Japan to give $605 million to Pacific island nations to fight climate change

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers an opening speech at the plenary session of the seventh Pacific Islad Leaders Meeting in Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan on May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers an opening speech at the plenary session of the seventh Pacific Islad Leaders Meeting in Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan on May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday pledged US$453 million (S$605 million) in aid to Pacific island nations to help them combat climate change and natural disasters.

Mr Abe made the pledge as leaders of 14 Pacific island nations gathered for a two-day meeting that began on Friday in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, to discuss their development needs.

"As a pledge of the Japanese government, we will provide no less than 55 billion yen ($453 million) to you in the upcoming three years... in order to foster resilient capabilities that will not be defeated by climate change or disasters," Mr Abe told the meeting.

The seventh round of the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) came as host Japan attempts to boost its profile in the Pacific, at a time of growing Chinese economic and political influence in the region.

The meeting, held every three years, was also attended by senior officials from other regional powers, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United States.

Pacific island leaders have long complained about rising sea levels eroding their coastlines and of the increasing severity and frequency of extreme climate phenomena, such as super-typhoons, likely caused by global warming.

They have pushed developed nations - responsible for the much of the emissions associated with global warming - to extend help to cope with damage brought by harsh climate patterns.

Most recently, in March, Vanuatu was hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which killed 11 people when sustained winds of more than 250km per hour tore through the country, affecting about 166,600 inhabitants.

In the previous PALM round in 2012, Japan pledged up to US$500 million over three years to members, focused on damage mitigation efforts.

Japan decided to host this year's conference in Iwaki, southern Fukushima, to highlight the devastation wrought by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and the region's subsequent reconstruction.

The city is far enough from the crippled Fukushima nuclear reactors not to expose the guests to dangerous levels of radiation, but it still serves as a grim reminder of the world's worst atomic accident in a generation.

Ahead of the conference, Japan recognised as a sovereign state the tiny island nation of Niue, home to 1,611 inhabitants, and perched some 2,400km north-east of New Zealand.