H.E. Mr. Joseph J. Urusemal
President of the
Federated States of Micronesia
Before the 58th United Nations General Assembly
New York, 23 September 2003
Check Against Delivery
Heads of States and Governments,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election. My Government is deeply gratified by the recognition of your accomplishments, especially given that you are a fellow islander. We are confident you will lead the work of this body with the same high competence as your distinguished predecessor, His Excellency Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic.
Before going further I must pause in respectful remembrance of the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We honor the memory of all who were lost. I must also express our sincere condolences over the great loss of life recently at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.
I am grateful for the privilege to appear before this Body for the first time, as President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). We feel a deep sense of responsibility in joining with nations present here to work toward a better world for all peoples.
For the past several years, much of the discussion here and elsewhere has focused on political challenges around the world. After 9/11, it is not at all surprising that these challenges have commanded the lion's share of everyone's attention. We in the Federated States of Micronesia remain committed to the eradication of terrorism in all its forms, and will continue to play a role open to us as the world strives to reach this goal.
However, the challenges of the environment and sustainable development that occupied so much of our attention during the 1990's have not gone away. Despite the immediacy of so many pressing demands today, these remain as challenges that the international community cannot afford to put on hold. We cannot put them on hold because they are part and parcel of the worldwide security challenge, especially over the longer term.
No part of our world is immune to the wide range of fundamental security threats. War and terrorism are only consequences of their deeper root causes, poverty, human injustice, and more recently, environmental degradation. These are most often discussed in the context of the more populous regions of the world, but I ask you not to overlook that they also present themselves to the Small Island Developing States.
The unique vulnerability of our island States to all these scourges is widely recognized. Even so, global threat assessments most often are not followed up by a realistic allocation of resources to the more remote, yet also more vulnerable places where threats to global security often find their origin or seek refuge. I submit to you that the region of the Pacific islands has too long been overlooked in that way.
We welcomed the initiative of the international community to address these and related development problems during the Millennium Development Summit. But we returned home and still find ourselves struggling just as ever with fundamental needs. As memories of Johannesburg are pushed into the background by seemingly more urgent crises, our people are beginning to ask questions about this process. They are asking whether repetitious discussion of traditional development strategies in a lengthening string of summit venues offers the most productive avenue for achieving real development goals.
We must consider these things with a broader consciousness. The challenges are enormous and they are immediate. I say to you respectfully, that business-as-usual multilateralism is not getting the job done.
Mr. President, before going further I should say that today's Micronesians do enjoy a much-improved standard of living by comparison with conditions that existed when we were introduced to the world economy less than fifty years ago. However, we still have very far to go before we can reach the levels of even the moderately successful developing countries, let alone the industrialized world.
In saying what I do here about my own country's difficulties I must add that we are by no means alone. Therefore, We stand with developing countries everywhere, and fully support the positions to be expressed here by His Majesty, the King of Morocco on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and by His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.
Mr. President, we must all do more. For our part we, the small island developing states, need to ensure that we meet our obligations and fulfill our undertakings to the global community. We are not just supplicants; we have roles to play. My country has made commitments to environmental responsibility in line with our capacity. We have pledged increased accountability and oversight of development assistance. We have resolved to build our capacity to govern more effectively through, among other things, increased regional inter-action.
I believe that all developing countries should explore how we can mobilize our limited resources, individually and collectively, even as we seek assistance.
In that regard, I commend to your attention the Communiqué of the Pacific Islands Forum issued this year at Auckland, New Zealand. It is illustrative of the kind of regional collaboration I encourage here. For example, we in the Forum this year agreed to an important and comprehensive statement of principles fundamental to good governmental leadership, recognized by all. I think that it deserves your close study.
Serious attention also was given by the Forum leaders to the challenges presented by international criminal elements attracted to our region. They are attracted in part by our "out of sight, out of mind" status. It was recognized at the Forum that given our limitations individually, we can only confront these challenges through regional, collective action.
We also are now seeing more than before, entire regions of the world marginalized in the global economy, as witness the sad breakdown of the WTO meetings recently. Some countries have virtually been ignored until social and political conditions severely deteriorated.
We hear more frequently the term - "Failed State"- it has no clear definition, but it has been used on occasion to justify outside intervention. It may be necessary, in the circumstances, but, Mr. President, it is in the interests of all that such conditions should not develop in the first place. I submit that the causes of any such so-called "failure" can be traced far beyond the borders of the unfortunate country that is so labeled.
The time is ripe for a new way of looking at international peace and security. No longer can economic, social and environmental issues exist in a parallel universe, divorced from geopolitical considerations. The linkages are becoming all too clear - as the alarming findings of this year's UNDP report on implementation of the Millennium Declaration confirm.
Despite our own best efforts, we still face the full range of threats to our natural environment. These threats are not diminishing. In fact on a global scale, progress by the world community has been glacial in the face of ever more pressing demands for action. We may say to ourselves that any disastrous outcomes lie well in the future, but we can only act in the present. We are literally making, or failing to make life decisions for the yet unborn.
One of the most clear and present emergencies has figured prominently in our statements in general debate every year since our country became a UN Member - I refer to the need for immediate international action to combat climate change. Regrettably, I cannot speak with any less concern this year. If anything our appeals must become more urgent. At a time when we speak of many wars, there is also the War Against Climate Change - a war that Mankind cannot afford to lose.
