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$16.5 million grant boosts Cook Islands’ climate resilience efforts

Thursday 8 February 2024 | Written by Candice Luke | Published in Economy, National, New Zealand, Regional

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$16.5 million grant boosts Cook Islands’ climate resilience efforts
Prime Minister Mark Brown and New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters at the PM’s Office in Avarua on February 7. CANDICE LUKE/ 24020788

A grant of $16.5 million is on its way to help the Cook Islands respond to climate change, announced New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters who visited Rarotonga yesterday.

The funds will go to projects such as renewable energy, cycle shelter upgrades, battery replacements and water security, as agreed with the Cook Islands. 

At a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday, PM Mark Brown reiterated the importance of climate finance, as the South Pacific is in the midst of cyclone season. 

Brown said early weather warning systems, which the country didn’t have 10 years ago, are critical to prepare for weather events with “ever increasing, ever stronger tropical cyclones and other more extreme weather conditions”.

Resilience in infrastructure is critical for the Cook Islands. 

“Climate finance plays a key role in that. Access to that finance, which is proven to be very difficult for Pacific countries.”

The $16.5m joins the pot of $150 million pledged to the Pacific Resilience Facility, established at the Pacific Islands Forum. 

Brown will head to the US on another pledging mission to build Cook Islands climate change resilience.

“It’s something that’s not new for Pacific countries. It’s an ongoing everyday experience.”

Peters said he was pleased to be in the Cook Islands and proud of the relationship between the nations, spanning back centuries to the “Great Migration”. 

The meeting was a chance for the Cook Islands to engage with New Zealand’s new coalition government.

Peters said it was great to see the level of economic recovery post-Covid-19, and Brown pointed out that a strong Cook Islands economy is good business for New Zealand.

“We might get a number of thousands of Kiwis coming through here but Cook Island companies would purchase over $200 million worth of goods and services from New Zealand companies,” Brown said.

The New Zealand delegation saw a presentation on deep sea mining, as the Cooks goes into the third year of deep-sea exploration this year.

Brown said at this point data is still being gathered, and he proposes that a “centre of excellence on deep ocean science” should be established in Rarotonga. 

The next stage is determining what type of technology is needed to harvest manganese nodules from the deep ocean, if they can be harvested in a way that ensures the protection of the ocean.  

Peters was not for or against the notion, stating that the Cook Islands has its own economic zone and laws, but he said the activity could mean “enormous wealth for the Cook Islands”.

“The reality is you’re talking about a massive, huge depth in the water. And there aren’t too many creatures that actually grow if you look at the weight of the water at that level,” Peters said.

With recent AUKUS submarine talks between Australia and New Zealand, Cook Islands nuclear-free standing was questioned. Brown said the Cook Islands stance mirrors that of all Pacific countries in wanting to keep the region nuclear weapons free, and nuclear free, but he is open to discussions with New Zealand, Australia and other countries. 

At the Pacific Islands Forum in November last year, the Rarotonga Treaty was revisited to look at issues like nuclear testing to make it more relevant to today’s context.

Brown says it is timely to have discussions about the Cook Islands nuclear free stance now. 

Deputy Prime Minister Peters and Minister for Health and Pacific Peoples Dr Shane Reti visited Rarotonga on the second day of their Pacific Mission which includes Tonga and Samoa. They left last night after attending the Waitangi Day reception hosted by the New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, Tui Dewes.