Am I not your neighbour? - Speech to the Tuvalu Climate Action Network event at COP26

Tēnā koutou katoa, Talofa Tuvalu, Soifua manuia i le paia lasilasi ua aofaga potopoto, and Warm Pacific Greetings to one and all.

Thank you, Fakafetai lasi to the Tuvalu Climate Action Network for this invitation to speak at the COP26 side event - “Am I not your Tuakoi – Neighbour?”

I would also like to extend my acknowledgements to the other speakers presenting, today:

  • The Prime Minister of  Tuvalu, the Hon. Kausea Natano
  • Reverend James Bhagwan, the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches
  • Other distinguished guests and my honourable panel members present
  • Ladies and gentlemen and our young people – the strength of our families.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking with counterparts and colleagues from Aotearoa New Zealand’s NGO sector.

During that discussion, I referenced a Samoan alagaupu, or proverb, which I feel resonates as we begin our talanoa here, too:

A logo tai, ua logo uta. When it is felt towards the sea, it is felt toward the land and forests.

Thinking broadly about Aotearoa New Zealand, this means what is felt in our region — the Pacific, Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa — by our whanaunga, our extended family, our aiga potopto, our neighbours, we also feel it at home.

The strength of our connections and kinship — our whanaungatanga — is such that we have a responsibility to support each other.

One demonstration of this at COP26, is the commitment by Aotearoa New Zealand to help raise the profile of the Pacific’s climate concerns, and the Pacific’s achievements, through a collaborative Pacific space on the ground, in Glasgow, and I am humbled that it is in this space — the Moana Blue Pacific Spaces — that we gather.

What does it mean to be a geo-political neighbour in the face of climate emergency and the likely induced displacement of indigenous peoples?

First let me provide the context for our beloved Pacific region - our home - and we all know this, but it’s worth repeating.

Climate change is intensifying the already wide range of challenges to Pacific Island countries’ sustainable development and resilience; challenges compounded also by the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Pacific leaders, including my esteemed peers speaking at this event, continue to underscore that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.

We know that climate change-related hazards will impact Pacific Island peoples’ well-being — our heritage, culture, language, and ancestral connections to land — and security, including through increasing water insecurity, salt-water intrusion affecting agricultural production, and the increased risks to life from intensifying extreme weather events due to climate change.

We see with our own eyes that Low-lying atolls face habitability risks and extreme threats if collective action fails to prevent catastrophic climate change.

We are in a climate emergency. The science tells us that if countries do not act now to reduce global emissions, the costs for everyone in the future will be much greater.  No one is immune to the effects of climate change. And as our young Pacific climate change warriors have been chanting - Save the Pacific! You save the world!

This is why we are working hard to meet our responsibilities at home and to demonstrate our full commitment to the Paris Agreement. And why Aotearoa New Zealand has announced it will significantly increase its nationally determined contribution by reducing net greenhouse emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

So what does it mean to be a neighbour in the face of these challenges?

This is an important question and I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a neighbor in this context.

 An idea that has resonated with me is this: the word neighbour (in this context) does not refer to a single person, it refers to a perspective; a view that shapes and guides what we do, and why.

It’s a perspective that speaks to the community we live within, and focuses on what binds us, rather than what separates us — including, but also beyond, the Pacific.

It’s a perspective that speaks to collaboration and partnership. We say in Aotearoa, New Zealand- Tātou Tātou, or all of us together. And we’ve used this principle to unite our team of 5 million New Zealanders to stand together, united, against COVID-19.

This perspective also speaks to a sense of responsibility to those around us. Our indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand refer to this value as – manaakitanga.

Manaakitaga in action is the recognition of people’s inherit mana, dignity and resilience. That we are all connected and we have a shared responsibility to continue to make our neighbourhood a better place —that we navigate the oceans together, that we stand by one another against the vicissitudes of life; and, it speaks to the importance of helping each other.  

In my own Samoan lens – the perspective of a neighbour – takes us to the Samoan philosophy of living, or as we call it “le fa’a-Samoa” the way we do things in Samoa. We recognize we are all connected through geneaology. That we have a shared origin. We are people of the Moana-niu-a-kiwa of the vast pacific region. The fa’a-Samoa is underpinned by the principle of “alofa”, charity, or the spirit of sisterhood, or family-hood, the extended-family, kainga, anau, familia, whanau, or aiga potopoto – and as we say in Aotearoa - Tatou, Tatou!

