(left) The President of the Republic of Fiji, H.E. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau gives his address during the opening of the conference.
(Front row:) The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Honourable Willy Telavi (3rd from left), the President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak (4th from left), the President of the Republic of Fiji, H.E. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (5th from left) and the Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra (2nd from right) with the conference participants.
A regional conference being hosted by the University of the South Pacific has brought together four key leaders of Pacific Island states that have been instrumental in advocating for climate change issues in the Pacific at the global level.
The conference on Local Governments for Climate Change, which opened on 16 July, will see the heads of state from the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Fiji address participants over the course of the conference.
Held at the Multi-Purpose Theatre at the University’s Laucala Campus in Suva, the three-day conference enables practitioners, leading scholars and policy-makers in the field of local government and decentralization to share their experiences, research, ideas and knowledge on the present local government trend and culture in response to climate change.
In welcoming the delegates to the conference, the Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra said that most people attending the conference would share the view that climate change is a major problem facing Pacific Island Countries (PICs).
“For some countries, it poses an existential threat, while for all our countries, climate change will have significant negative consequences that will require substantial funding and determined and co-operative efforts to cope with successfully,” he added.
Professor Chandra pointed out that the conference is a timely one as it follows up from the Rio+20 meeting which was held in Brazil in June earlier this year.
During the opening of the conference, the President of the Republic of Fiji, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau reiterated to those present that “climate change is upon us.”
“Our island nations represent the warmer region of the globe and would significantly feel the brunt of climate change,” he stated.
He said that Fiji was witnessing the first-ever sea level rise in the villages of Rewa and Bau.
While climate change continues to be a key development issue for small island states, the President believes that effective response requires a strong applied-science base.
“It will also require additional resources for investments in adaptive and mitigative action, and support for local governments, communities and sectors of the economy to shift to alternative forms of income generation.”
Highlighting the work undertaken by the Government of Fiji in the area of climate change mitigation, H.E. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said, following the launch of Fiji’s first National Climate Change Policy this year, the country is now working towards strengthening its laws and policies to address this global phenomenon.
“Fiji is currently undergoing policy and institutional reform that involves the updating of existing legislation and policies. The focus of the reform is to ensure sustainable economic and social development and thereby improve the livelihoods of all communities including local government in Fiji,” he continued.
According to the President, one of the challenges faced by PICs is the need for effective coordination of all climate change related activities by all stakeholders, including the civil society.
“This is the reason why a conference like this one is critical for us in our efforts to synergise our commitments towards addressing the adverse impacts of climate change both at national and regional levels.”
H.E. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau reminded participants that local governments often have the most direct relevance to the daily lives of people.
“For many people in the rural areas and outer islands, the word ‘government’ is instinctively a reference to local government rather than central government,” he explained.
The conference has been made possible with major funding from the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance (EU GCCA) project that is being administered by the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) at USP.
The conference ends on 18 July.