By Pita Ligaiula at COP28 in Dubai UAE

Pacific political champion for Gender and Social Inclusion, and Niue Minister for Natural Resources, Mona Ainu’u, Wednesday shared the stark realities facing the Pacific region in the context of climate change and the need for immediate global action on Oceans.

“I like to talk as a mother for Niue; we are a very small nation in a huge ocean state. We host the largest percentage of Tuna stock and a significant portion of aquatic food security in the Pacific. So, why not ask for assistance and invite people to experience our beautiful region?” Ainu’u questioned.

In her address at a side event on oceans, organised by the Office of Oceans Commissioner (OPOC) at the COP28 in Dubai, Ainu’u emphasised the importance of finding sustainable mechanisms to invest in and manage the ocean space, leading Niue to create Marine Protected Areas.

In 2017, Niue committed 40 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a marine protected area, including the pristine Beveridge Reef, an uninhabited atoll 120 miles from the island where fishing is banned and only scientific studies are allowed; a three-mile zone for traditional canoe fishing, sport fishing and scuba diving; a general ocean zone for foreign commercial fishing; and a conservation zone where vessels can pass through but not stop.

Acknowledging the challenges of monitoring and surveillance in the vast Pacific, Ainu’u expressed gratitude for the support from global partners. However, she stressed the pressing issues faced by the ocean, such as acidification and coral bleaching, affecting food security.

The Minister shared a personal view, recounting experiences with her 12-year-old daughter and the impact of climate change on their daily lives.

“The sea is getting worse, it’s getting warm, and aquatic species we rely on are disappearing,” Ainu’u said.

“As a mother, you need to fix everything for your children, but how can you fix something you have no control over?” she questioned. Ainu’u highlighted the heart-breaking words of her daughter, suggesting that inviting countries responsible for environmental harm might draw sympathy and action.

Ainu’u painted a grave picture of the harsh realities faced by Pacific nations, including the displacement of communities due to rising sea levels. Calling for global solidarity, she proposed a funding mechanism for marine protected areas, seeking a small contribution of NZ$12.50 (US$7.67) per annum, extended over 20 years.

“We are dying in the Pacific,” Ainu’u said.

Minister Ainu’u emphasised the urgent need for support. She called on the global community to sponsor marine protected areas, with the funds directed toward scholarships, marine life education, and biodiversity preservation.

Addressing larger nations advocating for fossil fuel reduction, Ainu’u stressed the unique challenges faced by Pacific nations, where traditional means of transportation are impractical.

“We can’t drive if we are drowning; you have to learn to swim,” she said.

In a plea directed at development partners and future COP presidencies, Ainu’u urged a genuine understanding of the Pacific’s struggles.

She expressed hope for positive outcomes at COP28, praying for a successful COP31 bid by Australia, with a call to showcase Pacific activities to truly understand the region’s beauty and challenges.