Puna said Bainimarama’s message at the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu was spot on. “I thought his message was direct and consolatory and respectful. I agree with him fully and I think that is a position the Cook Islands and the whole of the forum should take.
“Sitting back from a distance and throwing stones won’t make a difference,” said Puna.
Bainimarama who hasn’t attended the Pacific Islands Forum since 2009 after disputing Australia and New Zealand’s influence on Pacific Islands discussions, said “I want to say this to the Australians in particular about the issue of coal in relation to our collective quest for a carbon free future: Fiji recognises that coal has always been an important part of the Australian economy, as an export revenue earner and for your national energy security. It has enabled you to build a strong economy that also gives you the means to support our region.”
Puna is very happy about Bainimarama’s return to the forum and said what is important is for the leaders to be friends and then start sharing views.
Although Australia is committed to taking strong domestic and international action on climate change, they have not been able to meet the Paris Agreement goals for sustainable carbon emissions.
Following strong criticisms, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered $500 million to fight climate change in the Pacific Islands.
Puna said he expects to get more details on this during the Pacific Islands leaders retreat.
“There has been a renewed effort from Australia to actively engage with us and the whole region,” said Puna.
“We need to be respectful of each other and have consideration for Australia’s domestic circumstances. You can’t expect the country to change overnight, and change never happens overnight, it takes time.”
But now, he said the Pacific is being heard because “we work together as a team”.
“Individually our voice would not be registered on the global stage but collectively we can make a difference and our voice can be heard,” said Puna.
Puna said the perfect example of this was in 2015 leading up to the Paris climate change conference where the whole Pacific region was able to come together and spread the climate change message around the world.
“Surprise, our voices were registered, and they made a lot of difference and impact in the conference - so much so that contrary to the critics, we did come to an accord in Paris on climate change,” said Puna.