Pacific leaders call for climate change action

08:17, Sep 05 2013
Pacific Island Forum
Dancers greet Pacific Island Forum leaders in Majuro, Marshall Islands.
Pacific Island Forum
Prime Minister John Key arrives.
Pacific Island Forum
Prime Minister John Key and other Pacific Island Forum leaders.
Pacific leaders
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and Prime Minister John Key relaxed in the shade

As Pacific leaders sweltered in their now-famous silly shirts on a low-lying atoll in the heat of the Pacific today, they pledged to take their concerns about climate change to the world and challenge it to do more.

Announcing next year's 45th Pacific Island Forum would be held in Palua, its leader also vowed to build on the momentum created this year.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau said it was not the Pacific way to make aggressive demands, but their resolve to combat the issue which threatens the survival of some Pacific nations should not be underestimated.

Leaders, including New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, signed the Marjuro Declaration, a statement urging countries to set ambitious emissions reductions targets.

It will be presented at the Post-Forum Dialogue tomorrow and to the UN later this month.

Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak was pleased by the progress, but appeared to have misunderstood the intentions of Australia and New Zealand.


"I believe they will come up with more ambitious targets than currently are in place now," he told media.

Key said New Zealand and Australia had not made further commitments, but they had recently committed to a 2020 position of 5 per cent below 1990 emission levels and had given indications they would go further if other countries did.

He described the forum's communique as "realistic" as it gave the leaders the chance to show the world that even as small emitters they were leading by example.

"So there was a lot of talk not so much about trying to bully the big emitters of the world [but] saying here are we, small countries and we're converting to renewable energy."

Key said he thought the larger countries would listen because the likes of the Marshall Islands and Kiribati were the nations pointed to as being genuinely affected by climate change 

"So, yes, I think they'll listen, but in the end there is some pretty heavy negotiations that have to take place as we enter what a post-Kyoto period might look like."

Remengesau said they would build on the momentum created this year. 

"I'd just like to say that in the true spirit of Pacific culture we sometimes do not use very harsh words or harsh demands in our discussions and providing answers to the climate change issue, but I think one thing you will see very clear is that this is an issue of our very own survival and our sustainability as a people and as small island nations here."

Kirbati President Anote Tong said yesterday his island was being swamped by rising seas which were corrupting their fresh water and spoiling crops. He said he was sick of talk without action, and the leaders had no choice but to do more.

"If we keep talking about this, we may not be here the next time you are sitting here," he said.

Tong yesterday said he wanted to see the wording of the declaration strengthened.

In spite of the importance of the matters being discussed and in keeping with the relaxed nature of the Forum, today's meeting was informal.

The leaders were ferried out for 40 minutes through the Marshall Islands lagoon, offloaded onto a pontoon and pulled onto the island using a rope attached to the shore.

Fiji was discussed, and Key said the leaders were encouraged by its move towards elections, adding that it would be reinstated to the forum if the elections were deemed free and fair.


Whether Fiji was at next year's forum depended on the timing of the election, he said.

Another feature this year was organisers stepping up the use of the popular silly shirts for leaders.

Rather than the traditional post-retreat shirt parade, the leaders this year have worn matching shirts each day - orange and blue, white and blue, and tan and black.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Key's favourite shirt was Wednesday's blue and white one "for reasons you can probably understand, though I thought the orange one was rather fetching."