Climate change and tourism challenges and opportunities took center stage at yesterday’s opening of a three-day summit that brought Micronesian presidents and governors to Saipan.
The 19th Micronesian Chief Executives’ Summit also hope that Guam Gov. Eddie B. Calvo’s recent appointment to the presidential task force on climate preparedness and resilience would bring to the fore the tiny islands’ huge challenges.
One by one, presidents and governors shared their concerns about climate change and other island challenges.
“Hopefully, the industrialized nations would help soon and help fund the islands’ adaptation to climate change, before we all sink to the bottom of the ocean,” Yap Gov. Sebastian L. Anefal told Saipan Tribune.
Marshall Islands President Christopher J. Loeak turned over the chairmanship of the MCES to CNMI Gov. Eloy S. Inos, who officially called the summit to order at 2:01pm at Fiesta Resort & Spa.
The summit, which wraps up tomorrow, tackles the region’s common concerns and solutions, including climate change, tourism, healthcare, shark conservation, and human trafficking.
In his remarks, Inos said this year’s theme, “With the Sea, We are One,” suggests Micronesia’s common values and principles.
Like the other Micronesia leaders, Inos vowed support for the Guam governor as he takes part in the climate change task force that President Barack Obama formed.
Yap’s Sebastian said they have started seeing coastal erosion, disappearing atolls, seepage of saltwater into taro patches, and coral bleaching. He said people have started relocating to the main island in the past 10 years because of rising sea level. He said some Yap atolls are only 10 to 11 feet above sea level.
“We want the industrial world to correct the problems that they have created because this has impacted us, we’re innocent bystanders. We’re not really contributing so much to the depletion of the ozone layer. It’s the industrialized worlds in my view who are causing all these problems and unfortunately we are the victims,” he said.
One of the major challenges is the islands’ lack of resources to deal with climate change.
“If it takes money to correct some of the problems so be it, but they provide the funding. Now there’s all kinds of funding they talk about but it’s very hard to access such funding,” said Anefal, the longest member of the MCES.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said Calvo’s appointment to the climate change task force, along with that of the Hawaii governor, will be critical in moving the islands’ climate change agenda forward.
“Now is the time for the United States to take a strong stand on climate change and to begin the process of funding adaptation…I strongly believe that the MCES is still a viable vehicle for the leaders of our region to develop a Micronesian voice, not only in our Pacific region but in the larger international arena,” he said.
Calvo said he will bring to the task force the pertinent information from Micronesia on climate change.
He said Micronesian communities are the least contributors to climate change yet they bear the brunt of these changes—“whether it’s drought, heavy precipitation, rising of seas, warming of seas.”
“We’re hopeful the federal government understands what it means to the quality of life to our people,” he added.
Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori, in his remarks, suggested that instead of having 13 different issues, the summit should “prioritize” at least three major ones to see better progress.
The other chief executives agreed, and they cited almost the same issues—environment/climate change and tourism/economic development.
Also at the summit were Pohnpei Gov. John Ehsa, Chuuk Attorney General Sabino Asor representing Gov. Johnson S. Elimo, and Kosrae Lt. Gov. Carson Sigrah.
Hundreds of delegates from different Micronesian islands joined those from the CNMI at the summit, which also saw the participation of U.S. agencies and private entities.