On September 23rd, in New York City, Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano addressed the United Nation’s Climate Summit 2014: Catalizing Action. The high level summit was attended by over a hundred world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and French President François Hollande. Also in attendance were a range of celebrities and dignitaries, including actor and UN Messenger of Peace for Climate Change, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Pacific Islanders were important in shaping the day’s discussion. The session’s Opening Ceremony featured an impassioned call to action by 26-year-old Marshalese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, who said: “We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes and our breadfruit trees wither from salt and droughts… We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture should they lose our islands.” She called for “radical change” in the “race to save humanity,” and issued the challenge: “no one’s drowning, baby. No one’s moving. No one’s losing their homeland. No one’s becoming a climate change refugee. No one else…We are drawing the line here. We are going to fight.”
In his speech, the Lord Prime Minister explained that the Kingdom of Tonga is highly vulnerable to natural hazards and climate risks, saying: “The World Risk Report measures a country’s vulnerability to natural hazards. Tonga is now ranked the second most vulnerable country in the world to these. In January this year, an unusual Category 5 cyclone devastated our central island group with one fatality, displacing thousands, and causing over $120 million in damage. Today, that same central island group is suffering from an unseasonal drought.” He added that this has implications not just for Tonga, but for larger security: “As a small island developing state on the front line of climate change in our Asia Pacific region, we are experiencing today an existential threat to our very livelihood – a threat that we perceive as one to the very peace and security of the international community.”
The Lord Prime Minister highlighted some of the whole-of-country efforts Tonga has been making both in mitigation and adaptation, including working towards reshaping its energy systems, streamlining energy governance, cutting fossil fuel use, setting up the Joint National Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management, and setting up the pioneering Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Climate Change, and Disaster.
Tonga is also working with other Pacific nations on whole-of-region responses, including the setting up of a Pacific Regional Data Repository (PRDR), as announced by Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano last year on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in attendance. The PRDR was officially launched last month at the SIDS conference in Samoa.
However, the Lord Prime Minister said, whole-of-country and whole-of-region approaches are not enough. It will take an urgent, concerted, whole-of-world effort to manage climate change. He joined other Pacific leaders in calling on the large emitters to join those affected in working faster and more holistically towards mitigating and adapting, adding: “it is high time that the dangers of the scourge of climate change and the existential threat it poses, be reconsidered by the Security Council as a threat to international peace and security.”
Referencing New York’s massive Climate March, echoed globally in other demonstrations, Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano concluded by saying: “Just this last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, here in New York, joined the millions globally, and took to the streets to demonstrate that they are up to the climate challenge. Today I call on my fellow leaders to this Climate Summit to show that we are as well.”