Brown poses difficult but real climate-related questions; solutions required

Nine-year-old Sakiusa Naivolasiga walks on the eroded sea wall at Levuka village. Rising sea levels has impacted the livelihoods of the villagers of Levuka, Kadavu. Picture: FT FILE

Pacific islanders’ stewardship, vision, development aspirations and climate change-related sea level rise threatens the future of people and the statehood of many Pacific nations.

Pacific Islands Forum chairperson and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown made these comments in his opening address at the regional conference on Preserving Statehood and Protecting Persons: Legal Options and Institutional Responses to the Impacts of Sea-Level Rise – that started in Nadi yesterday.

“As our shorelines are eaten away by sea-level rise, what will become of our sovereignty, of our lands, our titles, our homes? What will become of our fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by our Constitutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? How can we realise our shared Vision when our very status as “states” are being questioned? How can we fulfill our responsibility to our peoples if their homes and livelihoods are taken away from them?” Mr Brown asked.

He said those questions were difficult but real and it required solutions.

“We are at a new frontier and the world once again looks to us to steer the way despite the problem and injustices being caused by others.

“This is our lived reality. This is our ‘climate emergency’.”

Mr Brown said their work at the four-day conference would be to unpack and ultimately establish a pathway to develop Forum positions on those complex issues, which he added was no easy feat.

He said last year, Pacific island leaders noted the complexity of those issues, and added that due consideration should be guided and informed by applicable principles and norms of international law and relevant international frameworks and standards.

“However, we must be encouraged because today we have at our disposal a very important benchmark, the Pacific-led ground-breaking Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate change-related sea-level rise.”

Mr Brown said the declaration was an excellent starting point for the conference.

“We must continue to be meticulous, deliberate and patient in order to bring about real progressive development of international law.

“We must also continue to enhance our active engagement with key bodies such as the International Law Commission and International Law Association.”

Mr Brown encouraged leaders to hold constructive discussions and debates with a view to agreeing to a strategic direction for legal options and institutional responses to those issues.

“We must continue to leverage geopolitical interests and opportunities to advocate for and secure our legal rights and entitlements into perpetuity. Now, more than ever, our identity and advocacy are absolutely vital.”

More Stories