Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Sea levels Pacific's big worry

The presentation to the Pacific leaders of black jackets with a silver fern on the chest raised eyebrows in this Rugby World Cup year. Photo / Greg Bowker
The presentation to the Pacific leaders of black jackets with a silver fern on the chest raised eyebrows in this Rugby World Cup year. Photo / Greg Bowker

Pacific Islands Forum leaders have called for the urgent provision of international funds to help small countries at risk from climate change, saying the issue was the "single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific".

The leaders of 15 Pacific Island countries held their annual retreat on Waiheke Island yesterday - the high point of a week during which the visit of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ensured climate change was top of mind.

In a communique released after the meeting, the leaders said there was a "critical and urgent need" for finance to help countries affected by rising sea levels to cope with the problem, especially nations such as Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu where people have already been displaced.

They referred to a multibillion-dollar UN fund set up two years ago to help small countries adapt to climate change - but also said there was a need for more advice and systems for accessing and managing that funding by individual countries and region-wide.

In other decisions, Pacific Islands Forum leaders stuck to their former line on Fiji, despite pre-meeting talk about the need to lift the suspension and welcome the country back into the fold.

There was speculation the forum could send a more conciliatory message to Fiji after some leaders, including Kiribati Prime Minister Anote Tong and some Melanesian delegates, said they agreed with Commodore Frank Bainimarama's reforms and his 2014 timeframe.

However, the leaders resolved to keep the suspension although Fiji will be able to take part in officials' negotiations over a region-wide trade deal, Pacer Plus.

NZ Prime Minister John Key said the decision was by consensus, although the leaders had all voiced the wish to keep talking to Fiji and offer to help.

The leaders signed the Waiheke Declaration, which focused on developing fisheries, tourism and agriculture - all areas Mr Key said could create livelihoods for the people of the Pacific.

The decisions will have disappointed French Polynesia's President, Oscar Temaru, who travelled to New Zealand to lobby for support for the decolonisation of the French territory.

The leaders acknowledged Mr Temaru's desire for independence, but said an agreement should be reached with France on how to achieve that.

The closest the leaders came to a serious international incident was in the choice of "silly shirts" - this year black jackets with a silver fern on the chest.

The official line was the jackets would keep the leaders of tropical countries warm in Auckland. However, those with teams in the Rugby World Cup looked slightly uncomfortable at the remarkable similarity between the jackets and the All Blacks' jersey colour and badge.

Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she did not expect to get much wear out of hers, although Mr Key said she looked "great in black". He had taken the added insurance of giving her two All Black jerseys as well, so if she lost one she would have a spare.

Tonga's Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, said his jacket would be replaced by his team's red colours by the time Tonga took the field against the All Blacks for the opening game tonight.

Ms Gillard flew back to Australia last night but most other leaders are expected to attend the opening match.

- NZ Herald

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