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S. Sovaleni: Address to World Summit 2015

Address to World Summit 2015, Seoul, Korea, August 27 to 31, 2015

A primary focus of the Sunhak Peace prize deals with the role of the ocean and its importance for the future of humanity. According to the organization’s literature,“The ocean is essential to the future peace of humanity.” Coming from an island nation myself, I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

Our world faces many problems today but what can’t be denied is that we are globally linked. We no longer have the luxury to think that what happens on one side of the world has no effect on the rest of the world. Those simpler days are long past. The complex problems that threaten peace such as the food crisis, energy depletion, water scarcity, population growth, and particularly, climate change threaten every individual and every nation on this planet.

I congratulate the Sunhak Peace Prize Foundation, and its founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon for your courage and foresight to bring the world’s attention to this critical and timely issue.

My hope and prayer is that through the prestigious Sunhak Peace Prize and this World Summit on peace that global thinking will be elevated and there will be increased awareness about the problems associated with climate change, and secondly, that we as leaders representing many nations of the world will step forward and accept this enormous challenge and begin to take immediate and substantive action.

Make no mistake, the problems of climate change that President Tong has articulated so well are not confined to the isolated island nations in the south Pacific so far away from many of your countries and far from the headlines that dominate most newspapers; the problems of climate change as President Tong rightfully says, represent “the largest moral challenge of the 21st century.”

I believe President Tong has done an admirable job in articulating the central problems that face his beautiful nation, but this description could also be applied to the situation in my own country of Tonga. Allow me to highlight what I consider some of the key points of his message.

First, the president said: “Our world, our planet, the one and only home we have is at a critical turning point. Should we continue on without due consideration to the consequences of our blind pursuit of profits and short development gains, we risk irreparable damages to this our planet, our one and only home. Irreparable damages which, at the core of its effect, is the lives of not only my people but the rest of this global population.”

The causes of climate change are generally divided into two categories: human and natural causes. Certainly what Mother Nature does – ocean currents, the earth’s orbital changes and solar variations – are beyond our control, but humanity’s activities have played a significant role in contributing and speeding up the process, specifically with regard to adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We can’t control Mother Nature, but the latter is within our control and this is where change is needed.

In our battle to address climate change we are at a stage where we can see “a light at the end of the tunnel” but we are not sure whether it’s the daylight at the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train. COP21 in Paris this coming December provides us all with an opportunity to make sure that the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed sunlight but not an oncoming train.

Second, the president said: “Many of the atoll islands (are) no higher than 3 meters above sea level…any high tide coupled with strong winds wrecks havocs to our islands, our homes, our villages. In some parts of the country whole villages have had to be relocated due to severe coastal erosion. Food crops have been destroyed and the fresh water lens (our communities’ source of drinking water) contaminated by the intruding sea water.”

This statement strikes terror in my heart. Scientists are in agreement that Kiribati and many other island nations including Maldives, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, as well as my own nation of Tonga – may disappear into the sea by the year 2050 as a result of rising sea levels due to the rise of global temperatures.

According to the World Risk Report 2014, compiled by UN University, the most vulnerable country is Vanuatu, and four out of the top 10 most vulnerable countries are in the Pacific region.

When your family, village even your country is threatened, what would you do? I will follow the example set by President Tong and give all that I have.

Third, the president said: “We can no longer afford to wait until the world makes a decision on what actions to take against climate change. Time is against us, with the future of people, men, women and children, whole cultures, whole communities, villages, cities and nations all at stake. Without exception, we all have a moral obligation to do what must be done individually and collectively to ensure the survival of our planet, our one and only home.”

President Tong is right. We are all in this together. And I agree with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that climate change does not respect borders; it does not respect who you are – rich or poor, developed or developing, small or big. Which is why we are all in this together. What happens in Kiribati most definitely has an impact on every nation. Maybe not today, but sooner or later, the problems of climate change will come knocking on everyone’s door.

Fourth, the president spoke about hope. “We have gone past debating that climate change is not happening,” he said, “and it is indeed encouraging to note the growing momentum in the level of global acknowledgement to the issue of climate change.”

I submit that governments and individuals can and should play a role in saving Kiribati and the islands aforementioned. Governments all over the world must take steps to formulate policies that discourage environmental damage. Individuals must make choices that contribute to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, whether it’s driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle rather than a gas-guzzler or to support renewable energy, but most of all, to get informed and be involved. We all need to become aware and choose to act, for example, by contacting our political representatives and the media and tell them about the realities surrounding climate change.

Clearly, there is a moral component that must be honored and for that I applaud President Tong.

Globally we all face the challenges posed by climate change. Unfortunately the island nations of the South Pacific Ocean and others do not have the resources that some of you have, and we are more vulnerable. We do need help from the world to deal with the problem of climate change.

In these difficult times, strong leadership is necessary. We must address climate change and its impact on our global ecosystems, economies, and communities. For that reason I applaud the President for taking bold steps such as calling for “a moratorium on new coal mines and the extension of existing coals mines,” and for the world “to burn less coal each year.”

The President has already designated more than 400,000 square kilometers as a “marine protected area,” and he has instituted vocational training for a “mass migration with dignity” plan.

Some people would claim that climate change is someone else’s problem…but there is no someone else. Climate change is everyone’s problem.

We also have a common misconception when negotiating what we need to do about climate change, that “something is better than nothing.” But I say to you that with climate change, “something” is the same as “nothing.”

I don’t intend to leave nothing to my children or my children’s children. I don’t want to leave a world that is beyond repair to the future generations of Tonga.

This is why I want to publicly thank President Tong for his bold and courageous actions in the face of this growing catastrophic danger.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.