POHIVA TU‘I‘ONETOA, Prime Minister of Tonga, pointed out that although his country remained COVID-19‑free, it was not spared from the socioeconomic consequences thereof. Tonga was the third country in the Pacific to receive the COVID-19 vaccine doses in March through the COVAX Facility. Approximately one third of the population has already been vaccinated and the Government is aiming to vaccinate up to 70 per cent by the end of 2022. Accordingly, he called for timely and equitable access to vaccines while supporting a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights waiver.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat facing the blue Pacific while recommitting to the goals of the Paris Agreement,” he said, highlighting that Tonga was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change due to geographical and economic factors. It was ranked by the 2017 World Risk Report as the second‑most at-risk country in the world to natural disasters, such as cyclones, flooding and sea‑level rise. While the country contributes a negligible amount to global greenhouse‑gas emissions, his Government supports the goal of limiting global warming through the submission of nationally determined contributions.
He went on to express concern about the threat posed by sea‑level rise to the Pacific region, underscoring that maritime zones must be delineated in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and should not be challenged due to climate‑change‑related sea‑level rise. If countries fail to reduce greenhouse‑gas emissions, it will result in an increase on average of sea level. The Pacific region, because of its setting of low-lying small island States and atolls, was experiencing sea‑level rise in a more extensive form than others. Thus, low-lying coasts such as Tonga will only have a short time to adapt. These impacts hinder the progress of achieving Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, he stressed.
“Achieving the crucial goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is a moral obligation of each country,” he emphasized, calling on major emitters to commit to stronger climate action to achieve a net‑zero carbon by 2050. The sustainable use of ocean resources is critical, given the strong linkages between the people of the Pacific region and the ocean. Therefore, urgent actions are needed on the achievement of ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the Samoa Pathway. It was disheartening to see how the pandemic caused major disruptions in the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda, he said, reaffirming his country’s commitment to sustainable development and resilience through multilateralism.
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