Kiribati President says climate change a focus for UN General Assembly | Pacific Beat

Kiribati President says climate change a focus for UN General Assembly

Kiribati President says climate change a focus for UN General Assembly

Updated 25 September 2013, 12:06 AEST

World leaders have begun taking part in the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly which provides them with the chance to address the international issues and to present a view of the issues facing them to an international audience.

In recent years, many of the contributions from Pacific nations have included a call to start taking climate change seriously and it's likely that will be the case again this year.

The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, says he's worried the issue may be overshaddowed by global events such as Syria.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Anote Tong, Kiribati President

TONG: This has been our reading analysis of what's going on. Naturally the more controversial the issues, and, of course, the Syrian issue is very controversial at the moment and ultimately will dominate the discussions. Nevertheless, I hope we don't lose focus on the issues that also matter to the rest of the members of the United Nations.
COONEY: Certainly, I heard Qatar, the Emir of of Qatar, who made his address a little earlier today. He did actually make climate change a part of his address. That was I suppose a bit heartening, given the fact that the Syria thing is virtually on his doorstep?
TONG: I think there is no doubt that the climate change will continue to be a very critical issue, but I think there will be moment when the urgent catastrophic issues like Syria will come in, but I hope will not distract the focus from an issue which will continue to face the global community. 
This morning, of course, and earlier on, the Secretary-General has also focused and will be focusing on the climate change in the Climate Change Summit next year, so that is the call by the Secretary-General and so to us the most vulnerable countries, which include Kiribati. That is good news. We are hoping that this continued focus on climate change will not change to radically inspite of whatever else happens.
COONEY: Now, the General Assembly goes ahead very soon after the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, where the agreement was made to sign up to the Majuro Declaration, which was the call for Pacific leaders to take leadership on climate change. It comes as well as your neighbouring Pacific nation, Tuvalu - tThe new Prime Minister there, Mr Sopoaga has come out publicly saying that he wants to see this issue front and centre on the agenda as it was perhaps four or five years and the feeling is that perhaps it slipped off the front page so to speak. Do you agree with his position on that one?
TONG: Oh, I think climate change has been given a good run and will continue to get that focus. I think there's some sense of fatigue on the issue, I think perhaps due also to the perceived lack of progress by the countries, the most vulnerable countries. We, I think the message has been heard about climate change and I feel that that the message has been repeated time and time again. But I think what needs to follow is action. We certainly in Kiribati, we're lookiing seriously I think implementing some of the things that we've been advocating that needed resourcing from the international community. We are proceeding to go ahead and do this, whether or not the resources are forthcoming from the international community. And the reason we want to do this is because we have (inaudible) and hopefully in now doing so, the international community will perhaps find the way forward, which perhaps is the problem at the moment - waiting for somebody else to take action. So we have no choice but to take action. But climate change has and will continue and it will increasingly become the most significant agenda on the item on the global community.
COONEY: How does a country like Kiribati or Tuvalu get the big nations, the polluters, so to speak, to start getting this on their main agenda again. I know it's never really off it to a certain degree, that they don't ignore it. But at times there, we were mentioning Syria and Iran, and the way it's going to dominate a lot of the proceedings there. But  how do you get them, those big countries, to start listening to what you have to say?
TONG: Well unfortunately, I think the climate change issue  will continue to be a matter of politics in some countries, but I think there's never been a true appreciation of the fact and the reality of what the small and the most vulnerable countries are actually facing now, not in the future, but now, as of today. And I think the visit by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Kiribati in 2011 was I think a very significant step, because he saw for himself what it is we've been trying to say and trying to communicate to the international community. 
And so, I'm very heartened by the fact that he will be convening a summit, a Climate Change Summit, next year, sometime about this time next year, and so that means that the focus is still there, but I think it's important to define the way forward and I think in defining the way forward, it's not about moaning, but it's about doing something constructive, putting something on the table that needs to be done and then challenging those that need to be challenged to come forward and see what they can do.
COONEY: Now, you make your address I think tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon. Is that correct?
TONG: Tomorrow afternoon, yes I do.
COONEY: Tomorrow afternoon. I know there's a number of other Pacific leaders and their representatives in New York City who are going to be doing the same thing. Curious if you've talked to each other, to see if the addresses have a similar sort of vein and as well, I suppose, I don't want you to give us your speech a little bit early, but give us a bit of an idea what you'll be saying?
TONG: Well, I think we're all saying (inaudible) I think the opening address by the Secretary-General will actually be saying the same things which poverty alleviation, we're talking about sustainable development, we're talking about climate change, gender violence and what have you and so it's all about the same thing. I think we put it in our different shades and our different ways and perhaps with different emphasis, because for us, climate change will be a strong issue, but then again it is related to poverty alleviation, it is related to sustainable development, to achievement of our Millennium Development Goals. So we, personally I see climate change as being dominant in the sense that increasingly it will affect all of the issues that will be rainsed. I think over and over again we'll be saying the same thing - of course, the security issues in Syria will be referred to within emphasis by some countries, and with maybe less direct reference by some other countries. So I imagine that we will all being saying the same thing, but giving different emphasis to the different items on the agenda.
COONEY: Just before we go, I've always been curious as well as addressing the United Nations. I know it's a major opportunity to meet other leaders, to meet other national and international groups. What other things go on around the General Assembly that probably we don't see so much about. I'm not asking you to let confidentialities go, but it does seem a pretty busy time for leaders when you go over there?
TONG: Well, just now, I've been meeting leaders from the Middle East and I think this is a new initiative from the Middle East engaging with our part of the world. This is new, this is refreshing, this is welcome because I think we ought to have a 360 vision of the world. And so all of this is going on. We've seen the Far Eastern Europe coming in and also engaging with our part of the world. This did not happen previously. But all of this is happening on a daily basis and over the next few days, this will continue to happen, the bilateral engagements,a nd just a broadening of horizons, which is always a future of the United Nations behind the scene and this is happening. We welcome it, because we don't always get the opportunity to interact with these countries and so this is a welcome change.

Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.