Doorstop with Mr Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: COP27, impact of climate change in the Pacific

Minister Conroy: Hello I’m Pat Conroy, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific and I’m joined by His Excellency, Mr Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum. I've just finished my first bilateral meeting of the UN COP and it's very important that that first meeting was with Henry as the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum. That symbolises what this COP is all about for Australia, which is rebuilding our relationships with the Pacific and fighting for the Pacific.

And I, as the leader of the Australian delegation for the first week, have three goals. One is to spread the message that Australia is back. After a decade of inaction, Australia is back, playing a progressive role on climate change, being part of a global solution, intent on seizing the economic opportunities, the jobs dividend, that will come from the clean energy transition.

Secondly, I'm here talking to Pacific nations and other nations about the great opportunities that having a Pacific COP in 2026 provides. This is so important, symbolically. Too often at conferences like these, people talk about the Pacific, but we don't hear from the Pacific. And the Pacific is on the front line of climate change. There is no region more impacted by climate change than the Pacific and more with greater opportunities to seize the economic opportunities, the jobs dividend, from the clean energy transition. So that's the second role.

The third is to rebuild relationships with the Pacific after ten years of inaction by the last Australian Government. And importantly, throughout this process, what we intend on doing through the COP is driving momentum on implementation of the Glasgow Treaty. Importantly, that includes adaptation. It also includes climate financing, including loss and damage, looking at progressing that where it's appropriate. And thirdly, making sure that there is a laser-like focus on climate mitigation. We cannot lose sight of the 1.5 degree objective. And Australia is very focused on adding our voice to make sure that there is no backsliding and that in all these discussions, 1.5 must stay alive. So I'll leave my remarks there and invite Secretary General Puna to make his contribution and answer questions.

Secretary General Puna: Thank you, Minister Conroy. My name is Henry Puna. I'm the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum and I'm so happy to be here with the Minister Conroy to show the world that, yes, what the Minister is saying about Australia's closeness with the region is actually very real and serious and very refreshing, and I think it's an honour that the first bilateral that Australia is having at this United Nations COP is with the Pacific, and I truly appreciate that Minister.

Make no mistake - the Pacific region acknowledges Australia as a very, very important development partner. Not just a development partner, but also as a member of the Pacific Islands Forum. We are very, very close. But what Australia, the new government, has shown now is that Australia is taking a new refreshed approach to its relationship with the Pacific and it's reinforcing that, not just with words, but also with some real solid action. So thank you very much, Minister.

I'm here with Pacific leaders to reinforce the call to the international community to recommit to the Paris goal that was set out in the Paris Accord, on mitigation, on adaptation, loss and damage, but also, most importantly, for the Pacific to keep whole onto the 1.5 degrees target. Because to us that is absolutely critical, that is the bottom line. It ensures the survival of the Pacific, but also of the whole world. If we can't hold on to that 1.5 degree goal, then we don't have any future, mankind would not have any future.

So that really is the priority goal for the Pacific islands here at this COP27, and I'm heartened that this COP is referred to as the “Implementation COP”. And so it is our call to the world: let's be serious, come up with some new NDCs, National [indistinct]. Our climate change commitments, we need to be serious to them and we need to be serious about holding on to the 1.5 degrees. And thank you, Australia, for your support and we look forward to a very successful COP. Thank you.

Minister Conroy: Any questions?

Journalist: Secretary General, are you disappointed that Prime Minister Albanese couldn't be here himself?

Secretary General Puna: No, no, I'm not disappointed. Having the Minister here is a confirmation of Australia's support. Would have been nice, but we got to be realistic that leaders nowadays have so many, many commitments and even some of our leaders are not able to be here because of national commitment. So we understand and we accept.

Journalist: And do you feel that the Pacific and Australia are going to see eye to eye on some of the more contentious issues at the COP, particularly the loss and damage and the issue of finance? Are they going to be difficult conversations, even with a close partner like Australia?

Secretary General Puna: Oh look, you know, there's always difficult conversations, but between family members, between friends, nothing is impossible, but it's just sitting down and talking through those difficult issues. But already Australia has shown that they are serious about what they have said that they will do. And for us, that's very good. That's excellent.

Minister Conroy: And if I can supplement that, what you see from the new Australian Government is respectful discussions with not just the Pacific family, but everyone who has an interest in climate change. We will not shut down debate about climate change, we will not block discussions on climate change. We will fight for the right for the Pacific to be represented and for the Pacific voice to be heard. And if you're looking for demonstration of that in real life, we had a very strong intervention from Australian negotiators to fight for loss and damage to be included in the agenda for this COP, because we recognise that it's of significant interest to the Pacific and this is in stark contrast to previous actions of previous Australian Governments.

Journalist: Could I ask more specifically what you'll be looking for in terms of outcomes on loss and damage at this point?

Secretary General Puna: Well, I think that the mere fact that it's now on the agenda is huge progress and there's a lot of work to be done, but let's get it on the table for discussions first, and to me, with Australia's support, having that on the agenda is a marvellous first step. Let's take it one step at a time.

Journalist: Same question to you.

Minister Conroy: Well, I think Secretary Puna's answer is right. This is the start of the process, not the end of it. I know that it's got some years to run out, and it's very important that we go through this process carefully and listening to every view in the room. Too often, people rush these things. The Pacific way is consensus, and that's obviously what we're striving to achieve. But the important thing, as Secretary General Puna said is, for the first time - well first time in my memory of COPs, it's on the agenda, it will be discussed, and that's the start of the process.

Speaker: All right? Okay, we'll wrap it up there.

Minister Conroy: Thanks, everyone.

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