Remarks by H.E. Emanuel "Manny" Mori
President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)
Tallberg Forum 2009
25 June 2009
Check Against Delivery
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am greatly honored to be here today to address this very important forum that focuses on our World's interdependencies. I want to thank the Chairman of the Tallberg Foundation, Mr. Bo Ekman, and the Board of Directors for extending a gracious invitation to me to be here today. I would also like to express my appreciation to those who worked so hard to bring us all together to this Forum in the beautiful place, Tallberg.
Quite honestly, when I was informed about speaking on the subject "How on Earth can we live together within the planetary boundaries", I hesitated because I felt I would be ridiculed for talking about a future Utopia. But after giving it some thought, I realized that here lies an opportunity to tell a story - the story of my people and the islands they call Home.
For those who may not be familiar with my country, the Federated States of Micronesia is a nation of roughly 120,000 people, with a grouping of 607 islands spread across a vast expanse of the Western Pacific Ocean just north of the Equator. The land area accounts for only 270.8 square miles, but it occupies one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, stretching about 1,700 miles from east to west. Indeed, the Federated States of Micronesia is a nation the size of the Continental United States, made up of tiny islands.
For centuries, the people of Micronesia have lived on their tiny islands, many less than a meter above sea level. They have enjoyed a simple life dependent on the bounties of the sea and the crops of the sandy soils. Our people are scattered throughout these islands - some living on the coastal plains, some on in-land flats, some on the mountain sides of the few high volcanic islands; and the rest on the flat tiny atoll islands.
Over time, they have developed a culture of respect for nature and have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. They built outrigger canoes and rigged them with sails made from pandanus leaves. They sailed around the Northwest Pacific Ocean and beyond, aided only by a navigational system developed by observing the stars, the ocean and the sky. They sailed to far distant places, from the Hawaiian Islands, thousands of miles away to the North East, and to the Tahitian Islands, thousands of miles to the South. They were contented and lived every moment, appreciating the simplicity of their unique surroundings.
To a European tourist, an ultimate vacation experience would be a feast of exotic experiences and adventures on sandy island beaches and of spectacular dives in the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. But for those of us who make a living on these low-lying atolls and low coastal areas in island communities across the Pacific, we have just begun to awaken to the reality of Climate Change, a threat to our very existence that has now become our major pre-occupation in this 21st century. To an extent, this has become our nightmare.
During the high level debate on climate change of the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, I challenged all of us "to be responsible stewards of this creation called Earth, and all that is upon it", to make that "historic turn" from polluting to protecting and caring "for God's blessed environment". That is the kind of attitude towards 'Mother Earth that all the cultures of the earth must develop for our unborn generations to survive.
More than half a century ago, I was born into just such a world, where nature and man coexisted in harmony. I am not sure if that world can still be found today. And given the onset of the adverse impacts of climate change (planetary boundaries), perhaps that world - call it a world to dream about - is fast slipping away.
Allow me to address, in the context of the planetary boundaries - climate change, a few basic elements of this gripping nightmare from the perspectives of Micronesians and others throughout other parts of the Pacific Islands, and of our fellow islanders in other parts of our World. It is in the nature of us islanders to regard our remoteness from the developed world as our primary protection against dangers. Sadly, what we have taken for granted is no longer true, as we have come to realize the vulnerability and fragile nature of our world. Our islands are among the first to experience the adverse impacts of climate change (planetary boundaries) and the rise in sea-level, even though our contribution to their causes are negligible, and those responsible are thousands of miles away from our shores. Our remoteness can no longer insulate us.
I am especially grateful for the opportunity to be at this Forum, because surely the world needs to understand the plight of my people. Scientists have given us a scenario where climate change (planetary boundries), if left unabated, will have catastrophic consequences for island countries like my own. Many of our islands, only a few meters above sea-level, will simply disappear due to sea-level rise. The culture will also disappear.
As the rest of the world continues to debate the causes and effects of climate change (planetary boundries), for the people of Micronesia, climate change and its effects are real and ever-present. Today, our people are already a living witness to its terrifying impacts.
