The prime minister of Samoa has called climate change an “existential threat ... for all our Pacific family” and said that any world leader who denied climate change’s existence should be taken to a mental hospital.
In a searing speech delivered on Thursday night during a visit to Sydney, Tuilaepa Sailele berated leaders who fail to take climate change seriously, singling out Australia, as well as India, China and the US, which he said were the “three countries that are responsible for all this disaster”.
“Any leader of those countries who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.”
Speaking at the Lowy Institute, just days before the beginning of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, the Samoan prime minister seemed to take a swipe at Australia’s commitment to minimising the impact of climate change, which he called the “single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing peoples of the Pacific”.
“While climate change may be considered a slow onset threat by some in our region, its adverse impacts are already felt by our Pacific islands peoples and communities,” said Sailele. “Greater ambition is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade and Pacific island countries continue to urge faster action by all countries.”
Sailele said addressing climate change required “political guts” from leaders. “We all know the problem, we all know the causes, we all know the solutions. All that is left would be some political courage, some political guts to get out and tell the people of your country, ‘Do this, this, this, or there is any certainty of disaster.’”
Sailele’s speech comes as leaders of Pacific nations are preparing to meet at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week, where Australia is expected to face questions about its emissions targets.
Australia’s new prime minister, Scott Morrison, is under pressure from some members of his party to abandon Australia’s commitment to reducing emissions under the Paris agreement.
His immediate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, was due to attend the forum, but Morrison has announced he is sending his new foreign minister, Marisa Payne, a move the opposition Labor party condemned as “an insult to our neighbours” as well as “a serious strategic mistake”.
Saliele’s speech also touched on China’s rising influence in the Pacific, saying the region had become “an increasingly contested space”. “The big powers are doggedly pursuing strategies to widen and extend their reach, inculcating a far-reaching sense of insecurity.”