THE Legislative Assembly of Tonga is hosting the 3rd Pacific Islands Parliaments Group (PIPG) conference today until Thursday 24 August 2023 in Nuku’alofa.
More than 60 delegates including Speakers and Members of Parliament, as well as officials of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), UNDP, SPC and other agencies are participating in the three-day event.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala officially opened the PIPG opening program today.
This year’s conference theme is “Parliaments & Climate Change: From Impacts and Science to Action.".
Climate change is a prominent reality that our people struggle with daily. In his keynote address to officially open the PIPG sessions the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna said indeed one of the key thematic areas of the 2050 Strategy is Climate Change and Disasters.
It should no longer be a surprise to hear that climate change remains the greatest security threat to the Blue Pacific and its people. Pacific islands Tonga included are at the forefront, bearing the brunt of more severe impacts of climate change.
It is the leaders’ vision is for a resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy, and productive lives.
Therefore, Puna maintained that it should no longer be a surprise to hear that climate change remains the greatest security threat to the Blue Pacific and its people.
The former parliamentarian says under current trends, global temperature rise will exceed 1.5°Celcius before 2040 and 2°Celcisiu between 2041 and 2060 unless there are rapid, deep, and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.
He points out that the risk profile for our region shows extreme vulnerability and exposure to climate and disaster risk. And indeed, 90 percent of our population live in coastal areas with some on elevations no higher than 5 meters and subjected to risks including storm surges and sea-level rise.
“Increased migration and rapid urbanisation without proper planning, coupled with the challenges of natural disasters and climate change, place our people at higher risk of extreme poverty, inequality, food and water security, amongst other issues that challenge our 2050 aspirations,” PIFs Secretary General emphasized.
He also pointed out that these are the realities that we must contend with if we are serious about becoming a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity.
“To avert and manage the worst-case scenarios requires urgent, robust and transformative action globally, regionally and nationally.”
In the Tarahoʻi Declaration 2019 (the Sustainable Blue Economy Pact), speakers and representatives of Pacific Islands Parliaments reaffirmed that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security, and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific Islands and the Blue Pacific. This includes the rise of ocean temperature, sea level rise, rapid change in the atmosphere, coastal erosion, and more frequent and extreme weather events.
Hence, PIPG member countries are gravely concerned and need commitment to take urgent, immediate, and appropriate action to combat the threat and impacts of climate change. Thus, this year’s theme builds on the themes of resilience in the previous PIPG. That is the commitments of PIPG leaders in the Tarahoʻi Declaration to integrate climate and ocean agendas.
The Pacific region including Tonga is one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions. In the World Risk Index Report 2021, the top 3 countries most at risk of disasters were all Pacific Island States – Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
Eight of the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) – Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), Cook Islands and Niue – are among the top 15 most at risk of disasters globally. It is also noted these island states located at the active “Ring of Fire” inside the Pacific Ocean which poses a greater risk for the region and our blue economy.
The recent disasters in the region include the Hunga Tonga Hunga Tokelau volcanic eruption in January 2022 in Tonga and the consequential tsunami. In March this year, two category 4 cyclones Kevin and Judy battered and brough devastation to Vanuatu within 72 hours of each other.
In February this year, Cyclone Gabrielle, the worst storm to hit New Zealand this century brought unprecedented rain that caused severe flooding. These are just a few of the most recent natural disasters to hit the Pacific and they all point to climate change.
Hence, the PIF Secretary General says it is timely because the time for action is urgent, and we need it to happen now. He adds that our future is in our hands.
“We need, a transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific, related to the need to limit temperature warning to below 1.5 degree Celsius. Therefore, we need to call on Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, to finalise negotiations on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate finance.
We need, for COP28 to deliver on the establishment of a Loss and damage financing mechanism. We need, to use scientific evidence and Pacific-specific climate data to inform risk informed development…we need action from the global community, and we need it now,” said Puna.
On that note, parliamentarians play key roles in driving solutions and actions at the international and national level, and for local communities. Member of Parliaments are frontliners in facing and addressing the impacts of climate change particularly on the oceans. It is therefore necessary for parliamentarians to understand the latest science behind those impacts, to derive practical actions for constituents. These actions ideally would sustain our Blue economy and our Blue Pacific for our present and future generations.
Also, on today’s last session Australia and Tuvalu signed the Statute of the PIPG as new member countries.
Members of Parliament who are participating in the PIPG 2023 conference includes Fiji, Rapa Nui, Cook Islands, Niue, New Caledonia, Palau, French Polynesia, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
The Nuku’alofa meeting is co-sponsored by the UNDP, PIPG and the Legislative Assembly of Tonga.