Our joint battle has just begun

In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, President of the Republic of Palau H.E. Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. shared his thoughts on how must work together to find solutions to the issues facing our oceans, climate and environment.  

Tommy image Photo: IISD

Alii and Aloha! 

Good Morning. 

It is my great honor to be here this morning with so many of my brothers and sisters from around the Pacific, fellow children of the ocean as well as environmental leaders from around the world.

I would like to thank the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for their work in planning this conference and offer a big “Mahalo” to the people of the State of Hawaii for their warm welcome.  I offer greetings [Alii] on behalf of the people of Palau, and especially our children who are looking to us to secure their future on this one and only beautiful planet that we call home.  

It is a tremendous privilege to be addressing you today in the wake of one of the most extraordinary announcements for the oceans ever made by a fellow Pacific Islander.  Let me be one of the first to congratulate President Obama on the newly expanded Papahanaumokaukea Marine National Monument. 

I knew that the President still remembered his island roots when he announced the largest marine protected area in the world.  He, like so many of us, islanders, appreciate, in our bones, the importance of oceans. We grew up in cultures that respect nature and the need to live sustainably today for the benefit of current and future generations.  In Hawaii, as in Palau, stewardship of the land and the oceans are the touchstones that have enabled our people to thrive for millennia. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Republic of Palau, as a Large Ocean State, takes the responsibility of conservation very seriously and like President Obama, I have also had the privilege of signing into law, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.   Perhaps you’ve heard of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, a marine protected area, which includes a no-take zone of 80% of our entire exclusive economic zone.  But as islanders, we recognized the need to have access to our ocean so we did not just lock the door and throw away the key. Twenty percent of our EEZ, over 80,000 square kilometers remains open to local fisherman to sustainably meet all our domestic food security needs.

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary is our contribution to the global effort to restore our oceans.  It is also our commitment to our children's future.  Palau's long-term economic prosperity absolutely depends on the actions we take to protect our marine ecosystems today. These economic priorities are not in conflict with protecting our environment.  In fact, I have often said that Palau’s economy is our environment and the environment is our economy.  The implementation of the Marine Sanctuary balances these dual priorities. 

This commitment to sustainability initially moved Palau to launch the Micronesia Challenge in 2007, under which we, along with the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, agreed to protect at least 30% of near-shore marine resources and 20% of terrestrial resources.  We also established the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 to protect these beautiful animals, not only because studies have shown that a live shark, over its lifetime is worth so much more than a dead shark, but because it is the right thing to do.

Just as Palauans have always understood the importance of oceans, so too have our brothers and sisters across the Pacific.  Together, we have been global conservation leaders, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together.

In addition to spurring the move to establish multiple marine protected areas, the Pacific Islands were amongst the first to ratify the Port State Measures Act to fight IUU fishing, and were key to its ratification earlier this year.    

The Pacific Islands also championed the stand-alone ‘Oceans and Seas’ Sustainable Development Goal adopted last year. And we stood shoulder to shoulder with the US, the EU and other partners, leading the High Ambition Coalition, which helped forge the historic Paris Agreement last December.  The Paris Agreement for the first time commits all nations to contribute to the global effort to address climate change, the greatest challenge of our generation. 

These united efforts demonstrate that the global community is truly beginning to recognize the urgent need to preserve our oceans. Today, I can say with pride and gratitude that much of the world is indeed with us.  But our joint battle has just begun.

The theme of this conference sums it up best -- the “Planet IS at the Crossroads.  This is the moment to get it right.  And time is not on our side.” We must rise together with the speed and determination necessary to meet the most urgent and daunting challenges humanity has ever faced -- and we count on all of you and our other international partners for your crucial collaboration. As President Obama said when he announced his intent to expand Papahanaumokuakea two years ago -- we “refuse to leave our children a planet that’s beyond their capacity to repair.”  

Friends, we need to shift the way we think about our relationship to the land and the oceans, the way we make and use energy and the way we manage and protect our oceans.

To move us one step closer to our goal, a vital and healthy ocean, Palau has sponsored a motion to the IUCN Assembly to adopt a target of fully protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans.  

I call on all nations of the world to step up and support this critical motion for the oceans.  We must leave this congress with the motion passed! Let us leave Hawaii with the motion in hand as a mandate for action as we head to the first United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Oceans as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) which will be held in New York, in June of 2017.

My fellow children of the ocean.  We live in a world today that is more interconnected than ever before.  We travel across the pacific in mere hours when it took us months in ancient times.  We can no longer ignore the fact that what happens halfway around the world can and does affect everyone, including our Pacific people.  The affects of climate change is real as we can see first hand with the changes in the weather and the two typhoons that recently decimated Palau and the two hurricanes that are approaching Hawaii at this moment.  However, this new global network that has been created is also the answer to these challenges we now face. We must work together to find solutions to the issues facing our oceans, our climate and our environment.  We must forge solid and lasting partnerships in which the efforts of each country, each state and each person are supported by those who have the resources to do so.  

In Palau we have a saying, “in order to reach your destination, we all must paddle in the same direction”, and witnessing the enormous support here in this room and the commitment of all of you who have come to take part in this World Conservation Congress, I can truly see that we are paddling in the same direction.

Thank you and Kom kmal mesulang.

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