Marshall Islands President leads talks on climate change
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(left): The President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak gives his keynote address at the conference.
The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Honourable Willy Telavi (left), the President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak (centre) and the President of the Republic of Fiji, H.E. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (right).
We must work together to ensure that the international community hears our collective voice, and plea for survival. The existence of our Pacific is on the line.
These comments were made by the President of the Republic of Marshall Islands, His Excellency Mr Christopher Loeak in his keynote address at the regional conference on Local Governments for Climate Change.
The three-day conference, which was held at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, brought together leading minds in the region including a number of Pacific Island leaders who have been instrumental in advocating for climate change issues in the Pacific at the global level.
As one of only four countries in the world that are completely made up of low-lying atolls, Marshall Islands feels the urgency of climate impacts and the need for immediate global actions, H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak shared with the conference participants.
He recommended the possibility of Pacific Island states venturing together by forging knowledge partnerships between and among them.
“I see much value in the members of a Fijian village council, for example, visiting us in the Marshall Islands and sharing with us their knowledge on how they are adapting to climate change and managing sustainable development, and vice-versa. I strongly believe that we can learn a lot from each other.”
The President told participants that island countries stand to lose if they do not come together to address the imminent threats of climate change and the unsustainable global direction.
Although there are limited capacities and resources to single-handedly address climate change and sustainable development issues, the President said his country has taken steps in developing locally-tailored processes to engage communities and local governments to build their resilience.
This involves looking to past traditional knowledge and understanding the current and future vulnerabilities to build adaptive capacities of communities, he explained.
An example of this, the President pointed out were the steps taken by the Marshall Islands to include their inter-agency Coastal Management Advisory Council to work with local governments and communities on over a dozen atolls under the goals of the Micronesia Challenge to conserve 30 percent of reefs and 20 percent of forest resources.
H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak stated that the unique vulnerabilities of Pacific states have worsened over the last two decades due to increased exposure to external shocks, sea level rise, natural disasters, and fuel, food, and financial crises.
“These problems are made worse by the lack of incoming support, and the failure to direct support towards actual projects on the ground. Support needs to more directly address each country’s self-determined priorities, particularly when it comes to the most vulnerable island states,” he added.
The President emphasised that adaptation and survival will require local governments to network and forge partnerships with traditional leaders, churches, landowners, national agencies, businesses, educators and citizen groups.
For this to happen, H.E. Mr Christopher Loeak said that local governments need to work as equal partners with others in a common process of problem solving and decision-making.
“Perhaps it is time for us to empower our local governments and communities to take a greater role in building their resilience and charting their own destiny,” he continued.
He concluded by stating that the process of sustainable development and climate change adaptation should be seen as a dignified process in which people want to participate not only for economic or political purposes but also for their own development.
The conference ended on 18 July.