P.M. Tuilaepa found Australia “unpleasant” at Pacific Island Forum leader’s retreat
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, is calling the Pacific Island Forum Leader’s Retreat a “very successful meeting,” despite cries from the region’s leaders that it was sabotaged by Australia.
On his return from the 50th Forum in Tuvalu, Tuilaepa said the leaders were “exceptionally vocal” on climate change and have all committed to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“After all 1.5 [degrees celcius] is a limit for everyone,” he said, adding that the Forum recognises that even the Paris Agreement is not ambitious enough on climate action.
“We must do much more than what we collectively promised to do to fight against climate change at the Paris Agreement or else the temperature rise could reach 3 [degrees] or more by 2100.
“Planet earth is at a crisis and no country is safe from the devastating consequences of climate change.”
But he did not shy from calling Australia’s participation “unpleasant.”
“Part of the tension was in the manner and language used by Australia in driving their perspectives home,” Tuilaepa said.
“When Australia persistently reminded leaders of what it has provided for the Pacific – the inference was indeed unpleasant for the simple reason, the process was one of consultation towards an acceptable consensus.”
He was referring to Australia’s repeated claim that it spends millions in aid and development funds in the region, some of which was announced during the forum.
As to the tension itself, Tuilaepa said the meetings were not private enough, especially on matters like West Papua and climate change.
“Sensitive details of the leaders’ exchanges must remain privy to leaders only,” he said, adding the open fale meeting room was too public.
“Forum officials will consider the outcomes of the Forum’s processes of its future meetings to avoid unnecessary adverse publicity on its deliberations.”
At the closing of the meeting, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was reported saying the Pacific Islands would survive the climate crisis with Australian aid and seasonal work programmes, saying he found it “annoying” having the finger pointed at his country.
“I also get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that, you know, they will continue to survive.
“They will continue to survive, there’s no question they’ll continue to survive and they’ll continue to survive on large aid assistance from Australia.
“They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit, pick our fruit grown with hard Australian enterprise and endeavour and we welcome them and we always will.”
Tuilaepa said Australia cannot deny the climate crisis has hit its shores too.
“Australia’s prolonged drought, forest fires, cyclones, flash flooding, increased acidification of the Great Barrier Reef and the consequential threat to their marine resources are well known to all Australians except those who have eyes but failed to see.
“To engage in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in the islands is therefore an extension of Australia’s own security consideration similar to the goals of its own domestic climate change policies.”
But he would not be drawn on the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments, or the racism behind them.
“Samoa is deeply appreciative of the foresight of the Australian Government to establish these workers’ programme for the Pacific workers,” he said.
Tuilaepa said the Forum communique ‘Kainaki II Declaration for Climate Action Now’, a separate document to the Tuvalu Declaration watered down by Australia, is a strong statement, which ignored Australia’s ‘red lines’.
They have included references to the climate crisis, which Australia preferred to called ‘climate change reality,’ to the Special Report on global warming of 1.5 degrees, how to achieve zero emissions by 2050, references to the coal industry and global climate finance commitments.
During the meeting, Forum leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the new Blue Pacific continent, which has a particular focus on immediate action on climate change in the region.
They also discussed progress on implementing the Boe Declaration on Security, and nations were urged to conclude negotiations on maritime boundaries as soon as possible.
The meeting also touched on the Rarotonga Treaty, the formal agreement of the nuclear weapon free zone in the South Pacific.
Nuclear testing in the region is still an issue and the forum leaders “agreed to continue support for the Republic of the Marshall Islands to ensure there is meaningful engagement with the [United States of America] on nuclear testing legacy issues,” Tuilaepa said.
Tuilaepa’s comments are from an interview with Savali Newspaper, the publication of the Government of Samoa.
Read the full interview below:
SAVALI: You have just returned from the PIF meeting in Tuvalu. How did it go?
TUILAEPA: There is a communiqué which sets out the Agreed Conclusions of the PIF Leaders Retreat on many issues we discussed of great importance to our peoples of the Pacific. It was a very successful meeting. The leaders were exceptionally vocal on the single greatest threat facing the Pacific Islands today – which is climate change – and the urgent stepped up actions by all nations to commit to limiting temperature rise to 1.5oC by 2020 and in so doing ensure zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After all 1.50 C is a limit for everyone. Science has stressed that in order to prevent sea level rise which will impact many low lying islands we must do much more than what we collectively promised to do to fight against climate change at the Paris Agreement or else the temperature rise could reach 3oC or more by 2100. This is disastrous for small island countries as well as the whole world. Planet earth is at a crisis and no country is safe from the devastating consequences of climate change.
Leaders also endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the new Blue Pacific continent, which builds on the principles of equality and inclusivity and focuses on the need for urgent and immediate actions on the threats and challenges of climate change facing the Pacific and its peoples.
Progress on the implementation of the Boe Declaration on Security was commended and that traditional and cultural norms be considered as an underpinning imperative of all security initiatives. On oceans and maritime boundaries all countries were urged to conclude negotiations as soon as possible and that countries pursuing claims for an extended continental shelf be done as soon as possible.
