Speech to the Pacific Environmental Security Forum

  • Hon Ron Mark

Tuhia ki te rangi

Tuhia ki te whenua

Tuhia ki te ngakau

O nga tangata

Ko te Mea nui

Ko te aroha

Tihei (wa) Mauri Ora

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the 2019 Pacific Environmental Security Forum. New Zealand is proud to host this year’s Forum alongside the United States Indo-Pacific Command, and to have so many of our Pacific neighbours in attendance.

I would like to acknowledge the United States Ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown and the French Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Sylvaine Carta-Le Vert, Timor Leste Ambassador Cristiano De Costa.   

Over the course of this Forum, you will discuss topics of paramount importance to Asia-Pacific security.

These include the intensifying impacts of climate change, climate migration, biosecurity, resource protection, tangible environmental security solutions and environmental security transformation.

The primary theme for this year’s Forum is Building Resilience in the Pacific. This is particularly important. Our Pacific Island partners are disproportionately affected by the impacts climate change—the western Pacific Ocean is rising at about three times the global average rate of around three millimetres annually.

In my first attendance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, I and the French Minister of Defence led discussions on what we saw as a critical threat to security.

At the September 2018 Pacific Islands Forum, the leaders of our neighbourhood, including New Zealand, affirmed that “climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people”.

Discussions on climate change, defence and security were front and centre during my recent visit to Fiji for the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

We recognised climate change as a challenge that regional defence organisations must be ready for.

Recommendations on advancing collective work by regional militaries and defence establishments on climate change, defence and security following a coordinated study, led by France, commissioned by the meeting in 2017, received unanimous support.

Key components of this future work are in lock step with the goals of the Pacific Environmental Security Forum, including the sharing of best practice in a range of areas from policy development, education and awareness-raising and civilian-military collaboration.

The importance of the networks you will form this week cannot be overstated. Strong and enduring civilian-military partnerships across the Asia-Pacific will enhance stability and security.

New Zealand’s vast maritime profile, encompassing waters from Antarctica through the South Pacific and to the Equator is fundamental to the wellbeing of New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours.

Challenges in this domain are visible and intensifying.
New Zealand’s collaborative work with our partners, such as the Navy working with Fiji
to patrol its EEZ for illegal fishing, aims to protect natural resources for future generations.

New Zealand also collaborates with partners in Antarctica where scientists are conducting ground-breaking climate change research.  The new Zealand Defence Force plays a critical role in enabling this important work, and it is through doing that work it is seeing first-hand the effects of Climate Change and its consequences.

The impacts of climate change are challenging community resilience and working to exacerbate a range of challenges from transnational crime, resource competition and climate-induced migration.

In December, in conjunction with New Zealand’s Minister for Climate Change the Hon James Shaw, we released The Climate Crisis: Defence readiness and responsibilities assessment. This assessment reinforces New Zealand’s view that climate change is one of the greatest security challenges of our time. You will receive a presentation on this piece of work today.

The Pacific region is facing increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events leading to a range of environmental impacts such as coral bleaching, decreasing fish stocks and increased soil salinization—all have flow-on economic, cultural and social consequences.

When coupled with increased rainfall and deforestation the results are catastrophic – land subsidence, slips, erosion, and loss of biodiversity to name a few. 

It is important to take lessons from the past to better inform our future. Whilst it is some time ago, in May 1840 a devastating landslide destroyed the Ngati Tuwharetoa village of Te Rapa on the South West shore of Lake Taupo, killing sixty people.  This environmental disaster remains New Zealand’s highest death toll from a landslide.  Such events will become more frequent.

More recently two of the most destructive tropical storms in the South Pacific have occurred in the past few years.  Cyclones Winston and Gita caused widespread destruction in 2016 and 2018 respectively. The New Zealand Defence Force supported and will continue to support the New Zealand Government to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected.

Over time there will be an increased requirement for our Defence and other security forces to respond with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, more search and rescue missions, and potentially stability operations. All of this means we need to think about capability.

We also need to think about incorporating traditional and indigenous knowledge with contemporary methods will allow us to establish projects that merge strategies that have been successful for centuries, with technology and methods of response that can enhance resiliency for future generations.

Sustainable practices are not only important for the protection of human life, they are also important for the protection of natural life.
The Pacific is home to a broad indigenous biodiversity that is important to our national identities and economic wellbeing.  However, our unique flora and fauna are at risk from biosecurity hazards and threats that are already present. Those that are present and dormant, and those that arrive but which normally would not survive.  We must not be blind to the potential for such threats to be deliberately introduced.

