February 25, 2021, New York
Papua New Guinea’s ‘founding father’ and four-time prime minister, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare died today. Known throughout the country as – Father of the Nation – Sir Michael served as prime minister over four terms, a total of 17 of the 45 years since independence.
The Grand Chief was revered as a major figure in the country’s peaceful transformation from colony to independent nation in 1975. Grand Chief Sir Michael was a leader amongst Small Island Developing States and the leaders of the British Commonwealth. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1990, and a pontifical order of knighthood by Pope John Paul in 1992.
“His passing is a monumental loss for the world. Sir Michael was a leader amongst leaders, showing the world that even the least developed countries can be driving forces in tackling the climate emergency. There would have been no REDD+ or Coalition for Rainforest Nations today without him. It is a heartbreaking loss for me personally. Sir Michael was a wonderful friend, mentor and father figure. I share a deep sadness and emptiness today along with the family and all of Papua New Guinea, “ said Kevin Conrad, Executive Director, Coalition for Rainforest Nations.
Throughout his terms as Prime Minister, Sir Michael was known for his wisdom and as a master communicator who believed in consensus and peaceful initiatives. Indeed, he is credited for peacefully preserving national unity as the fledgling country became a major economic and cultural presence in the Pacific and East Asia.
Sir Michael’s autobiography was entitled, Sana, which denotes adoption of a peaceful, consensual approach to resolving disputes.
It is with this philosophy that Sir Michael addressed one his country’s most pressing challenges – preservation of Papua New Guinea’s vast tract of tropical rainforests. In 2004, during a speech at Columbia University in New York, Sir Michael called upon the world to unify to halt worldwide tropical deforestation. The result was his founding of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), an international non-profit entity and a recognized United Nations Negotiating Group dedicated to the advancement of the mechanism, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+). The REDD+ mechanism provided a financial value for the carbon absorbed and stored in tropical rainforests, offering incentives for rainforest countries, like Papua New Guinea, to tackle deforestation at national level.
L-to-R: Patrick Pruaitch, Minister of Foreign Affairs (2019-2020), HRH Prince Charles, Sir Michael, Kevin Conrad
Sir Michael and Papua New Guinea shepherded through monumental environmental achievements for the next decade:
- In 2005, REDD+ was officially tabled for consideration within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- At the fifteenth UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2009 in Copenhagen, Sir Michael worked closely with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Premier Wen Jibao of China, President Ali Bongo of Gabon, President Barack Obama of the United States and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to draft the Copenhagen Accord. Largely due to Sir Michael’s efforts, the Copenhagen Accord allocated US$ 4.5 billion for REDD+.
- Sir Michael then collaborated with President Calderon of Mexico Prime Minister and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway to design a distribution mechanism for the REDD+ pledges. The international conservation community agrees that this was a game-changer for REDD+ and the preservation of tropical rainforests.
The Coalition for Rainforest Nations capitalized on this momentum within the UNFCCC and in 2015, REDD+ was enshrined as Article 5 in the Paris Climate Agreement. It has already delivered around 9 billion metric tonnes of reduced emissions across the world.
“That only the forestry sector enjoys recognition as a unique article within the Paris Agreement is a lasting credit to the vision of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare and his everlasting legacy of Sana,” said Kevin Conrad.
Sir Michael was a committed environmentalist and recognized across the world as a pioneering leader of rainforest nations in their efforts to find sustainable solutions stop deforestation.
The Coalition of Rainforest Nations offers its sincere condolences and prayers to his loved ones.