Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi delivered a blunt message to Australia’s coalition MPs who did not support Australia’s commitment to the UN Paris Agreement to combat climate change in the Pacific region.
Australian media have reported on remarks directed to leaders who denied the reality of climate change saying they were utterly stupid and ought to be taken to mental confinement.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney this week as Chair of the Pacific Leaders Forum, Tuilaepa reiterated the position of the Pacific Forum Leaders that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific. ”
“While climate change may be considered a slow-onset threat by some, in our region its adverse impacts are already felt by our Pacific islands peoples and communities,” he said. “Greater ambition is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and Pacific island countries continue to urge and faster action by all countries.”
Listen: Full Address and Question and Answer Session, Lowy Institute
ABC Reporter Pacific Affairs Reporter Stephen Dziedzic asked Tuila’epa if he had a message for the Australian coalition MPs who had called on the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to tear up the Paris Agreement.
“My question is, do you have a message to those MPs about climate change and when you talk about an increased ambition, exactly what sort of increased ambition would you like to see from Australia when it comes to cutting carbon emissions ? ” asked Stephen Dziedic.
In response, Tuila’epa: “Sometimes politicians speak…not from their brains. We do not need to convince the people of the great damage that climate change has done to all of us. Least of all Australia who has had too too many fires. Too too many flooding when you are suddenly faced with heavy downpours. And I don’t think you need to be told by scientists. I think your own common sense will tell you that world is different now.”
“We all know the problem. We all know the causes. We all know the solution and all that be left would be some political courage, some political guts to get out and tell the people of your country…” he said.
“So when any leader of Australia…China and the free countries that are responsible for all these disasters… China, India and also the United States. Any leader of those countries who believes that there is no climate change, I think he ought to be taken to a mental confinement. He is utterly stupid. And I say the same thing for any leader here who says that there is no climate change.”
Lowy Institute ended the Q and A session immediately after Tuila’epa’s response.
GeoStrategic Landscape: The Perspective of Pacific Islands Nations
As Chair of the Pacific Leaders Forum, Tuilaepa was invited to speak at Lowy Institute on the Pacific perspective on the new geopolitical landscape after Australia’s growing anxiety following news stories about China’s presence in the Pacific region.
The Institute’s Executive Director Michael Fullilove said when introducing the Samoan Prime Minister, “Where we’ve seen many news headlines this year including one this week about the prospect of Chinese funded ports in the Pacific and even the suggestion of a military base in Vanuatu. And these headlines have generated some strategic anxiety in Australia about the Pacific region. But one thing that has often been missing in this public debate in Australia is the perspective of Pacific island states themselves.”
Tuilaepa acknowleged the polarisation of the “geopolitical environment”, that the concept of power and domination has engulfed the world. He reaffirmed the sovereign right of Pacific islands countries to assert their own values and interests.
“The Pacific is swimming in a sea of so-called ‘fit for purpose’ strategies stretched from the tip of Africa, encompassing the Indian Ocean and morphing into the vast Blue Pacific ocean continent — that is our home and place.”
He said, “For the Pacific, now is a time of profound change; and this change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. Geo-strategic competition between major world powers has once again made our region a place of renewed interest and strategic importance. Climate change and disaster risk affects our people in a variety of ways including increased severe weather events, scarcity of food and water, and displaced communities. ”
“While many countries are reshaping the global rules and institutions into ways that might not always support our interests or reflect our values, as Pacific countries, we remain resolute to assert such.
“The Pacific region is again seeking to assert its common values and concerns. Under the flagship of our Blue Pacific identity, we are building a collective voice amidst the geopolitical din on the existential threat of climate change that looms for all of our Pacific family.”
“All Pacific leaders are prepared to assert their common shared interests namely security, prosperity, regional stability and constructive diplomacy and to be done in a way that elicits understanding and clarity of purpose. And we can do so without resorting to offensive and inflammatory remarks.”
“And what is being asked of the inhabitants and longstanding stewards of the largest ocean continent on the Blue Planet? – to ensure freedom of navigation and open skies for strategic access.”
“The precious resources and assets that we have, offer immense value and potential to the major powers of the world. At the same time these resources are the cause for panic especially for countries that have been given to believe “they are little and for too long classified ‘have nots’”.
“However, we are susceptible to being characterised as countries that have little, and that we should be grateful for whatever is offered to us.”
“I see us increasingly empowered to reject this characterisation. We are highly protective of our means of livelihoods, for example, embracing regional action to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries resources. And we are actively asserting our ambitions to ensure that there is inheritance for the generations to come.”
“But, we are also beset with dilemmas; as we seek to develop: do we give up our sovereignty, our uniqueness? An upgraded port, for example, may bring greater connectivity and opportunities for growth in some ways, but could it represent a ceding of sovereignty in other ways? There is a clear need to reinforce and support existing and promising approaches particularly those that are non-partisan and non-interventionist.”
“The reality is stark — we are again seeing invasion and interest in the form of strategic manipulation. The big powers are doggedly pursuing strategies to widen and extend their reach and inculcating a far reaching sense of insecurity. The renewed vigour with which a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy’ is being advocated and pursued leaves us with much uncertainty. For the Pacific there is a real risk of privileging Indo over the ‘Pacific’.
“There has been a reluctance to engage in open discussions on the issue and to share information to assist us in decision making.
“In my view, the Blue Pacific platform offers all Pacific countries the adaptive capabilities to address a changing geostrategic landscape. The opportunity to realise the full benefits of the Blue Pacific rests in our ability to work and stand together as a political bloc. And the challenge for us is maintaining solidarity in the face of intense engagement of an ever growing number of partners in our region. We should not let that divide us!
“In this regard we are looking forward to Australia’s stepped up engagement with the Pacific, including through: stronger partnerships for economic growth, for security and stronger relationships between our people.”