Ulu of Tokelau

Honourable Prime Minister Fiame Mataafa

Honourable Ministers of the region,

Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

Director General of SPREP

Heads and officials of CROP Agencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is indeed my honour and pleasure to welcome you all to the 30th SPREP Environment Ministers’ and High-Level Representatives Talanoa. I thank you for your trust and confidence in our leadership to lead and guide our deliberations today.

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

These are unprecedented times with its unique challenges testing our collective responsibilities and commitments to regional goals and actions. Undoubtedly, the challenges to connectivity and travel restrictions have impacted significantly on our abilities to carry out our regional and global obligations. Our virtual Talanoa today is no different having to invest in reliable connections to ensure we still come together to ‘Talanoa’ to accelerate our national, regional and global actions for a resilient Blue Pacific.  On connectivity, at 6.30am this morning, Friday, 10th September the landing of Tokelau’s international link to the Southern Cross Next cable started to bring reliable connectivity to Tokelau.  Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive early enough for our talanoa.  I want to apologise in advance for any possible intermittent in our internet connection during our talanoa.  

Our Talanoa today will discuss some pertinent key priority issues bearing direct impact on accelerating responsive and pragmatic actions for a resilient Blue Pacific. The guest speaker today will be speaking about the nexus of ocean and climate change, ocean and pollution and ocean and deep-sea mining. These issues underpin the paramount importance of oceans to our Pacific people, cultures, livelihood and sustainable development.

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

The prioritisation of ocean and climate change considerations into our national and regional policies in alignment with the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, is recognition of the critical need to protect our peoples and livelihoods, preserve our biodiversity, support sustainable development and the key role that our ocean play in combating climate change.

The overwhelming scientific evidence prioritises the ocean as the ultimate regulator of climate through the water cycle and oceanic circulation. This is underscored in the Pacific Leaders’ advocacy work of the ‘Blue Pacific Narrative’ and the ‘Blue Continent’, recognising the reliance of Pacific nations and cultures on the sustained resilience of ecosystem services provided by the Pacific Ocean and reaffirming the Pacific’s global leadership on oceans.  

Our Talanoa aspires to acknowledge, reiterate and reaffirm that climate change is the single greatest threat facing the Blue Pacific. Although Tokelau is not a Party to UNFCCC, however, I urge its respective members to please ensure that COP26 fully commit to advancing the work on Oceans in the UNFCCC negotiations, in recognition of its paramount importance and centrality to the Blue Pacific Continent.

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

Marine pollution, including plastics, nuclear waste, radioactive, land-based discharges, vessel spills, hazardous and noxious substances, World War II wrecks, shipwrecks and non-flammable substances, are great threats to our oceans and island communities environment security, biosafety, biosecurity, food security, biodiversity, livelihoods, culture and identity. We are now witnessing the proliferation of waste exceeding our capacities to manage and contain the harmful impact they impose on our marine life, tourism and fisheries.

Oil spills continue to severely impact our coastal environments, placing a strain on our national resources due to limited capacity, expertise and resources to plan, prepare, prevent and respond to oil spills. We have only to remember the MV Solomon Trader, MV Kea Trader, MV Southern Phoenix and very recently the Police Patrol Boat Nafanua II.  Even Tokelau is still struggling with clearing the remains of MV Aisokula wreckage of the early 1980s.

As the Blue Pacific, we must affirm our commitment to implement the Pacific Marine Litter Action Plan 2018-2025 but also recognise that the interconnectedness of the world’s oceans means, that marine pollution from land or vessels, are to be effectively addressed requiring coordination and meaningful engagement from all countries.

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

While on the other hand we must deal effectively with marine pollution, plastics pollution is equally a threat to the island nations in terms of – health, food, biodiversity, livelihood and culture. Hence, we must examine a potential pathway to manage plastic pollution, noting that our Pacific island countries and territories contribute to less than one percent of mismanaged plastics to the world’s oceans, yet we are the most severely affected.

It is our collective responsibility to advance to a plastic-free Pacific through the consideration of the Pacific Declaration on the Prevention of Plastic Pollution and its Impacts. This is a modest, but significant step towards the pathway to address plastics pollution and progress to a Pacific region free of plastics. After all, our ocean is our livelihood. It is our home.

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

Our collective responsibilities to take action comes with our solidarity in recognising our respective sovereign rights to tap into our deep sea mineral resources in line with national priorities, responsibilities in exploitation of resources as described in the Rio Principles and acknowledge that mining activities should maximise social and economic benefits. However, this must not in any way disturb the biodiversity and equilibrium of our ocean and land natural environments.

We recall that the subject of deep-sea mining was discussed in our 2019 Ministerial Talanoa. But, since 2019, there has been a significant shift towards sea bed mining for economic reasons by proponents of this idea. Naturally of course there is deep regional concern based on scientific data and governance about the lasting impacts. During this time, we have seen our regional governments take different views and approaches towards the issue. We must not therefore shy away from our responsibilities as guardians and leaders of our Pacific ocean home to discuss the issue with open minds in a way that reflect our regional good governance and our commitment to global environment security.

Our Talanoa today recognises that the ecology of the deep sea is not very well understood. Indeed, it is an area that still remains unknown and widely unexplored. What we do know from available science, is that impacts, whether singularly or combined, pose not only the risk of direct biodiversity loss but also disruption to marine species migration patterns and loss of connectivity that could lead to deep sea extinctions across the Pacific Ocean. It is regarded as a sensitive and sticky issue

Honourable Ministers and Distinguished High-Level Representatives,

I look forward to a meaningful Talanoa in a true Pacific way as we navigate our Pacific [vaka] canoe through the myriad of critical and most challenging issues before us. Our task is not easy, but I have confidence in your wisdom, and collective vision and foresight that it will guide and steer our Pacific region onto a pathway of a resilient Blue Pacific.

I wish you well in your deliberations today.

Honourable Ministers, Distinguished High-Level Representatives:

To further set the scene for our Talanoa session, we will now listen to a recorded video message from our first Guest Speaker, Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Assistant Director-General of UNESCO.

speeches, sprep meeting