The incoming chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, Christopher Loeak, has told Pacific leaders he would drown in the rising sea levels rather than being forced to move from his Marshall Islands home.

The 44th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting has opened, with leaders welcomed in an abbreviated ceremony, after unseasonably rough weather forced organisers to abandon plans for their arrival on a fleet of traditional Micronesian outrigger canoes.

The weather difficulties were seen to fit in well with the theme for this year’s Forum, 'Marshalling the Pacific Response to the Climate Challenge'.

Mr Loeak said while his country was among those already experiencing climate change, the people of the Pacific did not want to flee their lands no matter how threatened they became.

"My land is my home, my heritage and my identity in ways that the English language cannot capture," he said.

"This is my country and I will always stay here. If water comes, it comes."

The 15 members of the Pacific Islands Forum include several countries made up of atolls that barely rise one metre above sea level.

The outgoing Chairman of the Forum, the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Henry Puna, congratulated the Marshall Islands on pushing the forum for action.

"Our theme speaks partly to the frustrations we have all felt in the past of being overlooked, of being ignored and of being undervalued," he said.

"Years of inaction on the part of those who are most capable of undertaking effective mitigation measures has understandably left us absolutely disappointed and dissatisfied."

He also said the Pacific could serve as a role model in embracing alternative energy.

"These are strengths of the Pacific, in a sea of doubt, over whether the Pacific ever gets the recognition it deserves and needs today," he said.

"[We are dealing] with climate change and extremity and vulnerability not of our doing, but of our burden to pay - and pay dearly we will."

Mr Loeak is pushing for the forum to agree on a 'Majuro Declaration' calling for greater leadership from major emitting countries.

As well as climate change, the Leaders' Retreat, to be held on a small islet fringing the Majuro lagoon, is also expected to discuss development issues, sustainable tuna fishing and whether to readmit Fiji to the body.

The Secretary General of the Forum, Neroni Slade, said the Forum foreign minsters had visited Fiji in April and their report would be presented to the Leaders at their Retreat.

Mr Loeak had only one sentence in his speech that referred to Fiji and that was a reference to the recent release of a new Constitution.

"Striving for regional unity is especially important on complex political issues, including our response to the recent positive developments in Fiji," he said.