I am delighted to be here in the Marshall Islands for this year’s Pacific Islands Forum, and to be sharing a platform at this event co-hosted with Senator De Brum, Minister in Assistance to the President here in the Marshall Islands, and Kiran Sura, Head of the Advocacy Fund at the Climate Development and Knowledge Network.
The PIF is an increasingly important global event: this is the sixth consecutive year in which a British Minister has led the UK delegation. Last year we joined the Secretariat Pacific Regional Environment Programme and in the year since joining we have played an active role within it. These commitments, among other historical, cultural and growing commercial ties, underline the importance of the Forum to the UK and, in part, this reflects the long standing and strong relationship we have with the Pacific region. I saw this for myself when I visited Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in April.
The breathtaking beauty and astonishing biodiversity which have inspired naturalists all over the world have motivated many people from Britain to visit the Pacific region, from 19th Century adventurers to modern day tourists.
Our Trade relations remain particularly strong. We continue to import significant amounts of palm oil, sugar and fruits and foods from across the Pacific islands.
British commercial expertise is helping Pacific countries transition to sustainable and low-carbon forms of energy production. Most recently a British company, Gaia Wind, installed Tonga’s first wind turbine. The UK is a world leader in wind and offshore renewable power and a major innovator in energy efficiency.
As well as a strong trade relationship we have a long history of military cooperation. From the World Wars to modern day Afghanistan, Pacific troops have served side-by-side with their British colleagues. Many have won high recognition for their bravery and leadership, including the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Order. Tongan troops are fighting alongside British troops in Afghanistan.
We also have a common passion for sport, particularly rugby: the lifeblood of the Pacific. British rugby is home to numerous Pacific players and there is unbridled enthusiasm and support for the Pacific Island national teams when they tour the UK. These bonds tie us together. Only this summer we saw new home nation stars born of Pacific heritage grace the famous Lions shirt and play starring roles in a famous victory over our fierce rugby rivals Australia.
But the focus of this session is of course another key area of co-operation – climate change. On this visit, and my last visit back in April, I have seen first-hand, issues affecting the Pacific region as a result of climate change.
Pacific Small Island States are living with the impacts of climate change now. For you and your people this is not an academic or idle threat. It requires urgent action.
The UK is a global leader in tackling the threat. Domestically, we are the first country to pass legislation enshrining in law targets to reduce emissions on 1990 levels by 80% by 2050. Internationally, we are leading the way on international climate finance spending.
We are committed with other developed countries to jointly mobilise $100 billion of public and private finance a year by 2020 to be spent on climate change mitigation and adaptation work.
The UK has committed to provide £2.9 billion through the UK’s International Climate Fund from 2011-2015 to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and foster climate resilient, low carbon development. We are well on the way to delivering on this commitment, and are pleased to confirm the provision of a further £969 million of UK climate finance to be made available through the International Climate Fund for the subsequent year 2015-16.
This includes the £1.55 billion given during the Fast Start period of 2010-2012 to support developing countries in taking urgent action on mitigation, including reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), adaptation, technology development and transfer and capacity building.
As many of you will know, the UK does not have a direct bilateral aid programme in the Pacific; so you might be surprised to hear that the UK has in fact spent over £60 million over the last five years on climate change action in this region. Included within this was the disaster and humanitarian relief we provided to Samoa and the Solomon Islands last year.
This has been targeted through multilateral organisations and individual funds – not least the Climate Investment Fund’s Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience, for which the UK contributes 45 percent of the budget. This fund has spent £48 million in the Pacific region across Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
This is just one of many examples of how UK funding is being spent in the region through our partners – I encourage you to learn more on this in the brochures available here for the first time titled “UK Climate Finance and the Pacific Region”.
Nowhere has or will feel the full effects of climate change more sharply than Small Islands states like those in the Pacific. Already you have seen disasters across the region from – drought here in the Marshall Islands to cyclones in Samoa. This is why your voice is such a persuasive one.
No country is immune from the potential impacts of climate change. But this is a global challenge that will affect us all. It is therefore a challenge on which we need to work together.
The UK shares with the Pacific a sense of great urgency about the global response to the climate challenge. Pacific countries have been vocal in their call for tougher action internationally. We too are seized of the need to respond quickly and decisively. The UK is working hard to achieve an ambitious and legally-binding global deal in the UN climate change negotiations in which all countries commit to reduce their emissions. This deal needs to be signed in Paris in 2015.
Our task now, with partners in the Pacific and other vulnerable countries, is to generate the international momentum necessary to deliver the deal. This is only possible by creating the political conditions necessary for all countries to sign. Creating these conditions involves looking at the importance of diplomacy in the negotiations and being alert to each other’s concerns and needs.
This brings me on to why we are here today. The UK is a significant partner to the Climate Development Knowledge Network, known as CDKN, whom many of you will be aware of. We provide £57 million to CDKN and work with them across the world in delivering assistance. I am delighted that CDKN are able to join us to talk about a recent project of theirs around Climate Diplomacy. This work has been focussed on how a truly global, ambitious and legally-binding agreement to limit emissions can be achieved.
CDKN has also been working with the Marshall Islands to embed climate change expertise across government Ministries, and I am delighted that Senator De Brum agreed to co-host this event with me to discuss this project. This is a chance for us to share our collective experience and our thoughts on how we can build a consensus for high ambition in the negotiations.
I would like to conclude by congratulating the Marshall Islands for its leadership on climate change. The Pacific Islands Forum is a great example of the impact this work has had. Specifically, I would also like to express the UK’s strong support for the Majuro Declaration. We are keen that other Post Forum Dialogue Partners join us in this support. It is encouraging to see the Pacific Island leaders and our other Dialogue Partners come together at this Forum to reassert to one another, and to the wider world, the importance and urgency we all attach to this theme, and the concrete steps you are taking here in the Pacific to respond to the global challenge of climate change.
Climate change is a hugely important issue for the world and for the Pacific region in particular. The UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has said “Climate change is perhaps the twenty-first century’s biggest foreign policy challenge”. As representatives from the Pacific, and those with an interest, you understand this better than most. We must take action now.
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