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The pledge by the United States Secretary of the Interior that the Obama administration will sign onto a Majuro declaration calling for aggressive action to combat climate change is “a major accomplishment,” said Marshall Islands Minister Tony deBrum.
The declaration was endorsed last Thursday in Majuro by leaders from 15 independent Pacific nations meeting at the annual Pacific Islands Forum summit.
At a Post-Forum Dialogue session with more than a dozen nations participating, including the U.S., China, Japan and the European Union, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced new climate-change funding for Pacific islands vulnerable to sea-level rise and promised President Obama’s recently issued climate-action plan would be linked to the Forum’s “Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership.”
“I wanted to kiss the secretary of the Interior when she said that,” deBrum said Saturday. “This is a major, major accomplishment.
It will serve to convince those who are not convinced yet that it is a good thing to sign onto.”
DeBrum’s praise of Jewell came just days after Foreign Minister Phillip Muller was quoted by a wire service saying the Obama administration’s choice of Jewell to head its delegation to Majuro was “very disappointing,” and added: “When you send a secretary of the Interior, that’s the person who manages the internal affairs of another country. For us, that is a slap in the face.”
During Jewell’s brief one-day visit to Majuro, Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak joined Jewell for a series of meetings and appeared at her media conference to recognize U.S. government support on climate change.
DeBrum said it is not only the United States supporting the Majuro climate-action initiative. Support for the declaration was declared by England, Indonesia, S. Korea, Thailand, the EU, France, and Malaysia.
“It’s a good start,” deBrum said.
The Majuro declaration is something we very much welcome,” said U.K. Minister of State Hugo Swire, who attended the summit in Majuro. “We were the first non-Pacific island country to endorse it.”
His first visit to an atoll increased his recognition of the threat of sea-level rise. “When you come here and see the highest point on the atoll is a bridge about three meters above sea level, that brings it home pretty quickly,” Swire said.
DeBrum described the declaration as “a living document that people can sign onto.” It is to be presented as “the Pacific’s gift” to United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon during the opening of the General Assembly in late September by President Loeak, who is now chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum.
DeBrum acknowledged that closer to home, Australia and New Zealand climate actions are not in line with the needs of small islands in danger of being swamped by rising seas that are seeking major cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by polluting nations.
Noting Australia’s national election this past Saturday, deBrum said the islands will continue talking with the Australia government so that when it “becomes comfortable about signing on, they can do so.”
He was critical of New Zealand’s recent backtracking on emissions cuts from 15 to five percent, saying he hoped New Zealand “can improve on its measly five percent and come up with something more worthy of praise.”
DeBrum said Pacific leaders remain hopeful New Zealand will take more aggressive action against climate change.
Jewell said her government is launching a new Pacific American climate fund to be administered by USAID to support small Pacific island developing states to focus on adaptation. In addition, Jewell said USAID is offering US$24 million over five years for coastal adaption projects to “build resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities” in the Pacific.
“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time,” she said.
“It’s going to have wide ranging impacts all over our globe and that’s something that we are already seeing, particularly here as I flew into the airport and saw the sandbags from the last time the water inundated the runway (in Majuro).”
Jewell, who was making her first visit to the Marshall Islands, told Forum leaders that the Obama administration, “stands with our Pacific island friends in the fight against climate change.”
SOURCE: MARIANAS VARIETY/PACNEWS
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