President Ilham Aliyev received Governor-General of Tuvalu, Prime Minister of Tonga, Foreign Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas-UPDATED

Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, received Tofiga Falani, Governor-General of Tuvalu, Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga and Frederick Audley Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, APA reports.

Welcoming the guests, President Ilham Aliyev said: Welcome. It is good to see you. I wish you a pleasant stay in Azerbaijan. It is glad to see our guests here to discuss important issues related to climate. I’d like to invite you to the conference, and hope you will be present at the opening of the conference. And it’s a good opportunity to talk about our bilateral agenda, how we can work together, and how we can support you with respect to this serious challenge of climate. Welcome. I know that you have a big program and a lot of meetings in Azerbaijan. So, I am sure you will have good impressions when you go back home.

Tofiga Falani, Governor-General of Tuvalu: Of course. Good morning, Mr. President, I am representing Tuvalu here. It is with great gratitude that I accept your invitation of the Government of Tuvalu. Therefore, my visit to your beautiful capital, Baku, is a clear manifestation of the strong diplomatic relations between our governments – the government of Azerbaijan and my government.

Mr. President, please kindly allow me to bring the following proposals to your attention. These mainly cover three broad areas. Number one top priorities for COP29. The launch of the “Loss and Damages Fund”. Finalizing the definition of a new collective quantitative target for climate finance. Taking action to prevent climate change and adopting a fair and equitable transition to clean energy.

Your Excellency, the issue of financing an adaptation project in Tuvalu to strengthen diplomatic ties between our countries, which will allow us to showcase the project’s results at COP29. We ask you to abolish the visa regime between our countries, beautiful Azerbaijan and Tuvalu, a small island country. We ask the government of Azerbaijan to allocate scholarships to students so that our talented young people could be admitted to your high-level universities and other technical colleges. And lastly, Mr. President, I am extending an invitation on behalf of our government to Your Excellency, Mr. President, to visit Tuvalu before COP29. Without taking your time, Mr. President, I want to thank you very much once again.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.

Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga: Mr. President, I would like to join the gratitude of the Governor-General of Tuvalu. Also, let me express my sincere thanks for the hospitality shown not only to me, but also to our representative delegation by the government of Azerbaijan. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

COP29 should be a turning point in addressing important issues not only globally, but specifically for small island nations. Mr. President, you are probably aware that climate change knows no borders. It doesn’t matter if it is a small or a big country. It just affects us all. We are grateful to Azerbaijan and especially to you for taking on this important task. This will not be an easy task. While we are here, we will support your leadership and your presidency of COP29 to identify ways to make this COP even more useful.

I have attended many COPs, and sometimes we ask ourselves whether it is worth coming here, especially if we consider that we are across the ocean. Therefore, the involvement of small island countries to join the discussion of what can be done at COP in Azerbaijan not only caused us a feeling of pleasant surprise, we also highly appreciate this step. I believe that from the point of view of the affected countries, we should consider what kind of issues will be discussed here and what priorities will be at the COP in Azerbaijan. This is an important step forward. We once again appreciate your courage and commitment to COP29 and believe that by working together, even small island nations can make COP29 a success and restore confidence in this international forum. Because we have been talking about climate change for a long time. For example, the issue of loss and damage has been raised by Tuvalu for more than 10 years, and only last year were we able to reach some agreement. We know there is a certain process, but it takes a long time. Especially at a time when we are all feeling the effects of climate change. People talk about this problem, but some of us are already feeling the effects of climate change. For example, the sea level rises. For example, we used to consider the issue of coastal retreat due to rising sea levels. In addition, we have natural disasters. We have very strong cyclones and, for example, there was a volcanic eruption and tsunami in Taha. These events forced the retreat of the coastal boundaries and complicated the whole issue from the point of view of the coast guard.

Therefore, we would like to propose the topic if coastal protection for discussion during your government’s presidency of COP29. I don’t want to talk about the Bahamas, but we, and Tuvalu anyway, are 99 percent surrounded by the ocean. Our area is quite small. We sometimes call ourselves a great ocean nation. But the reality is that we don’t have the resources and land, and we have to do what we can to protect the little area we have. A meeting of the leaders of the Pacific Ocean is organized every year. All 18 heads of state gather for an event called the Leaders’ Forum. This includes Australia and New Zealand. This year, the leaders will visit Tonga.

Your Excellency, I think this would be an appropriate venue for you or a representative of the COP presidency to present an overview of COP29 and gain the support of the small island states of the Pacific. We welcome the opportunity to discuss issues of importance to small island states with you and your representatives. Yes, we have an Alliance of Small Island States, and we can help promote the agenda within the UN. We would be delighted to see you or your representative in Tonga in the last week of August. There will be an opportunity to have a direct discussion with the leaders of the Pacific Ocean. We would be happy to cooperate with you in the few months leading up to COP29 in Azerbaijan. Mr. President, thank you once again for the invitation and hospitality.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.

