Remarks at Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell
September 6, 2013
As prepared for delivery
Thank you very much for the warm welcome, President Loeak. It is a pleasure to be here in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
I am honored to be the first Secretary of the Interior of the United States to participate in the Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue. I appreciate the famous island hospitality the entire American delegation has been shown by the Marshallese people.
I want to thank Lieutenant General Conant, Admiral Thomas, Ambassador Armbruster and the many other leaders and U.S. representatives joining me today. On behalf of my delegation and our government, we express our deep appreciation to President Loeak, the government and people of the Marshall Islands, Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Slade and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and many others who have worked so hard to host such an important event.
The Pacific Islands Forum is a body essential to the political and economic growth of the Pacific, and it is a body of leaders that have addressed increasingly important challenges across the region. The United States has partnered with the Pacific Islands Forum in many ways, and my presence here is one symbol of that partnership and our ongoing commitment to the region.
At the Department of the Interior, we have administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and oversight of federal programs and funds in the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. We take these roles very seriously.
One of the reasons I’m here today is because of President Obama. As you know, he has deep roots in Hawaii, America’s own bridge to the Pacific. This Administration has made a smart and strategic commitment to rebalance our interests and investments in the Asia-Pacific region.
President Obama recognizes that this is a vast and dynamic region, a key driver of global and economic politics and a vital economic and strategic partner. He knows and cares about your countries and is serious about working with you on issues of mutual interest.
President Obama himself met with Pacific Island Leaders at Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 2011. Secretary Clinton, of course, held numerous high-level meetings, including last year when she was the first Secretary of State to attend the Post-Forum Dialogue in the Cook Islands.
I am also here to honor the deep and long-standing ties the United States has with the countries of the Pacific. We have been steady friends and partners for over a century.
This history includes the extraordinary sacrifices that Americans made on many of the Islands represented here over 70 years ago. It includes the ways that we have worked together to protect the security and sea lanes of this region so that you can trade and travel freely. It includes the consistent common positions we agree on at the United Nations, including on key controversial issues.
And this history includes the contribution of many Pacific countries to international peacekeeping efforts and for the Freely Associated States, to our security. Citizens of the Freely Associated States serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many have given their lives in service of our country.
Our countries are bound by shared interest, and more importantly, common values and goals for our safe, secure and prosperous future.
We are working to strengthen these long-term commitments when it comes to issues, like: climate change, economic development, conservation, good governance, transnational crime, nuclear security and safety, and transparent and democratic institutions, to name just a few.
When it comes to regional stability, the United States looks at ways to strengthen cooperation across the Pacific on urgent transnational and maritime security issues.
The military is ready to respond to a disaster as has been done many times in this region. They partner with islands using civic action teams to help build fire stations, roads and schools. The USS Pearl Harbor was just here on its Pacific partnership visiting many of the nations and delivering medical and dental care.
From the Coast Guard to the Navy and beyond, we are partners on issues related to crime, trafficking in persons, nuclear non-proliferation, unexploded ordinance removal, and disaster response and preparedness.
Regarding economic development, the United States recognizes that fisheries make significant contributions – not just to the Pacific Islands’ economy – but also for your food security and traditional culture. We are committed to working together with other Pacific countries to achieve the sustainable management of Pacific fisheries resources and to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
When it comes to the Tuna Treaty, we are pleased that at the most recent negotiation session in the Solomon Islands we were able to conclude an interim arrangement to ensure the operational continuity of the Treaty through December 2014. We look forward to broader negotiations for a more comprehensive and durable Treaty extension that will ensure sustainability and a fair, transparent return for all our partners.
The United States agrees that the 2014 Small Island Developing States Conference to be hosted by Samoa is an important venue in which to discuss sustainable development issues, and we expect the meeting to produce a well-focused outcome, and are actively examining how we can support Samoa in that endeavor.
As part of our commitment to the Pacific region, the United States must also continue to promote universal values, such as transparency, rule of law, human rights, and good governance. We do this not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because now, more than ever, human rights and governance failings in countries around the world have consequences for all of our national interests – from economic and monetary policy to national security.
Finally, we appreciate the leadership that the Republic of Marshall Islands has shown in focusing this year’s Pacific Islands Forum on climate change. I look forward to participating in a discussion this afternoon specifically on this issue.
The United States, as a Pacific Island Forum partner, lends its support to the overall objectives of the Majuro Declaration and welcomes the invitation to provide a submission reflecting recently announced actions that will further enhance our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. We intend to submit President Obama’s recently announced Climate Action Plan by reference to the Pacific Islands Forum to highlight recent actions we have taken to meet our specific commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Climate change is a defining challenge of our time. This trip that I am on has taken me from 71 degrees north latitude to today, at 7 degrees north latitude. That is from Barrow, Alaska – the tip of the coastal plain in the Arctic – to here. I have seen glaciers melting up close. I have watched coastal erosion on the northern coast of Alaksa. What happens in Alaska impacts you. What happens around the world impacts you more than anyone else, and that fact is obvious flying into the Marshall Islands.
I know that the Pacific Islands are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. From high rates of sea level rise to increased frequency of droughts and intensity of storms, the Pacific Islands are at the tip of the spear.
You in the Pacific Islands are tied to the ocean. We know the implications for you for food and water security, human health and ecosystems because we are experiencing them too – in Hawaii and our Pacific flag territories, as well as in the continental US.
You are making great strides to understand and adapt to these impacts and we are glad to partner with you on some of these efforts. This year we are pleased to announce that USAID has launched a new procurement, of $20-$24 million, subject to the availability of funds, for the Pacific American Climate (PAC) Fund to provide and monitor grants for climate change adaptation measures to qualifying sub-grantees. The PAC Fund acticity will reduce long-term vulnerabilities associated with climate change, achieve sustainable climate-resilient community-level development, and provide USAID a platform to fund adaptation measures in the Pacific.
President Obama has made combating climate change a top priority for the United States. In June, he released his Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change, both at home and internationally.
The United States has made significant progress in reducing our emissions in recent years – nearly 7 percent since 2005 – and the President has put into place actions across our energy sector to help meet the pledge we made in Copenhagen to reduce our emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.
But we know that we need to do more – and that we can’t solve this problem alone. The President’s climate action plan underscores the importance of collective action, including through the UN negotiations, in tackling this challenge. Together, we must forge a truly global solution to this global challenge.
Thank you, again, for the warm welcome. I appreciate the frank and open dialogue you are promoting on these major issues. I look forward to many more years of friendship and partnership between the United States and the nations and the people of the Pacific as we work toward a more prosperous, secure, healthy and stable region.