Speech to the Pacific Leaders Meeting, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy

Good afternoon everybody and I want to acknowledge your Excellency’s, Director General and the leaders from the Pacific region. I was a bit reluctant to go first because my elder from the Cook Islands hasn’t said anything yet, but I am happy to take up this opportunity. I believe as a Minister of the New Zealand Government of Pacific heritage I provide a unique perspective in these regards.

One, because I represent the people of New Zealand. But two, because of my roots in the Pacific and because we have a sizeable Pacific population in New Zealand who still call the islands of the Pacific home. I think I can do that.

And I think our purpose here of both the Minister of Climate Change and myself as the Minister for Pacific Peoples sends a very strong and powerful message of support to the Pacific region.

And it is our intention that as the new government New Zealand, that not only will we be looking to take a stronger more active leadership role in climate change internally as well as globally but, we also want to give confidence to the forum that we want to work closely with the forum and collaboratively to stand in solidarity with the needs of the Pacific.

I’ve had personal experience, your Excellency. I’ve visited many of these islands not only my home, but other islands to see for myself what was happening as a direct consequence of global warming and rising sea levels. And many of what has already been said I can vouch for. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And I don't think there's any harm of us repeating the same thing over and over again, until the rest the world recognizes the urgency and how serious our climate change is threatening food security in the Pacific region.

I think once upon a time as a little kid food sources for the Pacific, natural food sources, was either you get it from the sea, you get it from the land, you get from the air.

But nowadays all those sources have been threatened. And so you not only had the food sources, the natural foods been slowly destroyed as the years go by. The seas unregulated illegal fishing and, for most small island states, it's an impossible task to try and enforce their fishing rights, enforce their economic zones. And whilst FAO may not directly have a role in that sir, I think there is a real need to support the Pacific region and no doubt the work that the Director-General Pacific Islands Fishing is, is about making sure that those rights are protected for the sake of ensuring that the food source from sea are protected.

We notice also that in land use, sir, there is already internal migration and some of the small atolls. And as those people leave the outer islands and propagate in the main island, there is real pressure being put on that because there just isn't enough land. And not only that, there is the debate about building houses, making land available for that or where is the space for the rubbish, particularly if you're reliant on imported food and imported food comes with other problems. In terms of tin cans and plastics, all which harms the natural lands.

And so there’s the warming of sea levels as you well know sir, is destroying the ecosystems, and destroying the natural sources of seafood that many of these islands rely upon on a day to day basis. We've noticed also that as a result of the import food and we see this in our country. Where there is poverty there is a tendency towards fatty, cheaper, imported food products. Unhealthy food products, and that in-self generates this whole cycle of other diseases and other unhealthy things that come with it.

So I just want to basically reaffirm. That what you've heard from the Pacific leaders is true. And it isn't going to get easy it will get worse and from my experience sir, having spoken to our people in New Zealand but also visiting the region, there was a real sense of urgency about it all.

And I think, I often think about the fact that their projects happening around the region as to the value of the projects, whether it is achieving what we are setting up to do in that is making sure that food is accessible.

And so I want to reiterate, Sir, that I think both my colleague and I is to provide that strong message. That we are serious about climate change we're going to do our bit, but also where we really want to be able to support and work collaboratively in partnership ways around the region because after all, I like the concept, one Pacific blue continent. That's a continent that I think needs to be acknowledged.

Thank you for the opportunity.