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D. M. Remengesau: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020


Alii! Yeoboseyo! Dr. Julia Moon, Dr. Thomas Walsh, First Ladies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for joining us today. It is my great pleasure to co-host this inaugural session of the International Association of First Ladies for Peace with Dr. Julia Moon and the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, with support from the Universal Peace Federation and the World Summit 2020 Committee.

In December 2019, we gathered together in my home, the Republic of Palau, where we co-hosted the successful inaugural Asia Pacific First Ladies Summit and launched the International Association of First Ladies for Peace in the Asia Pacific region.

We are gathered again today to inaugurate this special session to jumpstart what will become a powerful partnership between First Ladies, visionary women and prominent women leaders who share the same desires and ideals to build a future filled with peace, prosperity and stability.

In Palau, our ancient culture has always recognized and celebrated the important role women play in society. Palauan women are blessed to have been raised with this inborn belief and knowledge of their natural inherent value. We share this value. Every woman is ingrained with this value despite nationality, cultural background and religion.

As we continue to build this new network, let us be encouraged by the fact that as women, our time is now. We must look into ourselves, draw upon that value, and work together as women traditionally would, to create solutions to challenges that threaten our families, our homes and our nations.

Look around the room and see for yourselves that women hold distinctive positions in society, from heads of states to heads of corporations and organizations, decision makers, lawyers, doctors and many more. First Ladies are no different. We, as First Ladies and spouses of decision makers, lead community-based initiatives and projects that compliment and support our husbands’ national priorities. Woman are born with a natural ability to lead, nurture and care for the community as a whole.

We are uniquely positioned in the community and often work more closely with the grassroots and the most vulnerable members of our society – children and the elderly population – fighting for empowerment, social development, equality and a better future for all.

In this new decade, we must step into our roles and lead by example. We must create tangible solutions to support stability and peace in our communities. All of this can be achieved with partnership through this network.

During the First Ladies Summit in Palau, we spoke about practical ways we could learn from one another. We need to take bold actions and create tangible outcomes to address climate change and marine pollution, to ensure access to education and health that will provide peace and stability for our children’s future. Without a healthy planet, there will be conflict. If there is not enough food and water to go around, people will fight for resources; they will be displaced through climate change and loose everything. Peace is only possible if we have a healthy environment.

As Pacific Islanders we have always lived in harmony with the natural world, which has led to peace. We have always had plentiful ways to feed and look after our families and community. Our culture has deep-rooted values of caring for one another and helping each other. Sadly, these values and our way of life are under threat from outside forces that are beyond our control. A culture of over-consumption at the expense of our planet is pervading. And an erosion of our ancient community values of kinship and selflessness has started to take root, destroying our peaceful, united way of life.

Our children are also on the front line of climate change, which they didn’t create. Our children will pay the high price for other countries’ addiction to consumerism. This is having catastrophic impacts on Pacific Islanders: in just 30 years children in the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu will not have a land to call home. And when their land disappears so does their culture.

Just take a moment to think about what it would be like to have be your entire country disappear under the ocean…. It’s unthinkable. But this is the fate that our Pacific Island children are facing unless the rest of the world starts taking urgent and immediate action.

So today, I would like to share with you some ways that we in Palau have used our ancestral knowledge and culture of conservation to create real-world solutions to the big environmental issues facing our world and threatening the survival of our children. My husband’s government makes decisions guided by this traditional knowledge. Our traditional leaders are his close advisors. In this way, we are able to keep our heritage and all its inherent wisdom in the front of our minds when we make decisions. Like our ancestors, we don’t make decisions based on short-term needs or desires but instead we make the sometimes hard decisions today to protect the world our children will inherit from us tomorrow. This is not always easy, but it’s what is right.

In Palau our children’s inheritance was always the healthy land and ocean that we as parents and grandparents would leave behind for them. Money did not come into the equation. We always considered the health and survival of those that would follow us as our guiding principle. This is something that we still do today and it’s the reason why Palau leads the world in so many ways through conservation laws and initiatives. We are not thinking selfishly of what we want now; we are planning for the health of future generations.

To achieve this, we have a set of “tools” that our chiefs and leaders have used for millennia. One of the most useful of these tools is called BUL which I want to share with you today. The philosophy of BUL (conservation) is a way of life that is first introduced at the dinner table as a child begins to learn about food portions – only take what you need. It is passed down from grandparents through story telling. Our identity as people, as Palauans, is weaved deeply with nature – the land and our ocean.

BUL is also a type of moratorium that can be declared by our chiefs if the community notices that an animal or plant species is in decline and needs to have time to replenish. When the chief declares BUL on that species, the whole community knows that they must not harvest it until the BUL is lifted. We do not need to enforce this; the community knows that this decision is the law and in the best interests of everyone.