Yes, it seems that national interests are dictating environmental future, not our common concern for the survival of the planet or the quality of our children's lives. As we all know, experts are warning that if we do not act boldly enough, we will wake up one day and see a different planet altogether---not a blue planet anymore, perhaps a brown planet that may no longer be able to sustain life.
They are saying that if we do not act fast enough and drastically cut our emissions, we will have committed this planet to irreversible damages, like the melting of the ice caps of Greenland. Even now, experts say the ice is melting faster than projected. They also say that when gone, the Greenland ice sheet alone will translate into 22 feet more to the sea level!
Its consequence of course will be the eventual disappearance of many small islands, including such island-states as the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, and parts of my own country, Micronesia. And many, if not most, small island states will become uninhabitable. This is why the Pacific Island Members of the United Nations were pushing that body to acknowledge that climate change has significant implications on national security and on the existence of nations and their peoples. Sweden was one of the co-sponsors and I want to take this opportunity to thank the leaders of Sweden for their support. That resolution is co-sponsored by 101 countries and was adopted by consensus earlier this month. Its message is timely, and it means that no island should be left behind when the world meets together in Copenhagen.
Last August in Niue, the United Nations Secretary-General, in his statement to a meeting of the Pacific Forum Leaders, stated that "Climate Change is not science fiction [...] it is real and present." It was also in Niue that the leaders of the Pacific Island Forum passed the Niue Declaration, committing Pacific Island nations to "advocate and support the recognition, in all international fora, of the urgent social, economic and security threats caused by the adverse impacts of climate change and sea level rise" on our communities. My presence in Tallberg is but one in a series of responsibilities towards that obligation.
My friends, there is of course the problem of globalization that has had its toll on all of us. For islanders, the impacts of economic integration and partnership began when Magellan's fleet crossed the Pacific in 1521. Today, Pacific Islanders are experiencing both the positive benefits and negative impacts of globalization. They strive to become educated, they demand better medical care, and they expect easier access to clean water and sanitation. Like most people in the world, ultimately they seek to become free from want and free from fear. These terms as you know are fundamental tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, we all have the right to live in a safe, prosperous and sustainable world as our ancestors have, for centuries.
At this particular juncture in the history of our planet, when Mother Earth is being threatened on an international scale by global warming, I believe it is time to initiate a global dream of the world that humanity wishes to see in the future. The carving and shaping of this dream should begin for real in Copenhagen at the end of this year. While the climate negotiators from our respective countries have been busy trying to fashion a world to dream about, they have faced the daunting tasks of overcoming selfishness and self-serving national interests.
To safeguard the future existence and sustainability of small island states, and, in the end, every nation on this earth must take the hard course in Copenhagen, towards immediate and strong response to global warming.
In our part of the world, we have put in place an initiative not only to prolong the story of our people but also help in a small scale to safeguard the planet. In an effort to make our dream a reality, I, along with four other Chief Executives in the Micronesian Region, have committed to implementing the Micronesian Challenge.
The Micronesian Challenge is a commitment by the five political jurisdictions within the Micronesian Region (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the U. S. Territory of Guam and the U. S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) to "effectively conserve at least 30% of the near-shore marine and 20% of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020". We are conscious that "effective conservation" entails Social, Traditional, Political, Biological, Financial, and Legal aspects of sustainable use of our marine and terrestrial resources. Our approach is to find a right balance between resource utilization by communities to sustain their cultural values, socioeconomic development, and prosperity", and at the same time be able to enforce conservation measures.
Meeting this Challenge requires the establishment of a conservation fund. This fund will be used to build local capacity, provide opportunities for sustainable livelihood and of course, monitor effective conservation of the designated protected areas. Our collective effort is to ensure the effective management of habitats that serve to protect and replenish fish, corals, and mangroves in the face of threats such as the adverse impacts of biodiversity loss. In the bigger picture, this is our Micronesian contribution to the ongoing global efforts undertaken to help protect Mother Earth. I therefore call on all of you to assist us in meeting this Challenge. So far we are making progress but we need your help.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have spoken too long, but here at this Forum I find comfort that I have traveled the journey to be with you, to share with you the story of my people - It's the story of their past appreciation of Nature; of the challenges they face today; of the World they dream of, and of the future they longed for.