I know you can appreciate better than most, Mr. President, that for my family and me, the issue of climate change is a present reality. My island, Woleai in Yap State is an atoll with no point higher than two meters above sea level. The frequency and intensity of storms in our region has been increasing for some time.
During the last year we experienced three major typhoons as well as other destructive storms. One of them triggered massive mudslides on the State of Chuuk's higher islands, and fifty people died. In Yap State, a recent storm washed away a large and very old cemetery. These and similar recent events in our other states are unprecedented. Everything we are, and hope to achieve as a people, is under grave threat because of global climate change.
Having confirmed that the climate change crisis is real, the entire world also now possesses indisputable evidence that its steady progression can be laid at the doorstep of human activity. Yet some of the worst polluters among the industrialized countries see it as their top priority to protect vested interests. They are purposely delaying the immediate action that is required to begin to turn the tide of destructive climate alteration.
In the Framework Convention it was agreed by all that those bearing the responsibility for causing this problem must take the lead in solving it. Yet, Mr. President, I must ask today, "Where is that leadership?"
It is very sad that the Kyoto Protocol, which is a positive achievement, has been converted by some governments into a political target - a rallying cry for the worst polluters. In fact, it represents nothing more than a small step that must be followed up by strong subsequent actions if the War Against Climate Change is to be at all effective. The scornful attitude toward the Protocol shown by some countries will doom the entire Framework Convention to utter failure if the current situation remains unchanged. The Kyoto Protocol must be brought into effect without further delay. The industrial powers cannot continue to make the plea of Saint Augustine, "Lord, make me thy servant, but not yet awhile."
Since our people live in such close harmony with the natural environment, we also face a host of other pressing environmental issues. Our coral reefs are getting a great deal of international attention partly because of their potential for commercial exploitation. We appreciate those possibilities and are determined to preserve our legal rights in any exploitation that takes place.
But we also appreciate the reefs as our natural buffers against the sea, and the hosts for marine resources far beyond the regular bounty of present-day fishing. This is more than a resource - it is a lifeline for any island country. The serious decline in the health of coral reefs all over the world must be reversed.
Stocks of our only substantial economic resource, tuna, have seen a marked decline in recent years. Other species, and key elements of the ocean ecosystem are also now imperiled as never before. The FSM will be lobbying for an aggressive oceans resource protection policy in both the regional and international arenas.
Water itself, Mr. President, and access to it, is very much a threatened resource in our country where we are surrounded by the ocean but have limited fresh water. We rely upon rainwater, and its collection in the lens that lies beneath our atolls. Every drop is precious. We say that a vulnerable life such as a child's, is like morning dew on a taro leaf, to be handled with care so that it does not slip away.
You may be surprised to learn that islands in the Pacific Ocean, so often pictured in everyone's dream of Paradise, are more concerned about drought than any other natural threat including typhoons. Not only do we experience the salt-water corruption of our fresh water and food crops from increased storm activity and sea level rise, but we also now must try to cope with droughts brought on by increasingly unpredictable El Nino activity linked to climate change.
Fortunately, Mr. President, the world in general seems to be waking up to the universal human requirement for access to adequate, clean water. The special exposure of island countries received welcome attention at the recent Third World Water Forum in Kyoto. In addition, I wish to point to a very important, first-ever inter-regional collaboration on this vital subject, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding recently concluded between our South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission and the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute.
I have spoken much about my country's concerns, but of course we are not alone in these concerns. The world's small island developing states face largely the same set of issues, in different degrees.
For this reason we were grateful for the international attention generated by the first UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Barbados in 1994. The Barbados Program of Action that was the product of that Conference has been a limited success. The Conference succeeded in focusing attention on the unique set of problems our small island nations face. However, it seems the international community has to some extent been content to raise awareness of the issues, while showing a waning interest in implementing specific measures during the years following the Conference itself.
We applaud the decision to hold a follow-up conference in Mauritius in 2004, and look forward to a frank evaluation of the progress, or lack thereof, in implementing the Barbados Program of Action during the past ten years. It is my hope that the Mauritius conference will afford an opportunity to regain lost momentum.
This is a landmark year for my nation. We have completed seventeen years in a post-trusteeship political relationship with the United States. By all accounts this has been a success. Never before has free association been attempted on this scale.
I am pleased that both my country and our development partner, the United States, have seen fit to continue this relationship into the future by amending the treaty between us known as the Compact of Free Association. As we celebrate the success that this renewal represents, it is proper to recall the long and effective stewardship of our region by the UN Trusteeship Council.
We are grateful for the lasting contribution of the United Nations system to the history of Micronesia, and look forward to continuing to work in this body and others in the UN system to reach our collective goals.
In closing, I would like to refer to the words of the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once said, "If I were asked to state the great objective which Church and State are both demanding for the sake of every man and woman and child in this country, I would say that the great objective is a more abundant life." I believe that the President was speaking of true abundance, not only in a material sense, but also of the security of mind and body that comes with freedom, opportunity and human fulfillment.
We must ask ourselves whether what we are striving for here at the United Nations is faithful to that lofty ideal. This Organization is the greatest forum ever created on this planet. It cannot afford to allow its important role in conflict management to push aside the even greater task of managing the conditions that produce those conflicts. We bring together here, under the guidance of the Charter, for the first time in human history, the resources of all kinds necessary to lead Mankind to a more abundant life. Let it not be said of us later that we failed in that task.
Thank you, Mr. President