Pope Francis is drawing attention to the immediate climate change threat to the Pacific Islands, says climate change minister James Shaw says.
Mr Shaw and Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio are representing New Zealand at climate talks in Germany, and on the way there had an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The COP23 conference in Bonn is being convened under the presidency of Fiji, giving the international meeting a decidedly Pacific feel and focus.
Mr Shaw said delegates from Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia read statements at the Vatican meeting on different facets of the climate challenge. Pope Francis responded drawing on his encyclical of 2015, in which he described climate change as a global problem with grave implications.
“He is extremely concerned about the territorial threat from rising sea levels and about the state of the oceans,” Mr Shaw said.
“He is continuing to use the weight of his office and his influence to draw attention to the environment in general, but climate change specifically.
“The reason it’s such a big deal for the Pacific Islands is that he’s now drawing attention specifically to the immediate threat that the islands are facing.”
Mr Shaw said last month the government would consider creating a new visa category for people from the Pacific displaced by climate change.
Mr Shaw said rival delegations of US state governors and mayors at the summit was “talking at cross purposes” with the official federal government delegation.
The US government announced earlier this year it was withdrawing form the Paris Agreement on climate change, but cannot leave the agreement until 2020 so it has sent a team of negotiators to this meeting.
“There’s a number of states and cities where the mayors and the governors have declared that they still intend to act as if the US government is part of the Paris agreement, Mr Shaw said.
“Those cities and states collectively add up to a substantial portion of the US economy.
“There is a strong counter movement in the US that wants the rest of the world to know that there is a strong push for the US to stay in the agreement.”