Winston Peters and Shane Reti make Cook Islands climate change announcement

(L-R) DPM Winston Peters and Minister for Health, Shane Reti (Photo – NZ High Commission, Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

Tackling the impacts of climate change is a key focus for New Zealand, with a total of $16.5 million (US$10 million) to go to the Cook Islands to help fight the crisis.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters made the announcement in the Cook Islands this morning, where he and Pacific People’s Minister, Dr Shane Reti, are on the second day of a Pacific mission.

The funds will go to projects including cycle shelter upgrades, battery replacements, water security, and renewable energy systems in the island nation.

Some of the climate change impacts already being seen in the Cooks include coastal erosion to sea level rise – another very serious issue for a number of other Pacific nations including Tuvalu and Tokelau.

“We are committed to continuing to respond together to the complex and varied challenges facing the region, as well as finding areas and opportunities for bilateral co-operation,” Peters said after meeting Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown.

Today’s announcement comes as the mission’s delegation settles into day two of the trip – which officially started in Tonga and will end in Samoa.

The group touched down in Rarotonga last night; effectively going back in time – with the Cook Islands being behind one day.

Earlier this morning, Peters and Reti took part in a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Punanga Nui farmers market in Avarua.

The market – which New Zealand helped with the development of costing about $8m (US$4.8 million) – is a popular hub with locals and tourists alike and will be a welcome boost to the local economy.

Acknowledging the somewhat stormy reception Peters got at Waitangi this week, a Cook Islands official told him they were welcome here.

He said that throughout the week, up to 50 vendors set up shop at the market. On Saturdays, that number is around 100.

Those vendors will now move from being in a carpark, to an actual sheltered building, he said.

The market was described as an opportunity not only for locals to earn a living, but also providing a grassroots approach to boosting the local economy.

As in Tonga, Peters and Reti received a warm reception complete with a traditional Rarotongan welcome.

Addressing the official’s comments about Waitangi, Peters said: “I wasn’t worried – at all. I don’t want people thinking they can come along … they woke up yesterday and know more than we do.”

He said he liked the idea of being called the “action man” and said he wanted to see the Cook Islands’ economy continuing to grow.

As he neared the end of his speech, a huge gust of wind ripped through the guests’ marquee – lifting it slightly. Peters quipped: “I’m sorry we couldn’t bring a calmer day for us.”

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