equal partners in the international community. For so long, we had been too preoccupied with being small developing countries, irrelevant and insignificant. When our very survival and those of our future generations are on the line, we have a responsibility and duty to participate in the debate, even dominate it.

Developing the Pacific Oceascape is an excellent example of how we as small island states can influence global thinking on an issue that is of great relevance to us as ocean states. The Pacific Oceanscape was endorsed by the Pacific Islands Forum in 2009 and has now gained momentum with the launch of the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans Program at the Rio+ 20 in 2012. The prime objective of this initiative is to conserve the world oceans hopefully before it is too late.

In closing ladies and gentlemen, I believe that achieving development for all is about redressing the inequities which abound around us whether it is about the injustice of climate change or demanding a more equitable rate of return on our resources. Even in the absence of any regulatory regime whether at the national or international level, it is about the moral justice of our actions as human beings with our conscience as our only guide.

I wish you all the very best as we continue to deliberate on an issue so crucial for our future generation and to share with you our Kiribati’s traditional blessings of

Te Mauri (Health), Te Raoi (Peace) ao Te Tabomoa (Prosperity).