Bare-chested dancers beating drums greeted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday as she visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) to highlight the need to protect the Pacific island nation from climate change.
During her four-hour stop-over enroute from Asia to New Zealand, Clinton also called for an end to violence against women in the jungle-clad mountainous island nation, which has one of the world\’s highest incidents of rape.
\”As sea levels rise and storms increase, the very existence of countries in the Pacific are at risk,\” Clinton said after watching two students plant mangrove trees along the shore of the capital, Port Moresby.
Rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges, blamed on climate change, are already threatening several Pacific island nations, forcing people to abandon coastal villages.
Nations like PNG are trying to create barriers to the sea by planting mangroves along their shores and are shifting farms away from the coast to stop seawater inundation.
\”We have no time to lose to take meaningful, measurable actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,\” said Clinton.
Villagers on PNG\’s remote Cateret Islands became the first climate change refugees two years ago when they started abandoning their tiny coral atoll because of rising sea levels.
The PNG government is relocating some 2,700 islanders to the neighbouring and larger island of Bougainville. About 85 percent of PNG\’s population live a subsistence life.
The scattered island nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu are most at threat from rising sea levels in the South Pacific and have been at the forefront of island calls for big polluting nations like the United Sates to take action against global warming.
U.N. talks on a new climate pact have largely stalled over a split between rich and poor nations over sharing the burden in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations has played down expectations of any major breakthrough for major climate talks that begin in Mexico in less than a month.
Preserve environment, protect women
Clinton stressed that PNG needed to manage its energy windfall, while preserving its diverse environment.
PNG is a resource-rich nation with reserves of gold and gas.
U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil
But many in PNG fear the windfall from the country\’s biggest ever resource project could fuel corruption and violence.
PNG and the adjacent Indonesian province of West Papua account for the world\’s third-largest expanse of tropical rainforest after the Amazon and Congo, the United Nations says.
About 200 news species of animals and plants have been discovered in recent years in PNG\’s rugged interior.
But Greenpeace last week said PNG\’s efforts to protect its rainforests were being hindered by corruption and lack of political leadership. It said widespread logging had left only 55 percent of PNG\’s forests intact.
Clinton held talks with PNG Prime Sir Minister Michael Somare, covering issues from the environment to women\’s rights.
PNG\’s male-dominated society has one of the world\’s highest incidents of rape. An Australian AusAID report ranks PNG as 123 out of 136 nations for violence against women.
The group said the high rate of sexual violence against women in PNG added to the risk of contracting HIV, which was now an epidemic spreading across the general population.
Clinton said the U.S. government, Exxon and local groups would set up a mentoring programme \”aimed at ending the culture of violence against women and girls in Papua New Guinea\”.
\”If a woman or a girl can not be safe in her own home or safe in her own family or safe in her own community then that woman or girl will not have the chance to make the most out of her life,\” said Clinton.
The United States would also train PNG women to become political candidates in an effort to increase female representation beyond the sole woman MP, Dame Carol Kidu.