Pacific leaders to meet on beautiful island to discuss climate change and other regional concerns

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A group of South Pacific leaders was due to travel to the stunning island of Aitutaki on Thursday to discuss climate change and other regional concerns.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was among the leaders who traveled to the Cook Islands this week for the annual Pacific Islands Forum. The forum culminates in a leaders’ retreat Friday on Aitutaki, a beautiful island renowned for its picturesque lagoon.

Among other Pacific concerns is Japan’s decision to release wastewater from a nuclear power plant that was crippled by a 2011 tsunami. The wastewater is radioactive but has been treated and diluted.

Albanese told reporters that Australia had gotten a positive reception in a region where climate change looms as an existential threat for many low-lying islands.

“There’s a recognition that my government is committed to climate action and that we’re playing a positive role, not just with our commitment to reduce our emissions by 43% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, but that, importantly, we are playing a role in the region, and indeed, around the globe,” Albanese said.

Albanese’s predecessor Scott Morrison was criticized for dragging his feet on climate change while championing Australia’s lucrative coal and gas exports.

Henry Puna, the secretary general of the forum, said the key to success in the Pacific was to show solidarity in order to capitalize on opportunities and overcome complexities.

“I am proud of the hard work and items before you today covering climate change, gender, fisheries, nuclear issues, and trade, among others,” Puna told forum attendees. “I wish you well in your deliberations, both today and tomorrow.”

New Zealand did not send its leader to the forum as it remains in transition between governments following an October election. Instead, it sent one lawmaker from the outgoing government and another from the incoming government.

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