RAROTONGA, 19JUNE 2017 (NZ HERALD)—- Cook Islands PM Henry Puna says the U.S has isolated itself in the Pacific region in its actions on climate change, and says there are others to fill the gap – including China, India and Russia.

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Puna met Prime Minister Bill English in the Cook Islands last week, having just returned from the UN Oceans Conference in New York.

Asked if he was concerned about U.S President Donald Trump given the US change in stance on climate change, Puna replied to answer would be a “political mistake”.

However, he pointed to actions the Trump administration has taken such as halting payments to a fund to help countries at risk from climate changes and announcing the US was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

He said at the UN Oceans Conference there was deathly silence after a US presentation while other nations including China, Russia, the EU and India spoke out strongly in support of the conference’s aims.

“To me, that was a clear demonstration of where the global unity lay. At the moment, it’s easy to see that sadly, America is isolated and the other countries are prepared to step into the vacuum of leadership that is left by America.”

English later said it was clear the climate change issue was “top of mind” in the Pacific as was a belief the US was isolating itself from the region.

“That’s the feeling here. The US has gone off in a different direction.”

He said it had not changed other countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement or the level of anxiety in the Pacific about it.

Puna has also called for the oceans to be treated as a living entity, citing the example of New Zealand’s treatment of the Whanganui River under a Treaty settlement.

He raised that with English as well, saying in some parts of the world, the ocean was effectively used as a dump and that affected the rest of the ocean.

“By floating the idea of maybe giving this ocean the identity of a living personality, so that they can have rights, maybe it is one way of drawing the attention of the whole world to the need – the very urgent need now – of us having to protect the oceans and not use it as a dumping ground.”

Asked if New Zealand would support such a proposal English said it was unlikely it would go down that path, but the objective of it to manage environmental damage was sound.

“When you’ve got climate change concerns it’s really quite a big deal and I think they’re looking around for any tool they can to get better management of their oceans.”

He said the Cook Islands had taken some fairly significant steps with marine protected areas and fisheries.

“We are fully supportive of the direction the Cook Islands is going, we’d need further discussion about the concept that’s been floated,” he said…PACNEWS [/restrict]