Micronesian Leaders Meet To Discuss Climate Change Strategies

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Presidents examine ‘debt-swap’ measures in Caribbean countries

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 9, 2012) – Micronesian leaders agreed Thursday to pursue a "debt swap" strategy for climate change mitigation together with exploring ocean thermal energy conversion, or "OTEC," as key measures to combat the global carbon emissions problem that is threatening these small island nations with rising seas.

"We cannot afford delays" in climate change action, said Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak Thursday, who was joined by Palau President Johnson Toribiong and Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori at the 12th annual Micronesia Presidents Summit held in Majuro this week. Loeak said the Marshall Islands is pushing forward with a debt swap plan that is now going into operation in several Caribbean nations.

In the communiqué they signed Thursday, the three presidents agreed to collaborate on the debt swap proposal and to participate in a workshop in the Marshall Islands scheduled for October that is being facilitated by The Nature Conservancy. The international NGO is currently implementing the debt swap strategy in the Caribbean.

"This innovative financing mechanism, which could be applied in the Pacific, is linked to improving the environment — for example through the goals of the Micronesia Challenge to set aside 30 percent of reefs and 20 percent of terrestrial resources in managed conservation areas," said Marshall Islands climate change advisor Steve Why.

"Countries can use debt re-financing to establish national climate adaptation trusts to sustainably finance their local adaptation."

The Marshall Islands is seeking donor funding for a $3 million OTEC feasibility study, for what could become the Pacific’s first commercial application of the alternative power source. The presidents agreed to "explore OTEC’s sub-regional potential."

The presidents discussed air service opportunities with Nauru’s Our Airline and Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines. They also called for a meeting with high-level officials in United Airlines, which has recently taken over service connecting the Micronesia area with Guam and Hawaii through its merger with Continental Airlines. FSM President Mori noted that Continental’s air service agreement with his country expired last year and nothing has yet been done by United to renew it.

"We’d like to ask United what it is prepared to do to improve air services," Mori said. "We want to sit down together as business partners."

At the summit, it was agreed that officials from the three island nations will meet in Palau soon to discuss strategy, with the aim of meeting with United Airlines officials in the U.S. at a later date. While understanding that the island market is small, Mori said all three countries are keen to see competition on the air route in which United now maintains a monopoly.

The Marshall Islands gained the support of its two neighbors in a bid to host next year’s annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum — the gathering of all heads of state in the region — and to host a new sub-regional environment program office in Majuro.

The Marshall Islands is requesting that the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Program consider Majuro as the location for a new north Pacific sub-regional office that is under consideration.

The three presidents endorsed the FSM’s interest in hosting a secretariat for the Sasakawa Peace Foundation of Japan’s initiative to strengthen marine surveillance in the Micronesian region.

The leaders also expressed appreciation for Japan’s recently announced commitment to provide up to $500 million in development aid over the next three years to islands in the region.

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