Statement at the UN High Level Debate on the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals
The President of the General Assembly,
The Secretary General of the United Nations,
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Fiji’s commitment to the 2030 global sustainable development agenda is absolute and is a cornerstone of our national policies. So I’m delighted to be with you all today to report on our progress and share some of our experiences.
At every level, we have made the sustainable development of our resources, the reduction of poverty and the social and economic progress of the Fijian people our chief priorities. Indeed, our new Constitution mandates us to ensure the socio-economic rights of all Fijians.
Mr President, we had already created a more equal society politically by introducing the first genuine democracy in our 2014 election.
We had created equal access to learning with another first in Fiji – the introduction of free schooling and tertiary loans so that never again will any Fijian child be left behind because of poverty.
We had introduced the first social security system in Fijian history, with payments to older citizens without superannuation to enable them to enjoy some security in their twilight years.
We had introduced free medicine and free water for low income earners and provided grants for small and micro business operators to either start their own enterprises or expand existing ones.
And now the IMF has formally recognised that Fiji has become a more equal society when it comes to income distribution. It has placed us in the Asian region amongst countries where income inequality is decreasing.
It is a wonderful achievement for any country – developed or developing - and a milestone on our journey towards 2030, as well as a source of great pride for every Fijian.
Mr President, Fiji has also become the first country in the Pacific region to adopt a Green Growth Framework, in which the sustainable development of our resources on land and at sea is the overriding imperative.
Yet for all our advances, for all the progress we are making to improve the lives of our people, a cruel and terrible threat to our development hangs over us. And it is something over which we have no control.
Mr President, climate change is threatening the social and economic wellbeing not only of Fijians but the people of small and vulnerable developing states the world over. It is impeding our ability to develop strong economies. And unless we can overcome the challenge that climate change poses, there is little hope of countries like Fiji meeting their Sustainable Development Goals. And being able to make the fundamental transformation in the lives of our people that the 2030 global agenda entails.
In the case of Fiji, we are reeling as a nation after being hit two months ago by the biggest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere. Tropical Cyclone Winston slammed into our nation on Saturday, February 20, killing 44 Fijians and injuring dozens more.
The trail of destruction left in its wake has been estimated to cost around one billion US dollars, 2 billion dollars Fijian. Up to 40,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, along with 229 schools and other public buildings and infrastructure.
To get our nation’s children back into proper classrooms and help put the trauma of Cyclone Winston behind them, we have instituted an Adopt a School Program. Already some of our development partners have pledged to adopt individual schools and I urge all nations and civil society organizations to consider doing the same.
We have been fortunate with Winston that many of our tourism areas weren’t affected, our visitors have returned and because our economic growth to now has been healthy, we have been able to bounce back quickly. But we know that if we have another cyclone, our economy could be devastated for many years to come. A single climatic event wiping out all the gains we have made and setting back our socio-economic development.
So, Mr President, I want to end with the most urgent of pleas to the global community and especially the industrialised countries on behalf of every Fijian and every citizen of small and vulnerable developing states everywhere.
Tomorrow, we will sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and I will also have the pleasure of depositing the ratification documents for Fiji. It is a positive first step but not nearly enough to avert catastrophe for many vulnerable states and economies. We need to do more.
We must change the present arrangements for funding climate change adaptation, which are impeding the ability of small and vulnerable states to gain access to concessional funding.
And if we do not get those opportunities, we have little or no hope of meeting our 2030 Sustainable Development goals.
Mr President, Fiji is committed to achieving those goals and we can all do so by working together and recognising our individual needs and challenges.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.