Tokelau blesses NZ Labour’s climate taskforce to Tuvalu and Kiribati
The New Zealand Labour Party officially launched yesterday, its climate change task force leaving on a mission to see for themselves the situation facing Pacific island states on the climate change frontline.
The initiative initiated by Labour’s Pacific caucus is aimed to be an annual event and will start with a visit to Kiribati and Tuvalu. The task force, headed by Su’a William Sio, Labour’s Climate Change Pasifika spokesperson will leave this Sunday on its two weeks mission.
However, there was disappointment closer to home with the omission of Tokelau when the taskforce was first announced in January. But over a series of meetings between Su’a and Tokelau’s Climate Change Manager, Mrs Paula Faiva, has resulted in efforts to create spaces at various levels for Tokelau to raise its issues and voice its concerns.
One of those opportunities was the special invite for Tokelau to be part of the official launch yesterday. The new Ulu-o-Tokelau was keen to attend but urgent matters of state saw him delegate Mrs Paula Faiva as his special envoy to the launch.
Mrs Faiva in her statement (reproduced in full at end of this article) acknowledged Su’a’s efforts in pushing Tokelau issues since their meetings in January, notably at the recent Pacific Climate Change Conference hosted by Victoria University in February.
“Su’a heard our plea and since then, has made special efforts to highlight Tokelau’s position and result in Tokelau being here today,” she stated.
“And so ladies and gentlemen, I am here on behalf of the Ulu o Tokelau, Aliki Faipule Afega Gaualofa, the elders and the people of Tokelau to convey their love and blessings to the Labour Party’s Pacific Climate Change leadership in establishing a Taskforce team in response to the Pacific’s cry for help in combatting climate change. We wish you well in your visit to Tuvalu and Kiribati.”
In an emotional address that held women MPs, Carmel Sepuloni, Jenny Salesa, Poto Williams and Megan Woods captive, Mrs Faiva outlined that if climate change is left to chance, the future of the Pacific’s children and countries will be devastating. “It is a matter of life and death” as she pleaded for urgent actions by leaders to combat climate change to be made now, and with haste.
“For Tokelau, we have been living with change as far as I can remember. But Tokelau can no longer do it alone. There is a Tokelauan saying: ‘HE HOA LAVA’ meaning ‘partnerships are needed and important, especially in these trying times’.
“Tokelau as a territory is not allowed to have a voice in the climate change negotiations – we are dependent on New Zealand – in fact, it is true to say that we are at the mercy of New Zealand to voice our plight in the international negotiations.
“The urgency of the climate change issue we cannot ignore. Because as leaders, the decisions you make today dictate the future of our children and nation. So, let us not leave the future of our children to chance.”
It was the same message voiced by Tuvalu’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, Mr Samuelu Laloniu and Kiribati’s Honorary Consul Mr Ben Otang.
“The initiative by the Labour caucus is welcomed by the Tuvalu government,” Mr Laloniu stated.
“We can talk about climate change and its implications and impacts on small island states – but that can never drive home the reality until you actually visit and see for yourself what is happening there. It is the urgency to address climate change that we are really asking people to understand.”
Mr Ben Otang added, “It’s very hard to talk about climate change and its effects. And that is why it is very useful that you go there and see for yourself.
“The evidence of the damages that climate change has done to Kiribati and other small island states. When you go there you will see the evidence of the erosion, the evidence of the waves, the adaptations such as the sea walls to delay the damage being caused by rising sea levels.”
Su’a confirmed the Labour mission embarking this weekend on Sunday would be the first of many the New Zealand parliament ought to undertake at least on an annual basis.
“Because this is such a big issue, it cannot be left to the government of the day. Every parliamentarian of New Zealand need to take a special interest on climate change.
“These missions will help parliamentarians better understand the effect of climate change on our region; and to have first hand experience on how the countries and people of the Pacific are fighting for their survival especially their efforts in adaptation and mitigation.
“It is also part of our work to stand collectively, in solidarity with the Pacific, as a region where we need to have confidence that our children will grow up healthy, strong and resilient,” he said.
Labour’s climate change spokesperson, Dr Megan Woods said the problem with the current National government is it “doesn’t have a plan”.
“…it [National Party] sets targets and it doesn’t reach them. It is no surprise as there is no plan on how to go about it,” she said.
Does Labour have a plan if comes into power next year?
“Yes,” Ms Woods said “Labour’s plan will be to establish an independent commission modeled on the UK climate committee. Their job is to carbon budget.
“To work out exactly where it is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our economy and how it is to make those cuts. Until we have a group of people that are charged with that we wont be able to make the gains we need to.”
The commision will look at the New Zealand economy she explained, “and decide where in transport we can make the cuts; whereabouts in terms of industrial cuts. So what they do is they say, ‘we have this target the government has set us, now what’s the plan in order for us to reach it’.
“And that’s what a carbon budget does. Rather than looking to the Pacific, it will be looking at New Zealand’s role at making its world contribution in order to help the Pacific and make sure their viability is assured.
“It is about New Zealand’s domestic policy settings.”
And within that setting there is promise to acknowledge Tokelau’s special constitutional relationship with New Zealand.
“Yes, absolutely, we have a responsibility to Tokelau, but listening to Paula and other Tokelau officials, these are decisions that have to be done on a bilateral basis. We have to have that discussion with the Tokelau government.
“It means we have to get rid of the old colonial attitude, if you like, and embrace that this is the 21st century and accept that Tokelau’s voice has to be heard. As well as Niue and Cook Islands.
