Statement at Diplomatic, NGO and Media Briefing on COP 23 and the UN Oceans Conference

Suvavou House
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Honourable Attorney-General and minister responsible for climate change,

Honourable Cabinet Ministers,

Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Representatives of Non-Government Organisations,

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,

 

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

2017 is going to be a huge year for Fiji in its engagement with the rest of the world – President of COP-23 and cohost of the United Nations Conference on Oceans. So I want to brief you all on how I see the year ahead, its importance to our nation and what it means to every Fijian.

To those of you in the Diplomatic Corps and from Non-Government Organisations, I want to begin by thanking you for the support that you have already given Fiji and to ask for your continuing assistance.

We are a small nation with limited resources. And we will need the help of our development partners to enable us to take a lead role in these two very important initiatives for humanity – confronting the threat of climate change and reversing the degradation of our oceans and seas.

I want to say a special vinaka vakalevu on behalf of the Fijian Government and Fijian people to those nations that have actively supported Fiji’s candidacy to preside over these important global events.

The confidence that has been placed in us is deeply appreciated. As I said in Marrakesh on Friday, we are honoured and humbled to have been entrusted with these leadership roles. And we will be doing everything possible to make the events the success they need to be. Not only for those of us here in the Pacific and other low lying areas of the world, but for every single person on the planet.

Of course, these are separate events – The UN Oceans Conference in New York in June and the UN Climate Change Conference – COP 23 – in Bonn later in the year. But they are extremely important because they address the two greatest challenges facing the world at this time.

We need urgent global action for a more decisive response to global warming to keep temperatures down and ward off the extreme weather events and rising sea levels associated with climate change. And we need urgent global action to stop the assault on the health of our oceans and seas caused by pollution and overfishing.

Nowhere do these two imperatives come together more starkly than in our own region – in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific. At precisely the same time as we are having to deal with stronger and more frequent cyclones, arable land ruined by salinity and the need to relocate entire communities out of the way of the rising seas, the quality of the water around us on which we depend for food and our livelihoods is under unprecedented threat.

You may have heard me say in Marrakesh that as a former naval commander, I have an intense interest in the health of our oceans and seas. It has been painful for me over the years to see our beautiful Pacific ocean increasingly clogged with rubbish – more and more plastic bottles, plastic bags and other refuse. Some of it generated by ourselves but a lot more generated by nations on the Pacific Rim and drifting down to us on the prevailing currents.

In my younger days, I also remember our waters teeming with fish. You could throw a line out and in many instances, just reel them in. But I don’t have to tell the keen fisherman in the room that those days are becoming a dim memory.

The overfishing of the Pacific and other oceans and seas by selfish nations and selfish commercial interests poses a direct threat, especially to the welfare of our coastal communities. Because they rely on fish not only for food but as a source of income. And fishing is the foundation of many local maritime economies.

We must get an international consensus in New York in June on the scale of this crisis - this threat to all oceans and seas - and we must decide on a plan of radical action. And I promise that with our Swedish friends and co-hosts, I will be bringing a great deal of passion and resolve to making the UN Conference on Oceans the success it deserves to be. The success that it must be.

And then later in the year, Fiji has another opportunity to show leadership at COP-23 – the next United Nations Conference on Climate Change. As you may have noticed at COP-22 in Morocco, there is a growing realisation that what we decided to do in Paris twelve months ago is not enough. That we need a far more radical carbon emission target than we agreed in Paris – which was to cap the global temperature at “well below” a 2 percent per increase over the temperature of the earth at the time the industrial age began.

In fact, there is a growing realisation that even the one-point-five degree cap that the Pacific island nations proposed in the Suva Declaration is not enough. And that we may need to rethink that as well if we are to avert an even more grave situation.

I am going to be honest with you. I sat in the room in Marrakesh and looked around for evidence of the kind of resolve that the global community must have if we are to save ourselves. And I’m afraid that in far too many instances, it simply wasn’t there.

Yes, there is a growing realisation that something must be done and we must all thank those nations that have taken the first step by ratifying the Paris Agreement. But I don’t think there is sufficient appreciation yet of the scale of the threat the world faces.

It was suggested to me at one stage that Fiji needed to be more diplomatic when I formally accepted the presidency of COP-23. No! We are going to press as hard as we can for decisive global action. And Fiji, as the President of COP-23, intends to bring the global community together. And encourage the high carbon emitters and the low carbon emitters to find common ground. Because I passionately believe that only by working together cooperatively and educating the world about the facts of climate change, can we tackle the crisis that confronts us all.

It is also the time for some plain speaking. For Frank to be frank, which I am always keen to do. In our quest to bring everyone together for a truly global solution – which is in the best interests of all nations in the long run - we will at times have to speak very plainly and frankly.

We cannot be muzzled by diplomatic niceties. And as President of COP-23, I intend to tell it like it is. Because it is the only way for us all to move forward.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. We simply must get more decisive action to curb carbon emissions. Because those emissions from the industrial nations are putting us all at risk. We must get the necessary finance in the form of grants to build our resilience to climate change. To future proof our nations and their economies. And to future proof future generations.

We also need the financial tools to strengthen our infrastructure. To build walls to keep the seas at bay. To put our power lines underground. To move our communities out of the path of the rising waters. We need to build our economic and social resilience.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is critically important for every nation to join the fight for action on climate change. To support the program of carbon emission reductions and contribute to the international fund to help vulnerable nations with their climate adaptation.

We cannot have the second biggest carbon emitter in the world - the United States - unilaterally withdrawing from this effort. We must persuade the American President-elect, Donald Trump, to change his mind about pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Because if he does, then there is no hope for the world to comprehensively tackle this issue.

Without America, the battle against climate change is doomed. Without America, it is already lost. And as I said in Marrakesh, I appeal to Mr Trump to have a personal change of heart and a public change of policy on this issue.

As you know, I have asked President-Elect Trump to re-examine the evidence and to come to Fiji to meet Pacific leaders and see the impact of climate change for himself. I hope he takes me up on the offer. Because as the President of COP-23, I genuinely want to work with him on this issue in an atmosphere of friendly cooperation.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, you are fully aware of the enormity of the task ahead. And we need your support. I want to appeal to the Heads of Mission in this room to talk to your capitals about assisting Fiji. We will also be making direct representations to your respective governments and the multilateral agencies.

I also appeal to the representatives of NGOs to work together with my Government to make the presidency of COP-23 a success. To make the outcomes practical, achievable and enduring for every global citizen.  We need to work together. All of us.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in the next few weeks, I will be announcing a number of appointments to the team that Fiji is building to carry out our duties at COP-23. Apart from the secretariat team in Bonn, we intend to have a dedicated secretariat here in Fiji.

We also need to spread the message far and wide. And to the journalists who are here today, please do everything you can in the coming months to inform the Fijian people of the crusade that we have embarked on and the progress that we make along the way.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, Fiji stands taller in the world today than at any other time in our history. Never before has the global community entrusted us with two such grave responsibilities. And we are determined as a nation to be worthy of that trust.

We look to 2017 with confidence and pride as an opportunity to show the world what we can do. And to give voice to the concerns, the hopes and the aspirations of billions of people the world over.    

 

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

 

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