SYDNEY - One of the South Pacific’s longest serving leaders, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, told a meeting in Australia that climate change is an “existential threat” to island nations and that any world leader who denies climate change exists should be taken to a psychiatric facility.
Rising sea levels and erosion are threatening low-lying communities in the South Pacific. Some small islands have already disappeared in what many islanders consider the first signs that climate change has the power to overwhelm vulnerable areas.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute, an independent think-tank in Sydney, Sailele urged Australia to make deeper cuts to its carbon emissions to help protect Pacific island nations. Australia is still highly dependent on coal for power generation and has some of the world’s highest per capita levels of greenhouse gas pollution.
“We all know the solutions, and all that is left would be some political courage, some political guts, and any leader of those countries who believes that there is no climate change, I think he ought to be taken to a mental confinement,” Sailele said. “He is utter(ly) stupid.”
The long-serving Samoan leader also said that Australia’s attitudes toward the South Pacific have been patronizing, and he said that despite China’s growing diplomatic and commercial influence, the independence and autonomy of regional states should be respected.
The prime minister’s governing Human Rights Protection Party won a landslide victory in a parliamentary election in March 2016. The result confirmed Sailele’s fifth term as leader.
Samoa has a population of about 200,000 people. The archipelago was governed by New Zealand until a vote for independence in 1961. The mainstays of the economy are fishing and agriculture.
Samoa lies about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean.