Tuvalu News



President of the
Federated States of Micronesia

at the

AUGUST 5-8, 2001

East-West Center
Imin Center
Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96848

President Morrison, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen;

I would like to thank the staff of the East-West Center for hosting this highly significant seminar on security considerations in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a privilege for me to participate in its deliberations, along with such distinguished policy makers, defense officials and academic experts on Asia-Pacific defense and security affairs.

Issues covered in this seminar are among the most important facing our region. In my capacity as current Chairman of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders’ Standing Committee, I would add that Pacific Islanders are particularly concerned about the range of transnational security issues -- those that General Stackpole over at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and many of you, often refer to as "human security" issues.

While this three-day seminar obviously cannot address all of the broader human security concerns of the region, one in particular stands out today as having critical importance to everyone here present, and in fact to everyone in the world. To be sure, for Pacific Island States, climate change and its associated effects, is at this time our main security concern. And so, even though it has not been mentioned specifically on our agenda here, I ask your indulgence that I be permitted to make a few brief remarks on that subject.

For Pacific Islanders, Climate Change, which is bringing us sea level rise, intensified storms, freshwater destruction, saltwater intrusion killing our crops and coconuts and land erosion, is nothing less than a form of slow death. As you may have heard recently, the small Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is rapidly disappearing. The Government of Tuvalu asked New Zealand and Australia last year to accept as environmental refugees its entire population, some ten thousand people. Many of these island residents have already started to evacuate Tuvalu’s nine low-lying atolls, which are eroding away at an alarming rate. The forecast is that rising waters will totally engulf the nation within the next 50 years, but it will become uninhabitable long before then. Thus, Tuvalu will be among the first nations in the world to vanish as a result of climate change. This is one, dramatic example that has received recent attention in the press, but the same thing is happening to atolls throughout the Pacific, and in varying degrees, to island countries all over the world.

With apologies to Secretary Kelly and to Secretary of State Powell, I was dismayed to see that Secretary Powell characterized global warming merely as a security "challenge" for the United States in his Tokyo press conference on July 24, following meetings in Japan with Prime Minister Koizumi -- a challenge, he said, "that the United States is not shrinking away from." I must insist that, to the entire world, global warming is far more than a challenge. It is a doomsday threat. And to the Pacific Islanders, it is one that is not of our making. Sea level rise, and other related consequences of climate change, are grave security threats to our very existence as homelands and nation states.

In the face of these threats, our only avenue as resource poor island governments has been to engage fully in the various world conferences on this subject, and to band together with a collective voice in organizations like the Alliance of Small Island States and the Pacific Islands Forum, whose 32nd meeting I will be attending next week in Nauru.

It is important for all to realize that the pleas of island states for action against climate change are not merely self-serving. The loss of thousands of years of island cultures might be tolerated by the world at large, and tens of millions of island peoples might be relocated, with great difficulty and human suffering. But the rest of the world also faces devastating consequences of climate change in the longer term. Our early experience with real consequences of global warming has been considered analogous to the "canary in the coal mine" -- providing an early warning to the global community of its own impending doom. However, this warning will have been for naught if significant steps are not taken now, primarily by all industrialized nations, to cut back emissions of greenhouse gases.

As late as ten years ago, uncertain science forced us to rely on the Precautionary Principle in calling for reductions of greenhouse gases. Today, we base this call on clear evidence. Seldom, if ever, has a global scientific consensus emerged on such a vital and complex subject, in so short a time. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change assigned "common, but differentiated responsibilities" to all countries, developed and developing, in confronting climate change. But, it also provides that developed nations, having brought about this situation, must take the lead in reversing it. Kyoto, nothing more than a protocol to the over-arching Convention, was never seen as a solution to the problem of climate change. It is, however, a vital first step. Bonn, unfortunately, is an even small first step. But a first step must be taken, and it must be followed quickly by others. Naturally, the greatest care must be taken to minimize adverse economic consequences of the actions that must be taken. But it is equally important to invoke substantial measures without further delay.

Not long ago, the United States acted with dramatic leadership in declaring the threat of AIDS to be a global security threat. Today, we look once more to the great nations of the world to accept their leadership responsibilities as expressed in the Climate Change Convention, to cope with what is, without exaggerations, the greatest global security threat in human history.

Thank you.

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