Pacific Islands Forum urges tough action on climate change and ocean conservation

Pacific Islands Forum

The 45th Pacific Islands Forum took place on Palau. Creative Commons: 2008

Pacific Island nations last week re-affirmed their commitment to tackling climate change, sea level rise and ocean conservation, as they met in Palau for the 45th Pacific Islands Forum.

Last year, nations, meeting in the Marshall Islands for the region’s annual meeting, signed the Majuro Declaration, placing climate change front and centre on the region’s agenda, committing Pacific nations to take action and calling on other nations to follow suit.

The declaration, presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a “Pacific gift”, was met with strong international support from countries including Mexico, France, Indonesia and Costa Rica.

While this year’s conference focused on the Ocean, climate change was still high on the agenda.

Speaking to the conference, outgoing forum chair and Marshall Island’s President Christopher Loeak said:

I am please to note the the incoming Forum Chair has chosen to maintain our focus on climate change, albeit on a different but related strand – the Ocean…

The ocean surrounds, connects and divides us. It provides nourishment but has the potential to threaten our very existence. It enriches with the abundant resources it offers, provided we act responsibly and in a sustainable manner.

At the opening ceremony of the Forum, President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau also warned that the Pacific Ocean and small island states are “under siege” from overfishing, pollution and rising ocean temperatures.

After four days of discussions, the nations meeting in Palau signed the Palau Declaration on the Ocean Life and Future, which will be presented at the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit next month.

Backed by 16 countries – including Australia – the declaration reinforces the threat of climate change on vulnerable nations, which compounds other development concerns, such as overfishing, urbanisation and fossil fuel dependency.

While some heads of states – including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott – have decline Ban’s invitation to discuss climate change this September, Loeak was the first to confirm his attendance at this year’s summit.

The Pacific Islands are said to be on the frontline of climate change. With many sitting less than a few feet above sea level, scientists warns that, as oceans warn and Arctic ice melts, sea level rise could create an existential threat to many of these vulnerable nations.

Many nations have already has to enact plans for the relocation of entire communities, as sea level rise encroaches on and erodes their countries coastlines.

The Declaration also called for the importance of the oceans to be cemented in the Sustainable Development Goals – currently under negotiation to take the place of the current Millennium Development Goals in 2016.

It called for ocean conservation to have its own dedicated goal.

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