We’ve been asked what is possible for us to do for the sake of our neighbourhood?

In this context our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern recently announced that New Zealand would provide $1.3 billion in climate finance to developing countries. 

At least 50 percent of this will be spent in the Pacific — our own closest neighbourhood — and at least 50 percent on adaptation; a key Pacific priority.

For the Pacific, that equates to $650 million over four years.

But it is not just about the money — it is about what we do with the money, and how we do it that is important.   We want our neighbours, our whanaunga, our aiga, or family to be able to stay in their own homes.  We want to uphold the Pacific’s right to self-determination now and in the future.

We want our neighbours to be able to build sustainable healthy futures.  We don’t want to live in a neighbourhood where some thrive and others don’t.

And we want to work together to build resilience — as a neighbourhood — and find Pacific-centric solutions, underpinned by Pacific-led values.

This means working together on adaptation initiatives — those that build water and food security; that protect and enhance natural ecosystems; and that protect livelihoods.

A few examples of how this work is happening on the ground;

  • We are working to improve water security in five atoll countries — Tuvalu, Tokelau, Cook Islands, RMI and Kiribati.  To do this we’re investing in the repair of damaged domestic rainwater catchment and storage systems. We are supporting the construction of new community rainwater cisterns. We are implementing a pilot rainwater harvesting system, and monitoring and reporting on this system, and all the time helping to build capacity of island councils and communities to monitor and report on drinking water reserves.
  • In Tuvalu this includes working with the Pacific Community (SPC) on the design and construction of infrastructure to utilise a groundwater lens on Vaitupu Island which will provide portable water during periods of drought.
  • We are supporting the United Nations Trust Fund on Human Security Pacific Climate Change Migration and Human Security Project. This is being led by the International Organisation for Migration and we’re working with Pacific Island Forum member countries to develop a regional approach to climate mobility;
  • We are partnering with New Zealand’s Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, where our Department of Conservation and the Pacific Regional Environment Programme work together to support Pacific management of invasive weed species
  • and, we are implementing a programme with the Pacific Community  and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to develop a Pacific hazard risk analysis tool for resilience;
  • this project seeks to understand hazard risk analysis and decision needs. It aims to improve data sharing protocols, and provide capacity building on risk-based decision making.  The project will utilise and build upon current drought risk activities and data collected for case studies in Tuvalu and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Support is also available for initiatives that avert, minimise and address climate-related loss and damage.  This includes areas such as emergency preparedness, early warning systems and disaster risk insurance.

As Aotearoa New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta said earlier this week in an address reflecting on our partnerships and engagement in, and with, the Pacific: she said, and I quote, “when we consider livelihoods, we speak to intergenerational objectives” —  what we do for our children today, for our neighbours, sets the course for our mokopuna (our grandchildren) and those who will come after us.

We were asked, as a neighbour, how will you speak up for us?

Pacific Island countries are small, but collectively have a large voice. In 2015, Pacific Island countries were instrumental in seeing the 1.5 degree temperature goal written into the Paris Agreement — and are now instrumental in seeing that goal kept alive.

Aotearoa New Zealand wants to continue to support the countries of the Pacific amplify their collective voice, both at this COP26, and beyond. 

For this reason, we have supported the Moana Blue Pacific space and are supporting events in the shared pavilion that showcase Pacific action and speak to Pacific priorities.

We have supported everyone to Flex for 1.5 — the Pacific call to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We have supported the development of the beautiful Mana Moana — Pacific Voices artistic works, which have been created to amplify and support our Pacific drive for global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And beyond this COP, we will continue to look for opportunities to support Pacific voices and priorities, for example, by championing the development of international law to protect coastal state rights in respect of maritime zones in the face of sea level rise.

When we say in Aotearoa, New Zealand - He waka eke noa — we are saying, we are all in this together. We rise together, we fall together, we work together, we keep going together, and we persevere for the sake of present and future generations to come.

Kia kaha everybody! Stay Strong! Fa’amalosi!