Amid a backdrop of high healthcare costs, eroding coastlines, skyrocketing air transportation costs and what the United States considers either a target destination for or source of human trafficking, nine Micronesian presidents and governors gathered on Saipan from December 4 to 6 for a regional summit that tackled issues of common concerns and options to address them.
In the end, they vowed to continue working together, underscoring this year’s summit theme, “With the sea, we are one.”
“Hopefully, the industrialised nations would help soon and help fund the islands’ adaptation to climate change before we all sink to the bottom of the ocean,” Yap Governor Sebastian L. Anefal said on the first day of the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit (MCES) in the capital island of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Anefal, the longest serving member of MCES, said Yap has started seeing coastal erosion, disappearing atolls, seepage of saltwater into taro patches and coral bleaching.
For the past 10 years or so, people have started relocating to the main island because of rising sea level, the Yap governor said.
The lack of resources continues to hamper islands’ ability to deal with climate change.
“If it takes money to correct some of the problems so be it, but they (developed countries) provide the funding. Now, there are all kinds of funding they talk about, but it’s very hard to access such funding,” Anefal added.
The Micronesian leaders’ summit brought together the presidents of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, along with the governors/official representatives of Guam, the CNMI, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap and Kosrae.
Micronesian leaders have high hopes that Guam Governor Eddie B. Calvo’s recent appointment to U.S. President Barack Obama’s taskforce on climate preparedness and resilience would bring to the fore the challenges faced by tiny islands, which bear the brunt of climate change yet the least contributor to the problem.
“For two-and-a-half days, we have been listening to presentations on emerging issues within our region. While we have actively discussed our concerns on a host of issues, one of them stands out as the most common concern we share as a region: climate change,” said CNMI Governor Eloy S. Inos, chairman of the 19th MCES.
Inos officially replaced Marshall Islands President Christopher J. Loeak as MCES chairman at the start of the Saipan summit held at Fiesta Resort & Spa.
The CNMI governor called on Micronesian islands to “continue our partnership with each other to demand action against large carbon emission producing nations devastatingly contributing to climate change and adversely impacting our fragile islands communities.”
“We are already seeing significant effects of climate change in our islands, our shorelines and our coral reef ecosystems,” Inos said.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said “now is the time for the United States to take a strong stand on climate change and 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 added.
The Guam governor assured his fellow leaders that he will bring to the U.S. presidential taskforce the pertinent information from Micronesia on climate change.
Echoing other leaders’ sentiments, Calvo 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.