H.E. MR. BAILEY OLTER
PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
CHAIRMAN OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC FORUM
TO THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON
ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
12 JUNE 1992
Mister President, Mister Secretary-General, Excellencies,
I am honored to make these remarks as Chairman of the South Pacific Forum, on behalf of the fifteen member-countries in our Pacific Region whose heads of government comprise the organization. The Forum members are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu and Western Samoa. The Heads of Forum Governments meet once a year to discuss issues of common interest, to strengthen regional cooperation politically and economically, and on security and environmental matters. A permanent Secretariat, based in Fiji, acts under the guidance of the member governments to support, among other things, a wide variety of development and aid programs.
As a region the countries of the Forum are custodians of a large portion of the Earth’s surface. Our combined Exclusive Economic Zones occupy 30 million square kilometers, an area more than four times the size of the great country of Brazil. Yet, given our widely dispersed, relatively small islands, our limited human resources, and generally low state of economic development, our capacity to protect the fragile environment against damage from all sources is constrained.
Nevertheless, over many years the Forum and its member countries have shared the international community’s growing concern with the environment of our planet. Communiqués of its annual meetings have indicated that concern in a wide variety of policy statements, which have been followed up by the Members’ active participation throughout the UNCED preparatory process, as well as in the negotiations for the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Biodiversity Convention. In an ideal world, many of our Forum Members would have preferred stronger Conventions, particularly on climate change, with clear commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, a number have signed or intend to sign on the basis that the Conventions enable at least a beginning of our collective efforts to achieve real improvements in the areas covered.
Many of us occupy some of the smallest habitable land areas on Earth and we are vulnerable to natural and human-induced disturbance of both the local and global environments. Our daily lives are heavily affected by the prevailing climate, physical characteristics of our islands and the resources of land and sea. When the intensity of tropical storms increases, as we have seen in recent years, we have nowhere to go. Destruction and death result. When months of complete drought come, as many of us are experiencing even now, the suffering that takes place would be hard to believe by those who hold fond notions of Paradise in the Pacific.
Climate change and sea level rise caused by global warming are the most serious environmental threats to the islands in the Pacific Region. Our cultural, economic and even our physical survival are directly at risk. Yet, we have not created the problem which threatens to destroy us, nor even materially contributed to it. Moreover, the solution to the problem is not within our capabilities, but lies instead with those who purchased their own development with polluted currency that the rest of us dare not use.
The Pacific Region is one of the World’s troves of biological diversity. The many thousands of islands are rich in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The Forum has recognized the fundamental importance of these biological resources to the people of the Pacific Region and of the World, and has endorsed the development of agricultural, forestry and fisheries practices which encourage the maintenance of biological diversity. It is the Region’s hope that the Biodiversity Convention will be of great significance in preserving vulnerable resources for future generations.
The countries of the South Pacific Forum strongly support Agenda 21 as a whole, and the chapter on Oceans in particular. We especially welcome the decisions to call a series of conferences commencing in 1993 on sustainable development of small islands, and a conference to promote effective implementation of Law of the Sea Convention provisions on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory species. We also see great value in the adherence by all nations to the principles of the Rio Declaration.
We are hopeful that the World’s emerging sense of environmental ethics as demonstrated by this Conference will enable our Region at last to overcome a particular problem that for years has intensified the vulnerability of our island existence. I refer to the attitude of many developed countries that the Pacific Island Region is a great, unpopulated void which offers opportunities to the rest of the World for convenient disposal of toxic, radioactive or otherwise harmful wastes, and for the conduct of any dangerous or obnoxious activity that cannot for reasons of public safety be carried out on home territory.
These are very real and continuing threats to our Region. Atomic and hydrogen bomb testing has been suspended now for many years in the Marshall Islands, but horrible disease and disfigurement are still suffered by many Marshallese. Moreover, instances continue to occur which show that our Region is regarded as an attractive site for environmentally undesirable or dangerous activities.
A case in point is Johnston Island, where the United States is carrying out a program to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons shipped from Germany and other points. In the 1990 Communiqué, Forum countries declared “that the Pacific Ocean and the islands in it should not continue to be used as a convenient area for the development, storage, dumping or disposal of hazardous materials, including chemical weapons, particularly from outside the Region. ” Consequently, we are relying on assurances by the United States that the scope of the operations at Johnston Island will remain limited to the current program and that the facility will be dismantled as soon as that program has been completed.
Another matter of current interest is a planned long-term arrangement between several developed countries that seems likely to involve ocean shipments through the Pacific Region of highly refined plutonium. The Forum is seeking detailed information on this project prior to discussing its implications at the upcoming annual meeting in the Solomon Islands.
Mr. President, countries of the Pacific Region have long opposed the use of islands within the Region for the conduct of nuclear weapons testing. We do welcome the recent decision of France to suspend its testing in the Pacific, and urge that, in the spirit of Rio, the suspension of testing be turned into a permanent ban.
We of the South Pacific Forum devoutly hope this historic Summit and its mechanisms will at last make the World realize the Pacific is both valuable to future generations for its vast resources and home to present generations of peoples who have never willingly accepted that their backyards be made dumping grounds or testing and disposal areas. Since our small size and wide dispersion has in the past denied us the political power to protect ourselves against these forces, we look forward henceforth to a world order in which new environmental imperatives will teach others the inequity of past attitudes and practices.
Finally, Mr. President, let me express the very sincere gratitude of all the Forum Members for the World’s strong attendance and participation at these meetings. It gives us hope. Special thanks go, of course, to those such as the Secretary-General of UNCED, without whose selfless dedication and determination we would not be here. Finally, the host country – the Government and the wonderful people of Brazil – have earned for themselves a special place in History by opening their warm hearts and their beautiful country for this occasion, one that will be remembered for all time.