Honourable Minister of Environment and Land Tebao Awerika,

Distinguished guests,

Members of the Press,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be able to mark my first visit to Kiribati by celebrating this important milestone in our cooperation towards improving the management of hazardous waste, in the whole Pacific region and particularly in your country.

Appropriate and sustainable management of hazardous waste is of the utmost importance to minimise impacts and risks for public health and the environment. Scarce land resources, high transport costs and often insufficient equipment make waste management challenges particularly hard, here in the Pacific.

The "PacWaste" project with an allocation of almost €8 million has proven to be an effective contribution to solving the region's immense problems in hazardous waste management, focussing specifically on asbestos, healthcare waste, E-waste and integrated atoll solid waste management and.

As far as healthcare waste is concerned, the project is providing last-generation incinerators to eleven countries. These include, of course, the healthcare waste incinerator that is being commissioned here in Tarawa.

Healthcare waste may expose healthcare workers, waste handlers and the community to infections, toxic effects and injuries. Hence its proper treatment and disposal is of paramount importance.

The sustainable management of waste will be central to the cooperation between the EU and the Pacific region Indeed, the sustainable management of natural resources, including with respect to responsible waste management, is one of the priority areas identified in the Regional Indicative programme, which will devote a total of €166 million to development cooperation with the Pacific region.

The EU will continue to look at the Pacific region's excellent technical organisations as the first providers of the expertise and the know-how that are necessary to achieve our ambitious objectives. In particular, I would like to congratulate SPREP for the high level of professionalism that it displayed in implementing the "PacWaste" project. I understand the cooperation with the Kiribati authorities was excellent and of course I am extremely grateful for this.

Environmental concerns are central to the EU's partnership with the Pacific, particularly with respect to the ever-growing challenges related to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

We were very pleased to see 175 countries, including New Zealand and Pacific Island States, sign the Paris Agreement in New York in April.

The European Union will continue to support climate change adaptation in the Pacific and to coordinate and partner with other like-minded partners as New Zealand to deliver concrete results in line with the strategies elaborated by your Government.

To conclude, I look forward to seeing first-hand, during my brief visit to Kiribati, the progress we have achieved so far in our cooperation, and in particular through the European Union / New Zealand Energy Partnership. The commissioning of this healthcare waste incinerator is an integral part of the concerted efforts of the EU and other development partners to contribute to resolving the many development challenges of Kiribati!

Thank you.

(Check Against Delivery)