Thank you very much and I am delighted to be here and to have this opportunity to see for myself the efforts that the government and people of Papua New Guinea are making to combat climate change and to protect this beautiful environment. I want to thank the Honorable Benny Allan, Minister of Environment and Conservation; Dr. Wari Iamo, Secretary for Environment and Conservation; Dr. Augustine Mungkaje, Acting Director of this research center and the Mangrove project; and I particularly want to thank a young woman who was here with us today, thank you so much to Mazzella Maniwave . We are very grateful that you could be here in honor of your father’s work, because I think it’s only appropriate that we recognize his knowledge and his passion for protecting mangrove development along the coast. And he inspired many people, including our United States ambassador who provided an initial grant to support this research center where his work lives on. And I also am delighted that so many of you from the government and from the educational, conservation, and environmental communities here in Papua New Guinea are with us.
We are here both to celebrate and protect the future of Papua New Guinea’s mangrove forests. These forests are just one piece of the extraordinary biodiversity that makes Papua New Guinea a place unlike any other in the world. Those of you who live here know that. But for those of us who are here first time, it is so extraordinarily important that we recognize that Papua New Guinea has the largest tropical area in the Pacific – it is the home to the greatest marine biodiversity on the planet, thousands of kilometers of coral reefs and hundreds of animal species, including dozens that have only been recently discovered. So the people of this country are rightly proud of the beauty and richness of their homeland. And I know how important it is to preserve that, and the United States wants to be your partner in doing so.
Now mangroves have many benefits. They prevent tidal erosion, they protect coasts from storms. Their roots are an ecosystem in themselves, home to many sea creatures, and they generate oxygen and remove carbon from the atmosphere. Some say they serve as the lungs of the earth. So every time we take one of these little plants and plant it, we are helping to improve the environment and protect not only animal species, but indeed human life as well.
Now because they play several roles, the loss of mangroves and other tropical forests has broad and dangerous consequences not only for Papua New Guinea, but for the entire world. Deforestation of the world’s coastal and interior forests accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of all the carbon emissions that are part of global warming. This statistic is so great, but it points to a solution: If we can protect our forests, if we can prohibit illegal logging, we can make significant progress in protecting this island nation and others from the effects of climate change.
As sea levels rise and storms increase, the very existence of countries in the Pacific are at risk, and we have no time to lose to take meaningful, measurable actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
I’m very impressed with what is happening here in Papua New Guinea, but the rest of the world has to help you. We made a commitment at Copenhagen that we would set near-term targets and actions as well as long-term goals, and we needed everyone to participate in some way. And I’m proud that the United States has made a commitment, but we need to do more. And later this month, the world will meet again in Cancun and we have to keep going in our fight against climate change.
As part of our commitment, the United States has pledged to reduce our own carbon footprint and we want to help countries like Papua New Guinea to be able to adapt to climate change and to prevent its effects. We will be looking for ways to assist you. We’re already working together through the Coral Triangle Initiative to protect marine biodiversity and improve your capacity to manage coastal areas. We are promoting innovations with your agriculture sector through improved water collection systems and the use of crop varieties that are more resistant to drought and more tolerant of water salinization so farmers along the coast can continue to grow their crops. And in recognition of the very real dangers of climate change, we are working to improve disaster awareness, including installing advance warning systems so people will have enough notice to get out of danger.
We’ve asked Congress to approve more than $100 million in climate-related funding to small island development states. And of that funding, more than 20 million will be targeted specifically for Pacific Island countries, including Papua New Guinea.
I think that the partnership that the United States and your country have had over years is one that we take great pride in and are very grateful for. But now in the 21st century, we have to find new ways to partner. We have to look at how we help each other and, particularly from the United States, how we help you, how we help you deal with all of the challenges and the opportunities that you are confronting in today’s world.
We know a lot of work lies ahead. This will not be easy. Replacing the mangroves forest will not be easy. You do it one tree at a time. But if enough people do it, then you do provide the protection. So if enough people work together to make climate change a reality in the minds of those who have to make decisions, and not, as you said, sir, a theoretical danger, because it’s a real danger, then the United States will partner with you to find ways to help protect this beautiful country and to provide employment and other opportunities that will give Papua New Guinea a very bright future indeed.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)