While in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session last week, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the leaders of Pacific island nations for a panel discussion on climate change and sustainable development. The Secretary invited Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and Republic of the Marshall Islands President Christopher Jorebon Loeak to offer their perspectives at the outset and to help lead the discussion.
The resulting conversation among the assembled leaders and other senior officials from the Pacific focused on the need for greater collaboration among like-minded governments, the utility of working through existing regional institutions, and the immediate importance of focusing on concrete outcomes in terms of reducing emissions and building resiliency against climate change impacts.
After the roundtable the Secretary hosted a reception at which the Pacific islands leaders and other senior officials from their countries could engage with senior officials from the State Department and the White House including Danny Russel, our Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia & the Pacific. The conversations launched during the panel continued at the reception. Below are the brief comments with which Secretary Kerry opened discussion at the start of the events.
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SECRETARY KERRY: Welcome, everybody, and thank you for – sorry, I’m a moment late. I apologize. I’m very happy to be meeting today with Marshall Islands President Loeak and with the Samoan Prime Minister Malielegaoi and other Pacific Island leaders. We’re very happy to have all of you here.
This week these leaders and other leaders from around the globe have come to New York during the UN General Assembly to discuss some of the issues of greatest challenge to everybody, life and death issues that impact millions of people around the world. Climate change is one issue that absolutely impacts millions of people around the world, and no one knows just how deeply serious and present, how now this challenge is and its impacts than the people of the vulnerable Pacific Islands. They have experienced both historic droughts and the highest rates of sea level rise in the world.
So the science is clear and irrefutable, and today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed for the fifth time in 20 years that climate change is real, is happening, and is in large part caused by human activity. The IPCC findings have stressed that if we continue down our current path, the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, could be even worse than previously expected.
So as we work with our international partners to prepare for the impacts of climate change and the impacts that we’re already witnessing, we have an urgent responsibility to try to work together even harder to be able to change the way we’re doing things. I’ve been following this issue since, what, 1988 when then-Senator Al Gore and I held the first hearings in the United States Senate. And Jim Hansen came before our committee and said climate change is happening now. That was 1988. Everything has confirmed that ever since, but we still have a small window of time to prevent the very worst impacts of climate change from catching up to us. But that window is closing.
So we know that no one nation has the ability to address climate change alone. The United States, which is together with China a large proportion of emissions, if we acted all by ourselves and went to zero tomorrow it wouldn’t do the job. So we all are in this. We all have to figure out how to proceed forward. And between President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the important Majuro Declaration the Pacific Islands nations signed at the 44th Pacific Islands Forum earlier this month, between those things our countries have made clear our commitments to address what is one of the defining issues of our time. We’re equally committed to working toward a comprehensive UN climate agreement that takes into account the unique circumstances and capabilities of each nation.
I know I also speak for President Obama when I say that I – we stand with the Pacific Islands in the fight against climate change. And I’m looking forward to our discussion today, and most importantly, I’m looking forward to continuing our very important work as we together try to guarantee the future of our nations and indeed the future of the planet.
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From all accounts I’ve received, it was a productive session with a strong sense of shared interest and commitment. I’m glad that during such a hectic week the leaders were able to convene for this important discussion.