New Zealand to make climate change pledge as Pacific leaders meet amid regional tension
Representing New Zealand as the first deputy PM of Pacific descent at the Pacific Island Forum Special Leaders Meeting, Carmel Sepuloni was off to a quick start, walking from the plane into 27 degree heat and official meetings with top leaders. Hours after her first bilateral meeting as deputy PM with Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka on Thursday, Sepuloni left a welcome ceremony with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on the way to dinner. Stuff understands New Zealand is set to pledge funding to the Pacific for climate change science to help with the hard-hit and hugely depended-on fishing industry. Much hope hinges on unity to provide a strong front in the face of rising tension spurred by regional interest and the first-hand experience of climate change hitting more and more countries in the Pacific. READ MORE: * Carmel Sepuloni meets Fijian PM ahead of 'important' Pacific gathering * Pacific reunification sealed as Kiribati is welcomed back to the Forum family * Pacific Island Forum meeting politically, personally important to deputy PM * Deputy PM Carmel Sepuloni to attend Pacific leaders' meeting Solidarity weighed heavily on the minds of leaders. The need for face-to-face meetings - scuppered previously by Covid was a theme felt throughout the forum. A collective sigh of relief was felt at the forum during the embrace of Pacific Islands Forum secretary-general Henry Puna and Kiribati President Taneti Maamau. The fifth Pacific Island Forum Special Leaders Retreat, held when there were pressing matters, saw the significant return of Kiribati, after withdrawing support mid-2022 due to the regional body's leadership. Sepuloni said it was important New Zealand was standing alongside other Pacific leaders to welcome them back with open arms. It's really important that we are connected and that this strength across those relationships. The warm welcome matched the warm weather. Tourists donned in tee-shirts and jandals mixed with high level leaders and officials in the lobby, waiting for the bula bus, an open truck topped with a thatched roof, to take tourists between the hotel, the waterpark and the golf course on Denarau Island. Early afternoon, the rooms were still being set up, with a slick set being assembled for the traditional welcome ceremony. On why it was important for New Zealand to be represented at a time that it was beginning the recovery with the threat of more rain , Sepuloni said the the people and the islands in the Pacific are part of the Pacific family and we're part of that family. Only minutes after her first official bilateral meeting as deputy prime minister, Sepuloni fronted media and said Rabuka reinforced we are a family and every now and then there may be some niggles, but we need to make sure that we continue to work together. Labour mobility, climate change, post-Covid economic and tourism recovery, set to also be discussed at the leaders meeting on Friday, were covered by Sepuloni and Rabuka during their meeting. Despite recent qualms over the RSE scheme, including some Pacific workers facing human rights violations, economic exploitation and substandard living conditions when working in New Zealand, Sepuloni was steadfast that Rabuka didn't have anything negative to say about the RSE scheme in relation to Fijian workers, which is heartening to hear. And we just agreed that it's something that we want to continue to work on so that both countries can get the best out of the scheme. Tensions in the Pacific between the United States and China was not brought up. Sepuloni thanked Rambuka for the 33 Fijian defence force, fire and emergency staff he was sending, set to hitch a ride back to Wellington with Sepuloni on Friday, before helping with the recovery. Its a win-win, Sepuloni said. Also discussed was Rabukas connection to New Zealand In 1974, he was the flag bearer for Fiji at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand... and also his connections to the Defence Force, his family live in New Lynn, and actually one of his grandchildren go to a school in my (Kelston) electorate. Sepuloni also had connections to Fiji of her own. 'Im married to a Fijian man and in fact we were here to see our Fijian family just over the summer break. On Japans plan to release treated, but still radioactive, wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, Sepuloni said we want to see the science, we've seen the science so far, it shows that what is happening is safe. We've been given that assurance from Japan, and that is what the Pacific leaders collectively have wanted to see.