Talofa Honourable Ulu of Tokelau Faipule Kelihiano Kalolo
Tēnā koutou katoa and warm Pacific greetings from Aotearoa to your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
The new science released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on 8 August paints an alarming picture of the projected impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable countries, including in the Pacific.
The Kainaki II Declaration confirms the grave threat that climate change poses to the Pacific region.
We know that greenhouse gas emissions are driving significant, adverse impacts on the ocean, its biodiversity and its ecosystems. The need to reduce emissions is clear. We also know we need a healthy ocean for a healthy planet.
At the same time, the reality of a changing climate means action to build adaptation and resilience is equally urgent.
In New Zealand and all of the Blue Pacific, livelihoods and cultures are closely linked to ocean conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources.
Our economies and many jobs rely heavily on the ocean, through fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and shipping.
But the ocean is under threat on multiple fronts. Climate change, ongoing loss of biodiversity and threats to the marine environment and species, such as plastic litter and ocean acidification, all need to be addressed. These issues were highlighted in the sobering State of Environment and Conservation Report discussed earlier.
The protection of one cannot be at the expense of the others.
The upcoming COP26 in November is an opportunity to advance some of the particular issues within the ocean-climate change nexus facing the Pacific.
This includes through the Pacific Meeting Space being organised by SPREP, via the One-CROP approach, and supported by New Zealand.
Today, I will talk about three such issues:
Ocean acidification; and
The impact of climate change on tuna fisheries.
I wish to commend all the members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) for their hard work and leadership in agreeing the ‘Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-Related Sea-Level-Rise’.
The stark findings on global sea-level rise in the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and the fact that continued sea-level rise is locked in for centuries to come, add even more urgency to the importance of securing these maritime zones.
These threats require concerted global efforts, supported by a robust rules-based international system for the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.
The landmark PIF declaration makes an important contribution to this issue by setting forth our intention to maintain zones without reduction, notwithstanding the impacts of climate change-related sea-level rise.
The Declaration emphasises the primacy and centrality of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in advancing key principles of equity and fairness, as well as legal stability, security, certainty, and predictability.
We look forward to working alongside other PIF members over the coming months to advocate for our approach, and to keep Pacific perspectives at the heart of international discussions on this issue.
The IPCC report has also highlighted that ocean acidification and warming is getting worse and spreading deeper into the ocean. This will have profound effects on Pacific food security, economic and environment resilience, and culture.
Ocean acidification will significantly affect coral growth, habitats for fisheries, marine turtles and dugong, tourism and resilience to storm surges. Even limiting warming to the 1.5°C target will still likely result in substantial declines in coral reefs due to acidification and bleaching.
Acidification also means shelled animals will have trouble building and maintaining shells. In New Zealand, many of these animals, such as abalone, mussels and cockles, are taonga species.
New Zealand has been pleased to support the ‘New Zealand-Pacific Partnership on Ocean Acidification’, which aims to build resilience in the Pacific region through practical adaptation actions, research and monitoring, and raising awareness. Reducing other stresses will help the marine environment to cope with ocean acidification.
New Zealand is also a member of the ‘International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification’. We are leveraging the Alliance’s support to develop a National Ocean Acidification Action Plan. This is done in collaboration with central government agencies, regional councils, scientists and Māori communities. The focus is on increasing understanding, raising awareness and improving capacity to respond.
Climate change and tuna fisheries
Beyond coastal ecosystems, climate change also threatens to undermine offshore fisheries. Ocean warming may cause tuna to migrate out of Pacific exclusive economic zones and into international waters.
Recent research has predicted that under a high-emissions scenario, government revenue from tuna fisheries in the Pacific could decline by US$90 million per annum by 2050. The increase of tuna in international waters would also increase the risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Beyond the vital step of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, the international discussion on how to address this issue remains nascent. New Zealand is committed to working with our Pacific partners in finding an equitable solution.
As part of this, we welcome the increased attention being placed on this issue by CROP agencies and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Through a New Zealand-funded Climate Change and Tuna activity, New Zealand is pleased to be supporting the Pacific Community to provide the improved knowledge tools that will allow the Pacific to better respond to the impact of climate change on tuna fisheries. This includes through climate report cards based on high-quality indicators, and an up-to-date vulnerability assessment.
The issues confronting our ocean, especially climate change, require holistic and integrated action. For our Pacific Region, this action is urgent.
For New Zealand, this means a wide-ranging work programme. Among other things, we are working to reform our marine protected areas legislation, imbedding indigenous knowledge and marine management approaches, banning plastic microbeads and single-use plastic bags, and supporting climate action to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius.
And it means working in partnership with others. It is only through our collective kaitiakitanga (stewardship), that we can mitigate the effects of climate change, while building the ecosystem resilience necessary to give our Blue Pacific Ocean the best opportunity to adapt.
I would like to acknowledge the work of SPREP across the breadth of its programmes. I also echo the sentiments of my colleague who earlier acknowledged the outgoing Director General of SPREP Mr Kosi Latu. Mr Latu – you have been a strong and tireless advocate for our Pacific region and its people. I thank you and wish you the very best in your future. I also welcome the newly appointed incoming Director General of SPREP.
Mother Ocean looks after us with its bounty, for the common good of us all. We therefore must take collective regional action to protect our oceans. Collective regional action that is underpinned by our pacific country priorities. As we say in Aotearoa New Zealand, kia kaha – stay strong and stay safe.
 Bell, J.D., Senina, I., Adams, T. et al. Pathways to sustaining tuna-dependent Pacific Island economies during climate change. Nat Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00745-z