Stakes huge for Pacific in climate change talks: Rudd

11/11/2009 11:37

By David Brooks (AFP) – Aug 4, 2009

CAIRNS, Australia — Attempts to reduce the impact of climate change are crucial to the future of vulnerable Pacific island nations, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday.

Rudd was speaking as the Pacific Islands Forum summit of regional leaders opened in Australia's northeastern city of Cairns, where climate change was expected to be a key issue.

Leaders from Australia, New Zealand and 13 Pacific Island nations will also tackle the impact of the global economic crisis in the region over two days of talks.

Forum countries are among the most vulnerable in the world to the impact of climate change, especially atoll archipelagos such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands where the highest ground is only a few metres above sea level.

Global talks in Copenhagen in December will attempt to strike a new global deal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the rate of climate change.

"Pacific island countries are among the least responsible for the causes of climate change," Rudd told the forum opening ceremony.

"They will bear the brunt of its impact the most -- we must all act together to meet this challenge.

"We must use every opportunity to recommit ourselves as a region and as an international community to deliver a strong outcome in Copenhagen necessary for the planet, necessary for the Pacific, necessary for all our peoples."

Rudd, the incoming chairman of the forum, said the region must lift its efforts to get the outcome it needs at the Copenhagen talks.

Leaders of the seven smallest forum members called Tuesday for Australia and New Zealand and other developed countries to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

The tiny states support the call of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) global grouping, which has called for 45 percent cuts below 1990 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 85 percent cuts worldwide by 2050.

The other main focus of the two day summit is formulating a regional response to the global financial crisis.

"We need to do this to make a real difference to the 2.7 million people living across the Pacific who still today live in poverty," Rudd said.

Australia had hoped to launch negotiations for a new free trade and economic relations deal at the summit, but outgoing forum chairman Toke Talagi said Tuesday that island nations were not ready to begin talks.

Rudd described the agreement, known as PACER Plus, as critical for driving closer economic integration in the region and advancing towards the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

Australia has also been keen for Fiji, which was suspended from the forum in May, to be relegated on the forum's agenda after dominating the three past annual summits due to the 2006 military coup.

But Talagi brought the issue to the fore at the opening ceremony, calling for Fijians to rise up against the military regime and restore democratic rule.

"Perhaps citizens of Fiji must now rise to challenge the undemocratic rule of the military regime and restore democracy for the sake of the future of their children," the premier of the tiny nation of Niue said.

"After all, the people of Fiji must also take responsibility for the reconstruction, and the future and their own destiny."

The military toppled Fiji's elected government in a December 2006 coup, the fourth in the troubled nation in two decades.

Fiji was suspended from the forum in May this year after Bainimarama broke a promise to hold elections by March to restore democracy.