Podesta heads to Pacific climate meet, NZ and Aus PMs decline

Advisor to President Obama to attend Pacific Islands Forum, alongside EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

Leaders from the seven Smaller Island States of Tuvalu, RMI, Kiribati, Palau, Cook Islands, Nauru and Niue to discuss oceans at Pacific Island Forum (Pic: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat)

Leaders from the seven Smaller Island States of Tuvalu, RMI, Kiribati, Palau, Cook Islands, Nauru and Niue to discuss oceans at Pacific Island Forum (Pic: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat)

By Sophie Yeo

Senior White House advisor John Podesta will lead the US delegation at the Pacific Islands Forum this week on the tiny nation of Palau.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and political leaders of Pacific countries are also taking part in this week’s discussions, where oceans will be at the centre of discussions.

Neither Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, both close neighbours to the Pacific Island states, are attending the Forum.

Abbott cited the downing of the MH17 plane in Ukraine as the reason for his absence, but the Green Part of New Zealand reported that there was frustration at the refusal of the two countries to take climate change seriously.

“The Pacific Islands have done the least to contribute towards greenhouse gas emissions but are disproportionately being affected by their adverse effects,” said Green Party climate change spokesperson Kennedy Graham.

“Many New Zealanders have family members in the Pacific Islands, so we have a duty of care to ensure they are not punished for being our neighbours.”

The UN’s climate science panel has warned that a 1m increase in ocean level this century could make some islands uninhabitable.

Some are already struggling to cope. The Marshall Islands capital Majuro has sunk beneath the waves twice in the past 12 months – due to exceptionally high tides.

Report: Marshall Islands primed for climate survival fight

In a call with journalists ahead of a new White House report on climate change released today, Podesta said that the US is “continuing to engage with our international partners” stressing the need to act now, or face “far greater costs in the future”.

The US delegation includes senior officials from the National Security Council, United States Pacific Command, US Coast Guard, Department of State, Department of the Interior, US Peace Corps, US Agency for International Development, and the State of Hawaii.

The US is the second largest global emitter of greenhouse gases after China.

Small island diplomats have pushed hard for greater ambition on climate change, but it has proven difficult to get the attention of the international community.

The countries appear as little more than a speck on the average map, with inhabitants spread across hundreds of islands. But this week’s Forum is a chance for the 300 delegates involved to voice their concerns.

“The meeting will be an opportunity for SIS [small island state] leaders to canvas issues and challenges unique to SIS circumstances like their disadvantaged situation in development terms and exposure and vulnerability to global economic and environmental forces, in particular climate change and climate-related consequences and disasters,” said Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Last year’s Pacific Island Forum, which took place in the Marshall Islands, culminated in the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, which was presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a “Pacific gift”.

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