SURANGEL WHIPPS, President of Palau, said that his country’s vulnerability to climate change, struggles with the high cost of imported food and goods as well as infrastructure challenges due to its remote location, highlight the unique challenges faced by small island developing States in their pursuit of sustainable development. The country’s new developmental perspective was borne out of a harsh lesson it first experienced in 2016 when it lost 13 per cent of its tourism strength, a situation which peaked to 98 per cent in 2021. This, in addition to the difficulty in accessing essential deliveries during and in the aftermath of the COVID‑19 pandemic grossly devasted its economy. “There are Palauans today who survived a war that was not of their own making — only to suffer from the ripple effects of another,” he said.
The Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, beyond aggravating his country’s economic situation, also underscores the connectedness of global economies, he said. He spotlighted the global security implications of the invasion and their corresponding effects on world order, stating that current happenings serve as a reminder of the urgent need for worldwide peace and security. Unequivocally condemning the Russian Federation’s aggression on Ukraine, he also urged the United Nations and concerned parties involved in the Taiwan Strait to de-escalate tensions. He noted migration as a significant problem faced by his country, having lost nearly 50 per cent of its population since 1994 to other climes in their quest to seek better opportunities. It is therefore imperative to stimulate dialogues and activities that would promote empowerment in a bid to discourage continuous exodus.
Similarly inimical to his country’s progress is the climate problem with cultural heritages and livelihoods severely impacted, and the imperatives of overcoming them crucial. Since his childhood, the island nation has shrunk by two‑thirds due to sea-level rise. Stating that G20 nations have a vital role to play in mitigating climate change impacts and reducing emissions, he pointed out that the fate of homes and cultures are at the risk of extinction “if we fail to take action on climate change”. He further called on the international community to increase access to climate action as it “is time to change matrix on accessing climate mitigation funds.” He also appealed that all parties ensure all commitments pledged are acted upon. Commending the success of COP26 and COP27, he advocated for a global Deep-Sea mining moratorium in adherence with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s precautionary principle.
He echoed United States President Biden’s call for Security Council reforms, advocating for a permanent seat on the Council for countries like Japan. He proposed abolishment of the veto power, also advocating for a change in Taiwan’s status within the United Nations, including its meaningful participation in crucial specialized agencies and processes such as the World Health Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as its “23 million people have much to offer to the world”. The world is under siege from war and climate change, threats that undermine sustainable development and drive poverty, including in the Pacific Islands. “We must act now to improve life across our shared ocean and world,” he said. Like the Palauan boy Tebang, who, unable to move a log alone, succeeded with his friends by chanting ‘it can move,’ he added: “We too can move mountains if we speak and act together”.
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