NZ Labour Party’s Pacific Climate Change Taskforce
Media Launch, 17 March 2016
NZ parliament building
Mrs Paula Faiva | Climate Change Manager
Tokelau is most grateful for the invitation to be here today. He taeao gali tenei, e fakatalofa atu ai i te alofa o te Atua. I greet you all on behalf of our small nation.
Tokelau is a territory and with the Maori, are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. As with our Maori kin, we are also a member of the extended regional Pacific family whose ancestors first settled the islands of Polynesia more than 2,000 years ago?
However, even though we are part of that proud heritage, Tokelau is often forgotten or left out when issues pertinent to the region are told. With that knowledge, please allow me to share a story with you, to illustrate my point in relation to the event that brought us here today.
At the Pacific region’s climate change conference that was hosted by Victoria University in February this year, at the formal welcome the MC welcomed participants that included delegates from 16 Pacific island countries; in the many languages of the Pacific.
Kia ora, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Ni sa bula vinaka, etc… yet Talofa ni, our Tokelauan welcome was missed. But he wasn’t the only one, over the course of the conference, who missed out – Tokelau in the salutations.
It is a popular theme that saddens me but it also highlights that Tokelau is also at fault. We ourselves have not been proactive enough in raising awareness of our issues in the regional and international public spaces so that our voice, no matter how small, is heard. And so today, I again thank Honourable Su’a for giving this opportunity to Tokelau – we now take it with both hands.
But first, with your indulgence, it is important that I take you further back, to a month before the Victoria Climate Conference. It was just after New Year celebrations (the 10th January to be precise). I was on State Highway 2, driving to Lower Hutt after a meeting with my climate change team in Wellington.
I was listening to the radio when I heard this climate change news item. It was about the Labour Party putting together a climate change taskforce to visit the Pacific Islands.
Immediately, that grabbed my attention. I was all ears because I took it for granted that Tokelau was on the list.
For me, I was more interested to hear who the other countries were that made it onto Mr Su’a William Sio’s list. I heard Tuvalu, and I thought good choice. I heard Kiribati and thought, great! The UN Secretary General, Mr Ban ki Moon, had visited Kiribati last year – that is good thinking – it would bring media attention.
My attention then jumped forward to what Tokelau needed to do to prepare for Mr Su’a and his team’s visit. And as my mind was piecing together how to organise the boat schedule, how to get all of Tokelau to be involved; in the background I heard the news reader reading another news item. Hey, I thought to myself, did I miss it? I didn’t hear Tokelau’s name. Surely even the opposition have not forgotten us?
I later received confirmation that Tokelau is not included. Tears came to my eyes. Here we are, Tokelau, a country, a people and its lands, that under the United Nation’s charter is the responsibility of New Zealand, and yet even the opposition of the New Zealand parliament has forgotten about us!
Why weren’t we the first that New Zealand looks to, especially when it wants to protect the Pacific from climate change? Even putting New Zealand’s constitutional responsibility to Tokelau aside; we are also on the climate change frontline and just as vulnerable to the effects and impacts of climate change as Kiribati and Tuvalu.
And that brings us back to today’s event, and this part of Tokelau’s climate change journey that has led to me being here today. That shortly after the State Highway 2 experience, I made an appointment and met with Su’a, bringing to him Tokelau’s message: ‘Please don’t leave us behind’.
Honourable Su’a heard our plea and since then, has made special efforts to highlight Tokelau’s position and resulted in Tokelau being here today.
And so ladies and gentlemen, I am here on behalf of the Ulu o Tokelau, Aliki Faipule Afega Gaualofa, the elders and the people of Tokelau to convey their love and blessings to the Labour Party’s Pacific Climate Change leadership in establishing a Taskforce team in response to the Pacific’s cry for help in combating climate change. We wish you well in your visit to Tuvalu and the Kiribati.
For Tokelau, we have been living with change as far as I can remember. But Tokelau can no longer do it alone. There is a Tokelauan saying; “HE HOA LAVA” meaning ‘partnerships are needed and most important’, especially in these trying times.
Tokelau as a territory does not have a voice in the climate change negotiations because we are not eligible. That is why we are dependent on New Zealand. In fact, it is true to say that we are at the mercy of New Zealand for it is they who has the responsibilty and power to voice our plight in the international negotiations.
But the urgency of the climate change issue we cannot ignore, because as leaders, the decisions you make today dictate the future of our children and nation tomorrow. So, let us not leave the future of our children to chance.
Through the Ulu o Tokelau, the elders of Tokelau have been calling, on a regular basis, on the New Zealand government to come and visit Tokelau – to see for themselves our reality.
If the Head of the United Nations came all the way from New York to visit Kiribati, surely our government leaders can make the boat trip to Tokelau? So, again, on behalf of the Ulu o Tokelau, I urge the New Zealand parliament and MPs to please hear our cry. Come and visit Tokelau and see for yourselves the impact and threats of these changes to our biodiversity, water supply, depleting lands and degradation, the waste and pollution, our culture being phased out, the impact on the quality of life on our home, Tokelau.
We also ask that you walk with us, and open doors to get support from the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) intended to help the most vulnerable nations to adapt. We are fighting with what we have but the reality is that will never be enough.
New Zealand, we are counting on you because in many of these international financial mechanisms, like the GCF, we need New Zealand’s permission.
Please, help protect Tokelau. We are a people that add to the diversity and beauty of our world. We need your help, remember us. Don’t leave us behind.
Fakafetai lahi lele.