Pacific Island States to Get $100 Million in Climate Change Help

WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2007 (ENS) Ė The impact of climate change represents a "major security issue" for low-lying Pacific nations threatened by rising sea levels, agreed the Conference of Pacific Islands Leaders that concluded in Washington on Wednesday. The island states are seeking assistance from the United States, but instead help in the form of a $100 million grant package is being offered by the Global Environment Facility.

Kessai Note, president of the Marshall Islands and current chairman of the Leaderís group, made the appeal on behalf of island nations at the conference, which was opened by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.


Kessai Note is president of the Marshall Islands and chairman of the Conference of Pacific Islands Leaders. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
While the administration of President George W. Bush has long taken a skepticís view of global warming scenarios, President Note said his region cannot afford to be complacent.

"Since my election more than five years ago, I have been traveling the world trying to draw attention to the threat that my people face," Note has said. "We are going to be the world's first environmental refugees if the world does not act."

The Pacific Island nations are about to receive a new level of financial assistance that can be used to deal with climate issues, but not from the United States.

A new environment strategy, backed by a proposed $100 million grant package from the Global Environment Facility, GEF, was agreed to on Wednesday by the heads of state and top government leaders of the 15 small island states and territories at the Pacific Leaders Conference.

The GEF is an international financial mechanism with 177 member countries that finances projects to address six critical threats to the global environment, including climate change.

The new funding for the Pacific island nations, a six-fold increase over previous GEF financing for the region, will be used to fight climate change, protect island species and shared waters, and conserve the fragile environment of the islands.

"Pacific island nations and territories are becoming more vulnerable to the threats of climate change, including sea level rise," said President Note. "We intend to channel these resources to launch priority projects designed to meet these threats frontally, while promoting sustainable development to benefit our people."

"Small island states, territories and atolls are among the most beautiful but remote places on the planet," said Monique Barbut, CEO and chairperson of the GEF.

Monique Barbut of France became CEO and chairperson of the Global Environment Facility in June 2006. She has a history of providing environmental economic assistance to Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean countries. (Photo courtesy GEF)
"Our assistance provides seed money for a new generation of projects that will have lasting beneficial impacts across the Pacific region," Barbut said.

Barbut also highlighted the urgent need for a decision on the location of the Adaptation Fund, a fund established under the Kyoto Protocol that will likely become the largest source of financing for adaptation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries, including small island states.

That decision could come at the next UN Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Bali, Indonesia in December.

"We commend the GEF and its CEO, Monique Barbut for actions that recognize the importance of islands worldwide," said President of the Republic of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.

"The Micronesia leaders are excited that the proposed $100 million grant would include the Micronesia Challenge sub-regional program. This is exactly the kind of public-private partnership that will strengthen effective resource conservation and promote sustainable development in our region," said President Remengesau.

The $100 million marks an exponential increase in environmental financing for the region, to be spread over three years in quick-disbursing grants.


The Republic of the Marshall Islands consist of 29 atolls and five islands within 700,000 square miles of ocean - all vulnerable to sea level rise. (Photo courtesy Destination: Pacific)
By contrast, over the past 15 years, GEF investments to Pacific Ocean countries and territories amounted to only $86 million.

Rather than attacking problems project by project, the new, programmatic approach will allow countries to focus their strategies on a set of priority issues for the global environment, build and capture synergies, and apply a common set of tracking tools to monitor progress, Barbut said.

A regional approach will be adopted to help countries and GEF aggregate national programs at the regional level, and allow for the scaling-up of beneficial impacts across the Pacific Ocean region, Barbut explained.

The 20 Pacific delegates said the four day meeting was the beginning of a new partnership with the United States.

The meeting, the eighth held by the Conference of Pacific Islands Leaders since the organization was founded in 1980, discussed economic development, national security, trade, foreign aid, environmental protection, climate change, fisheries management, natural disasters, USAID and the desire to expand U.S. public diplomacy programs.

President Remengesau of Palau encouraged broad participation in "the Micronesian Challenge which promotes the establishment of marine protected areas throughout the Pacific Islands region."

Highlighted by meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the precedent-setting gathering included numerous high-level meetings with U.S. legislators and officials of the federal government.

The planned U.S. military expansion in Guam was discussed at length and it was agreed that the East-West Center in Honolulu, home to the secretariat of the Conference of Pacific Islands Leaders, would undertake research and analysis related to plans for an increased U.S. military presence in Guam.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it is working with the Department of Defenseís Joint Guam Program Office to explore options for neighboring countries to share in the construction projects generated by military expansion on Guam.

The office of the spokesman for the State Department said neighboring island states in Micronesia would be able to contribute to and benefit from construction activities that will be triggered by the relocation of 8,000 U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.


U.S. Navy sailors stand at parade rest as China's Peopleís Liberation Army-Navy guided missile destroyer Shenzhen makes its first visit to Apra Harbor, Guam, on October 22, 2003. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
Facing a shortage of workers, Guam has been struggling to increase its labor force to deal with hundreds of upcoming construction jobs.

Local contractors are depending on foreign workers from the Philippines, China and Taiwan, while island officials have been asking the federal government to loosen visa restrictions for Guam.

But the State Department is more interested in tapping the citizens of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia who, under a political arrangement with the United States known as the Compact of Free Association, are currently eligible to work in Guam and other U.S. territories.

The United States plans to expand its public diplomacy efforts in the Pacific Islands through a new public affairs office in Fiji and expanded exchange and English-language programs, says the State Departmentís Karen Hughes.

In remarks to the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders on Tuesday, Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said the State Department is hoping to increase the numbers of participants from the Pacific Islands region in U.S. education and exchange programs.

Hughes said the State Department plans to open a new regional public affairs office at the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, this summer. She said the office will introduce press, cultural and education programs to the region in conjunction with the American embassies in Fiji, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea.