Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that on February 27, 2008 he held an historic hearing and briefing with Pacific Island Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to the United Nations. The open hearing and briefing of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment entitled “Climate Change and Vulnerable Societies: A Post-Bali Overview” is available by webcast and also will be rebroadcast in American Samoa at a later date.
Dr. Harlan Watson, Special Representatives and Senior Climate Negotiator, of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs of the U.S. Department of State also testified before the Subcommittee and, although he did not have to, he stayed throughout the entire proceedings to listen to the concerns of the Pacific Island leaders.
“I commend Dr. Watson for his willingness to help our region, and I thank him for accepting an invitation from our Subcommittee to testify on this important subject,” Faleomavaega said. “I am also pleased that His Excellency Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, Permanent Representative of the Independent State of Samoa; Mr. Mason F. Smith, Charge d’affaires of the Republic of the Fiji Islands; Mr. Charles Paul, Charge d’affaires of the Republic of the Marshall Islands; His Excellency Masao Nakayama, Permanent Representative of the Federated States of Micronesia; and Her Excellency Marlene Moses, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Nauru, were able to participate.”
“To my knowledge, their participation marked the first time in U.S. Congressional history that the Pacific Island Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to the United Nations briefed the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. When I became the first Asia Pacific American to chair this Subcommittee, I made a commitment that I would do all I could to bring attention to the needs of our Pacific Island region, especially as we are most vulnerable to climate change.”
“As a result of that commitment, I have tried my best to hold hearings that would highlight some of the issues that are most important to us, and also to give voice to our brothers and sisters in the region who for too long have been ignored. As I have often said, the U.S. does not focus enough on the Asia Pacific region but I am hopeful that with a change of Administrations with the upcoming elections, we may find that more attention is paid to our people and our neighbors,” Faleomavaega said.
“The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was a follow-up to my attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference held last December in Bali. Negotiations at the conference were regarded as a necessary step forward for the world community given that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.”
“However, negotiations prove, and continue to be, a challenge especially considering that it remains difficult for the United States, developing countries which are major emitters, and parties to the Kyoto Protocol to reach agreement on the nature of commitments.”
“Put another way, divisions remain between developed and developing countries and the U.S., whose role is critical, continues to reject mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, Australia announced at the Bali conference that it will sign the Kyoto Protocol making the U.S. the only country that has not. Being the only country that has not signed the Protocol, how can the U.S. advance international cooperation on climate change?”
“What steps should the U.S. take in response to the conference held in Bali? Should the U.S. engage the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)? The Alliance of Small Island States, as described on the SIDS website, is ‘a coalition of small island and low lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and concerns about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. It functions primarily as an ad hoc lobby and negotiating voice for small island developing states (SIDS) within the United Nations system.’”
“During my attendance at the Bali conference,” Faleomavaega said, “I met with leaders of the Small Island States and, upon my return to Washington, invited the Permanent Representatives and Charge d’affaires of the UN from the Pacific Islands to participate in yesterday’s hearing. It is my hope that the U.S. and the UN can find ways to work together to protect our Small Island States, which are most vulnerable to climate change, and I am please that Ambassador Stuart Beck, Palau’s Permanent Representative to the UN, was also able to submit a statement for the record.”
“According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), four key points of negotiation were outlined in the Bali road map including: ‘1) mitigation of climate; 2) adaptation to impacts of climate change; 3) financial assistance issues; and 4) technology development and transfer.’ Thus far, no legally binding commitments are in place and each point will require future negotiations.”
“However, as I noted at yesterday’s hearing, we should also consider the Vatican’s efforts to mitigate climate change. In April 2007, the Vatican held a conference at which time Pope Benedict made a statement that resonates with me. He said that it is important to ‘respect creation’ while ‘focusing on the needs of sustainable development.’ Respect for creation is what Polynesians and Small Island States do best as we have always relied on the goodness of God for water, food, and life. Certainly, the world could benefit from the truths we hold, and from Pope Benedict’s counsel regarding climate change. In fact, until respect for creation becomes the premise of our roadmap, I do not believe we will be successful in protecting our environment for our children, their children, and others to come throughout all generations of time.”
“This is why I will continue to urge the world community, even if we cannot agree on points one through four, to put aside our differences and respect creation. Anything less will lead to an unacceptable outcome,” Faleomavaega concluded.