Frederick Audley Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas: There is a saying among the judges of the Court of Appeal – when they do not want to draw up the decision themselves, they say: I agree with everything that has been said. I would like to start my words with this. The situation is the same when it comes to every country. First of all, I would like to apologize on behalf of our honorable Prime Minister, who is currently unable to be here due to another state visit. However, I have been instructed to express our gratitude to you for taking this work upon yourselves. Our Prime Minister will visit here in autumn to participate in COP29.

I would particularly like to mention the issue of attracting financial resources to the Loss and Damage Fund. I told the colleagues who met me at the airport that if the appropriate funding is attracted, it is even possible to build a breakwater that will bear the name of your country near the coast of the Bahamas. The breakwater I saw in the Caspian Sea made a deep impression on me. I heard about the Caspian Sea in my childhood. And now I was very pleased to see it with my own eyes.

However, as the Prime Minister mentioned, the serious issue here is tropical cyclones. Five years ago, just one hurricane cost the Bahamas 30 percent of its GDP, and we are still dealing with the aftermath. Because of the funding from the Loss and Damage Fund, huge breakwaters are under construction now, and the biggest challenge here for the Bahamas, the Caribbean in general, is that we are considered high-income countries. Many people do not take into account that natural disasters occur, and serious damage is done to the country. And then problems arise in attracting financial resources on preferential terms. For this reason, we are also working on making changes within the framework of international financial institutions in this regard.

Diplomatic relations with your country were established on a bilateral basis in May 2017. Our proposal at the moment is that we take this further and appoint non-resident ambassadors at this stage and achieve visa waivers through the ministries of foreign affairs. We already have such agreements with a number of countries. We think that this is an appropriate step in the direction of moving our relations forward. In short, I just want to point out that this issue is quite serious. The Prime Minister calls it an existential issue. Eighty percent of Bahamian land is only one meter above sea level. The highest point is 206 feet above sea level, i.e. not very high.

Last year, after speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, the Travelers Club showed me a presentation there. The presentation showed what the capital city of Nassau and the islands will be like in 2070 if we do not prevent this problem. Thirty percent of the island will be under water. In 2100, 70 percent will be under water. For this reason, the Prime Minister links this issue to our very existence. We do hope that this visit clarifies the understanding of the issue and gives us support, and thus we are able to move forward together in solving the issue. However, taking preventive measures and financing losses and damages should be mentioned again.

Thank you again for the invitation. I am sorry that the Prime Minister could not come here, and I sincerely wish to continue working with you in the coming months.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you very much, once again. Thank you for visiting us. It’s a good opportunity to talk about our bilateral agenda and also issues related to COP29. We have been assigned with this mission by unanimous decision of almost 200 countries. This is a sign of respect for Azerbaijan and also sign of the understanding that we can deliver results. As you know, we chaired the Non-Aligned Movement for four years, also elected with the unanimous decision. When we handed over our chairmanship to Uganda, we already created the substantial legacy of tangible results, institutional development and also supporting countries, which needed support during the difficult times of COVID and also bringing this issue on the highest possible level. A special session of the UN General Assembly was organized by our initiative.

Now when we are chairing COP29, we look at it from practical point of view. We know that there have been a lot of discussions with respect that there is a lot of talks but no many results. Our position was always very practical and pragmatic. We want to deliver results. The most important topic, which will be discussed during the conference, is finance. So, we are actively working on allocation of financing in order to deal with this issue. But also we understand that for some countries climate change is a problem, but for some countries it’s a matter of their existence. We clearly understand it. Helping small island states for us is something, which we consider as our moral duty. So, we can promise you that the issue of small island states and their support, their protection will be in the center of discussions. We as the president of COP29 will bring it to the spotlight. We are suggesting and also lead consultations with other small island states to convene meeting of high-level representatives during COP. And also we are already discussing with some partners what can be a practical and financial contribution to support small island states.

Because as I said, as we all know, everybody is suffering from change of climate, including Azerbaijan. You have more water, we have less water. We have draughts, you have problem of sea covering your surface, but every country is facing problem. But you are facing existential threat. And those countries, which contributed largely to the global warming should not ignore the interests and the day-to-day life demands of countries, which are suffering from that. You did not contribute to global warming. We did not contribute. Our contribution is probably 0.001. But we are suffering, but you are suffering more. So, I can once again assure you that we will not only talk but we will act. We will work with our partners in order to provide for you maximum tangible support as a result of COP29. And as far as we are concerned, we are ready to financially contribute to that.

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They then posed for photographs.

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Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, received Tofiga Falani, Governor-General of Tuvalu, Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni Hu’akavameiliku, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga and Frederick Audley Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, APA reports.