Make no mistake, climate change will have grave implications for biodiversity and biosecurity.  This is an area that requires new and innovative thinking if we are to preserve our natural ecosystems and ways of life. Not to mention our economic prosperity.

The New Zealand Defence Force, can, does and will play a critical role in supporting our biosecurity system here in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region. A whole of Government effort in this space is essential to protect and promote the wellbeing of our communities and natural resources.

This year, the United States Indo-Pacific Command has proposed evolving the PESF from an event-based initiative into a non-binding network of practitioners named the Pacific Environmental Security Partnership.

New Zealand is proud to support the proposal and views this evolution as a unique opportunity for the Asia‑Pacific region by accelerating wide‑reaching civilian‑military partnership in the environmental security sector.

Make no mistake.  Climate change is a crisis.  But, it is also an opportunity for our security sector to step up. The intersection between defence, climate change, and security can help put us on a shared path to becoming even more prepared for the current and future challenges we face.

We look forward to continuing to learn from our Pacific friends and work with our partners across the Asia-Pacific to further strengthen our shared resilience against climate change.

I am keen to hear about the outcomes of this Forum and invite all of you to participate to your fullest and to make the most of this conference. 

Finally, I would like to conclude with reflecting on my recent visit to Fiji for the recent South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting. 

It is heartening that collectively as Pacific Island neighbours, we have committed to a path that will lead towards tangible actions for alleviating climate change and environmental security challenges. I encourage you all to take learnings from this forum home to help support the wider Asia-Pacific follow an enhanced path of sustainability and stronger environmental security.   

I’ll finish by just sharing something from the South Pacific Defence Minister’s meeting. 

Quite often when I talk about this matter, I’m immediately challenged by people who want to confront me on climate change.

I tell them, I’m not here to argue what’s causing climate change or how we’re going to resolve it, what I say to them, and I’ll say to you, is that things are changing now.

Our women and men in uniform who crew our vessels, fly our aircraft or operate on the land, are closer to the elements than most civilians who talk about climate change ever will be.

They absolutely depend on a thorough and professional understanding of meteorology, the climate, weather patterns and how it’s changing.  We have had to adapt our operating procedures so that we can operate in that sphere.

We understand the importance of understanding where we sit at any given point in time with regards to the environment. It is because of this, that we recognise and see the changes that are happening. We have to adjust for us to remain effective and we need to recognise that deployments to relieve citizens caught by natural disaster are going to become more frequent and they’re going to be more demanding so on that fact alone we need to adjust to what’s happening, understand it and plan accordingly.

This means we all need to work together.

At the South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting we were talking about conflict and the potential for it to occur.

And I know what some people say, how does climate change cause conflict? Well it’s all to do with competition for food and resources, and I’d like to highlight a couple of things which highlight the potential for conflict in the future.

Firstly I’d like to talk about jellyfish.  There is a jellyfish in Tonga which is a delicacy.  At the meeting the Tongan Minister of Defence Lord Ma’afu talked to us about this jelly fish. 

It has disappeared from its natural habitat and the fishermen have gone looking for it. This raises the interesting question, what if they find that in someone else’s water? What if they  start harvesting from an area that is not theirs?  Who then does the jellyfish belong to?

Rice paddies were another example; there is an area in Fiji which always was able to grow rice.  Today, it does not. 

The sea has inundated that area and now it is full of salt water. So the food source has gone. So what are the consequences of that?

Erosion is yet another example; people think that when land falls away you just pick up the population and find them a new home. Into another tribes area?

We saw it in PNG when I happened to be there during the earthquake. A whole tract of land fell into a valley meaning a village had to move. There are people in this world who think it’s easy to move one tribe onto another tribes land.

Pacific Island people understand you cannot just do that. First there needs to be some conversation and it needs to be worked through in a respectful manner. 

The Fijian Minister of Defence, Minister Seruiratu, shared the story of his own village which has had to redo its sea wall three times due to rising sea levels. 

This is a small village with limited economic resources, and for the third time it has to rebuild its sea wall to stop it from disappearing into the ocean.

All these things are worth thinking about, because eventually one might conclude that villages like this will need to be relocated. 

With food sources being scarce, fish stocks disappearing, and land becoming more precious, this has potential to create conflict.

For us in the military and security sector, these are real challenges, and they have the potential implications which I’m hopeful the great minds in this room will talk about, and come up with some solutions for us politicians to move forward and implement. 

Good luck, I’m looking forward to reading the results of this meeting.

Thank you.