Leaders acknowledged the importance of addressing the longstanding issues of nuclear testing in the Blue Pacific and called on operationalisation of the provisions of the Rarotonga Treaty as necessary. Furthermore, they agreed to continue support for the Republic of the Marshall islands to ensure there is meaningful engagement with the USA on nuclear testing legacy issues.
The ‘Kainaki II Declaration for Climate Action now’ in my view is still a strong statement because we have kept references to a ‘climate crisis’, the references to the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5o C, strategies to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, removal of inefficient fossil subsidies, just transition from fossil fuels and enhancing global climate finance commitments.
SAVALI: Prime Minister, media reports on your meeting suggest that there were some fireworks at your Retreat. If these reports are true can you elaborate?
TUILAEPA: Certainly! Impressive and wonderful display of fireworks similar to our own display at the conclusion of the Pacific Games! Or, if you refer to heated exchanges during our discussions, that is what to be expected in a Retreat of leaders only, where officials and the Media are not allowed. The whole purpose of the leaders Retreat is to encourage frank exchanges of ideas to resolve difficult issues confronting the region in an atmosphere of genuine interest to find viable solutions that are accessible and affordable to all our people. In this context, we focus on the bigger picture; openness, flexibility of attitude and willingness to give and take become the order of the day. And above all, this format produces a deeper respect of one another, greater fellowship, peace, understanding and cohesion amongst the leaders and greater integrity of the Forum as a gathering of responsible elders. We are the custodians of the great peaceful Blue Pacific continent.
Part of the tension was in the manner and language used by Australia in driving their perspectives home. When Australia persistently reminded leaders of what it has provided for the Pacific – the inference was indeed unpleasant for the simple reason, the process was one of consultation towards an acceptable consensus.
The ‘heated exchanges’ you referred to clearly reflected the importance of the Retreat mechanism in providing the “confidential space” for Forum Leaders to speak freely and share to find solutions to tough issues facing the Pacific as well as their efforts to convince and bring along the political constituents in their respective countries to understand the gravity of situations and to support the solutions. In the case of climate change, the threat is existential for the Pacific and the world, and time is running out. What is important therefore is the consensus reflected in the Communiqués from these meetings. How we arrived at these Conclusions are supposed to be privy to the leaders only – There are therefore no losers. Only winners!
SAVALI: How can PIF maintain those nice ideals in this complex world of the social media and misinformation?
TUILAEPA: In Tuvalu, we met in an open fale enjoying as well the fresh cool breeze from the sea on both sides of the Fale indicative of the smallness of Tuvalu and the reality of our PIF stance for special consideration by the international community, on the plight of our small islands in the face of climate change. Hence the privacy of this Retreat’s Deliberation could not be ensured. It’s a good reminder for future meetings. The officials should draw the attention of their leaders to the essence of these Retreats in maintaining the continuing privacy of their exchanges.
This is where the advisory role of the Secretariat needs also to be strengthened. For instance, the more sensitive issues like the West Papua and Climate change must never be debated outside of the Leaders Retreat. Sensitive details of the leaders’ exchanges must remain privy to leaders only. Forum officials will consider the outcomes of the Forum’s processes of its future meetings to avoid unnecessary adverse publicity in its deliberations.
SAVALI: Would you like to comment on certain media allegations that the Smaller Island States Leaders of PIF are encroaching too much into Australia’s sovereignty in matters of climate change and that the job offers by Australia is sufficient cushion against climate change concerns of the small islands.
TUILAEPA: Climate change is a global catastrophe. There is no such thing as a free lunch any more! Australia’s prolonged drought, forest fires, cyclones, flash flooding, increased acidification of the Great Barrier Reef and the consequential threat to their marine resources are well known to all Australians except those who have eyes but failed to see. To engage in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in the islands is therefore an extension of Australia’s own security consideration similar to the goals of its own domestic climate change policies.
Our Pacific Island Workers on the other hand, provide labour for the locally needed services by their entrepreneurs and industries in general. Samoa is deeply appreciative of the foresight of the Australian Government to establish these workers’ programme for the Pacific workers.
SAVALI: Did you have a successful Polynesian Leaders’ Group meeting?
TUILAEPA: Oh yes. All the nine full members of our PLG attended plus two observers. The main goal of our Polynesian Leaders Group is to strengthen cooperation in the revival of our Polynesian Culture and related developments like education and communication. American Samoa is presently the chair of PLG and the next meeting of PLG will now be hosted in American Samoa on January 28, 2020 next year. The Polynesian people populate islands within the triangle stretching from Hawaii in the north to the Maoris of New Zealand in the South to Rapanui (Easter Islands) to the East. Polynesians occupy the largest spread of the Pacific Ocean, and there is need for us to get together and strengthen our culture and learn from one another.
Approval is now given to the launch of the Polynesian Games with the final details to be worked out and hopefully finalised at the American Samoa meeting early next year.
SAVALI: The Fiji Prime Minister has now attended the PIF for the first time. Did he enjoy meeting the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers whom he never liked to be included in the PIF meeting?
TUILAEPA: Of course, Hon. Bainimarama contributed greatly to our deliberations and I was very, very pleased that he has taken his rightful seat in the meeting of the Pacific Leaders. Indeed Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia were the founding members of PIF.