Nina Hall and Max Harris: NZ must speak out for Pacific on climate change

Funafuti atoll, on which the capital of Tuvalu is located.

Funafuti atoll, on which the capital of Tuvalu is located.

OPINION: On June 1, President Trump declared he was pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and would stop US contributions to the Green Climate Fund.

This decision, alongside his executive order to undo Obama-era climate policy, poses a real threat for our Pacific Island neighbours. Tuvalu and Kiribati are in a particularly precarious position: their low-lying islands are likely to face severe flooding as sea levels rise.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said of Trump's decision: "We are very, very distressed and I think this is a … destructive, obstructive statement from a leader of perhaps the biggest polluter on earth."

But Sopoaga has also expressed hope that this is "a call for the world to work more closely and do better, do more".

Fiji will be chairing this year's United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn in November, and will work hard to get the US to rejoin international climate efforts.

As the world grapples with how to reach the Paris commitments without the US, New Zealand should take a stronger role in supporting the voices of people in the Pacific.

We have benefited from the massive contribution of the Pasifika community to national life. We are neighbours. And we have foreign policy networks and a solid reputation that we can use to advance the interests of Pacific countries.

There are three areas where New Zealand could do more.

First, we could take a leadership role on the global stage as a partner of the Pacific community. When we won our Security Council seat in 2015, then Foreign Minister Murray McCully explained that "our positions and perspectives should always show a keen sense of the interests and needs of our Pacific neighbourhood. That is surely an important responsibility and one that gives us greater credibility in international affairs."

Our climate ambassador or foreign minister could co-author a series of op-eds in major international newspapers, with Pacific leaders, in the lead-up to the Bonn climate summit. The strategic placing of these kinds of op-eds has been done well in the past by Norway in their brokering of Israel-Palestine negotiations.

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Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs could actively support Pacific negotiators in their preparations for Bonn, through resourcing and networking. In all of these actions, New Zealand must avoid speaking over and for the Pacific, and instead should aim to amplify Pacific voices.

Second, we could lobby for states to deliver on their pledges to the Green Climate Fund that finances mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. New Zealand should follow through on the Paris pledge to "achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation in climate financing" as currently most international funding goes to mitigation, leaving developing countries to fend for themselves.

Finally, New Zealand could create more opportunities for Pacific Islanders to migrate to New Zealand. Many Pacific people see New Zealand as a natural and desirable destination, and have strong connections to family and friends who have already moved. Kiribati President Anote Tong has urged New Zealand to increase labour migration options so that family members can support their extended family in Kiribati through remittances.

New Zealand could follow the World Bank proposal and open labour market access to people from Kiribati and Tuvalu.

New Zealand could also increase the quotas of the Pacific Access Category (PAC), which are currently set at 1750 places in total, to enable more Pacific Islanders to move voluntarily and permanently. New Zealand could, alternatively, work with Pacific countries to secure a similar scheme in Australia.

The recent Green Party proposal to create a new humanitarian visa category to allow up to 100 people displaced by climate change and environmental change to move to New Zealand is a step in the right direction: but might not go far enough, given the scale of the challenge. It is also important to give people the chance to migrate voluntarily, and not wait till it's too late.

Now seems a difficult time for this conversation, with most political parties calling to cut immigration. But New Zealand society has greatly benefited from migration over centuries. Travelling is part of the New Zealand dream. We should extend the benefits of travel to others – and acknowledge that immigrants are assets, not liabilities.

Pasifika New Zealanders – through organisations like Caritas – are already calling for change in this area, and whether we heed these calls is a question of values.

Are we really committed to an independent foreign policy – foreign policy that is ethically justified, relatively non-aligned, and creatively pursued? And are we willing to apply that foreign policy in the Pacific?

Let's hope that in this election year, politicians – and we as citizens – have the guts to take this conversation forward.

Nina Hall is a lecturer at the Hertie School of Governance, and from July 1 will be an Assistant Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Bologna. Max Harris is an Examination Fellow at All Souls College in Oxford.

 - The Dominion Post


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