Good afternoon to everyone.
I’m happy to be here with you to celebrate Pacific Day 2015.
I’d like to express my appreciation to the Embassy of New Zealand for hosting this event. New Zealand and the United States are partners on many issues, and environmental protection is on top of the list. We have been working together to fight illegal fishing, create new marine protected areas, and combat climate change. Let me also commend President Remengesau for his insightful opening remarks, and thank Ambassador Kyota for inviting me here today. I first met President Remengasau last year when he attended Secretary Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference at the State Department. There President Remengesau announced several bold initiatives showcasing his leadership in marine protection, such as the new National Marine Sanctuary covering Palau’s EEZ.
Over the past year, we’ve continued to push forward an aggressive ocean conservation agenda. With my time today, I thought I would update you on the progress we’ve made, and discuss some of the related climate and renewable energy challenges and opportunities we all face.
The nations of the Pacific were front and center at the Our Oceans conference last year, including high-level representatives from nearly all the nations represented here today. Together, we made unprecedented commitments. In addition to commitments by Palau, Kiribati announced a ban on commercial fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area – and the Cook Islands proposed a new protected area. All of the countries made announcements to crack down on illegal fishing.
In the United States, we’ve taken some important steps on illegal fishing over the past year. President Obama created a comprehensive task force to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud here at home and around the world which I co-chaired. We are in the process of developing a system to keep illegally caught seafood out of the United States by tracking it throughout the supply chain – from harvest or farm to market.
Because the United States imports about 90% of the seafood we consume and because we are one of the largest importers of seafood in the world, we hope this traceability program will help facilitate a significant crackdown on illegal fishing around the globe.
The task force also highlighted the need to share data globally and to develop innovative technologies to monitor and enforce IUU fishing. This type of work is being demonstrated today in Palau and is gaining traction in other Pacific nations.
With 30 percent of the global fish stock overfished, we need to improve fisheries management around the world. To that end, I urge all of the Pacific nations to follow New Zealand’s lead and work with us to bring into force the Port State Measures Agreement. This is a new international treaty that would block illegally caught seafood from entering the stream of commerce around the world.
We are also focused on our negotiations with Pacific Island parties on the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. We are working hard to achieve an outcome that meets the economic objectives of both sides while contributing to an effective and transparent conservation and management regime.
Marine Protected Areas
We’ve also made significant progress expanding our Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, over the past year.
We are more than doubling the size of two National Marine Sanctuaries off California. These are waters that support a vast array of sea life, including 25 endangered or threatened species.
We’ve also created in the Pacific the world’s largest marine protected area, completely off limits to all commercial activities.
We are working with Kiribati to strengthen research and conservation in the Pacific Remote Islands Monument and the neighboring Phoenix Islands Protected Area, recognizing the connections between those two ecosystems.
But, we must all work together to ensure that these and other MPAs are not just “paper parks.” We need effective enforcement of these MPAs in the Pacific and around the globe. Palau’s efforts are helping to demonstrate what can be done with technology in this arena.
Our Ocean conference also highlighted the problems of marine pollution, which are particularly acute in the Pacific. The giant gyre of plastic pollution in the Pacific has become a symbol of the need for action.
8 million metric tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean in 2010 – enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world. This plastic entangles sea creatures and damages habitats like coral reefs. It breaks down into non-biodegradable microplastics, which are eaten by fish that are then eaten by people.
Plastic waste in the ocean is a problem we know how to solve. We are working through a variety of fora to try to solve it, including in the G-7 and through APEC. We need to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce; improve systems for waste collection and management; and reuse and recycle plastics whenever possible.
Waste-to-energy projects and recycling innovations also hold great promise. In the United States and around the world, people, businesses, development banks and governments are taking action: from charging for plastic bags; prohibiting the sale of microplastics; increasing accessibility of recycling; to articulating policy strategies around the globe.
Besides adding plastic waste into the ocean, we are also adding carbon, which is changing the ocean’s chemistry. Since the industrial revolution, the ocean has become about 26% more acidic – with serious consequences for marine life and, ultimately, for us.
In partnership with “SPREP” and New Zealand, we organized a workshop on ocean acidification in Samoa and we are exploring future capacity building opportunities as well. We need to achieve global coverage of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network. We also need sustained, global action to address the root causes of ocean acidification.
And that is why I’d also like to say a few words about climate and energy. Secretary Kerry has made tackling climate change a major international priority, and we recognize the urgent nature of the climate challenge for Pacific Islands.
We are deeply committed to helping to address your clear priority: adaptation. Since 2010 we have announced over $60 million in bilateral adaptation support for the Pacific small island developing states (SIDS). Last November, President Obama also announced a pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which prioritizes adaptation and the needs of SIDS.
We are working hard to reduce our emissions at home, and to encourage other major emitters to do the same. The joint U.S.-China announcement last year on intended emission reduction targets was key to this. We also announced our target to the UNFCCC in March, pledging to reduce climate pollution 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
We undertook this because we know we must conclude a successful climate agreement in Paris in December. We have an historic opportunity to put the world on a path to a low carbon future. We hope to work collaboratively with you to get it right.
Of course, expanding the use of renewable energy is a critical part of the climate equation. We’ve seen major gains in renewables since President Obama took office. We’ve more than doubled the amount of wind, solar, and geothermal power for U.S. homes and businesses, and we’re on track to double that again by 2020.
The Pacific Islands face unique energy challenges. But with abundant wind, sun, wave and in some cases, geothermal activity, the potential for renewable energy in the region is vast.
I would like to commend New Zealand for mobilizing almost $500M in pledges to support close to 40 renewable energy projects throughout the region during the Pacific Energy Summit, held in March 2013.
We also want to build on existing U.S. clean energy programs for the region, like the Department of Interior’s technical support to the Freely Associated States. We look forward to the workshop we’ll be holding in Hawaii in July for the Pacific region to share best practices and lessons learned for deploying clean energy in small island nations.
I’ve covered a lot of territory quickly in my remarks, and I hope we can get into more detail in the Q&A session. But I do want to close by reiterating how much we appreciate our cooperation with New Zealand and the Pacific Islands on all of these issues.
We look forward to building on this cooperation at the second Our Ocean conference in October in Chile, and are pushing for a range of ambitious outcomes. We have some commitments in the works on marine protected areas and marine debris, among others, and hope to see additional commitments from you as well.
We are in the “Pacific Century.” We recognize and fully appreciate the critical importance of the Pacific and its nations to the world economy, security, environment and overall stability. And it’s no exaggeration to say that the health of the Pacific is a proxy for the health of the planet.
Thank you for the chance to speak here today, and I look forward to honoring Pacific Day with you all.