It’s not as simple as letting the land or the ocean to “lie fallow.” It’s about making sure the next generation of families, of children, still has the land and the ocean as we know it to enjoy, to build their future, as they should. BUL existed long before modern laws and policies. When Palau had the need for laws, it was natural that we would base them on our traditional ways of life and our culture of conservation. We knew what we needed to do to protect our children’s environment and their natural inheritance.

If we are to achieve peace, we need to live in harmony with our land and the oceans. To allow our world to recover, we all need to adopt the useful tool of BUL and promote it in our homes and countries.

In Palau we have taken the ancient concept of BUL and interpreted it in modern ways that help us protect the world we live in today. For example, we were the first nation on earth to have a nuclear-free constitution, something created by the women of Palau. It was very hard. They faced huge opposition from much larger nations, but as women they knew they were fighting for the very survival of their families and children so they did not give up. How could they give up given what was at stake?

We were also the world’s first shark sanctuary, declaring a moratorium on the killing of sharks because we realize their importance in a balanced, healthy ecosystem.

And then there was the ultimate BUL: the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, declaring 80% of our EEZ (an area the size of France) a no-take zone. The Palau National Marine Sanctuary is the largest percentage of fully protected marine territory in the world. The remaining 20% of our EEZ is designated for local fishing only, meaning that 100% of our waters are closed for commercial fishing. Again, this is the concept of BUL in action: allowing us to take only what we need to survive. This was a bold, world-leading move. It was also hard because Palau would lose revenue from commercial fishing in the short term, but because of our culture and the desperate state of our oceans, as Palauans we knew that creating the Palau National Marine Sanctuary was necessary to protect our own future food security and help the rest of the world’s oceans recover. We knew we had to lead by example.

We owe every second breath we take to our precious oceans. They works so hard for us each day, absorbing carbon and providing us with oxygen. They are the blue lungs of our world, providing us with the very air we breathe. But we don’t treat them like our lungs. We pollute them, we attack them, we take from them and we abuse them to the point where they now can’t continue to support life on our planet. Our oceans are very sick and we need to help them heal if we want our children and their children to survive. In short, our oceans need BUL now more than ever before. Science tells us that we need to fully protect at least 30% of the oceans by 2030 if we are to start the healing process. At the moment we are only at 4%. We need to take urgent action to address this.

Palau has protected 80% of its ocean using the concept of BUL. We need other countries to help us by declaring as much of their waters as possible a marine protected area. Every percentage point counts at this stage, and time is running out. The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the resolution 30 x 30 to get governments, businesses and communities to understand the need for protecting 30% of our world’s oceans by 2030. This is one of the most tangible, practical things that we as women can come together and lobby for: we can use the tradition of BUL together to protect our oceans.

So today I hope that you will take this insight and go back home and start talking about this to your communities and leaders. Together, as women, we are unstoppable and we can do this!

Another idea that has come from the concept of BUL is to educate Palau’s visitors about our culture so that they respect our natural environment when they are in Palau. The modern interpretation this time was in the form of the Palau Pledge. As a women-led initiative, the Palau Pledge was designed with a vision to inspire and encourage visitors to not only help protect and conserve Palau’s environment, but to also think about the actions they take when they return home for the sake of their children’s future.

The Palau Pledge, the official passport stamp of Palau, is printed in every visitor’s passport on entry. Everyone who visits our shores must make a mandatory promise to the children of Palau that they will protect and preserve the natural environment and culture for the sake of their future. This pledge is printed in the language of our visitors and everyone must sign it in their passport before they are granted entry to our country. It is our law.

Collectively, these actions directly impact not just the children of Palau, but make a bold statement for the rights of the next generation, globally. This “simple” but effective action has rippled throughout the world. It has inspired other nations and destinations such as Hawaii, New Zealand, Finland and the Philippines to create similar visitor pledges based on their own wisdom of conservation. It has become a global conservation movement that continues to have a lasting impact on the health of our planet.

The Palau Pledge is effecting real change in many different communities around the world. What if we were to apply this same concept to other issues we are facing? Imagine if all the decisions made by our leaders, policy makers, educators and businesses were guided by a pledge to the next generation. I believe we would be one step closer to achieving a world of peace.

As women and as global citizens, we are all connected. The ocean does not divide us, it connects us. Let’s take this opportunity to build strong relationships and partnerships for our future and for the future of our children.

Once again, I urge you to use the tool of BUL to help protect the environment for your own children and children around the world.

I look forward to the discussions we will have today and the long-lasting relationships that will be built as a result.

I want to leave you with an ancient Palauan chant about coming together to share wisdom and knowledge with one another so that we can all live in harmony and create a peaceful world:

Ko meral mesulang. Thank you.



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