“We cannot allow the term “ambition” to become a cliché, a mantra” – COP23 President’s Opening Remarks at CAP2018

Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President’s opening remarks at the second annual Climate Action Pacific Partner Conference. 

This is our second Climate Action Pacific Partnership meeting, and I am grateful for your commitment to working together as a region to confront our greatest collective threat – climate change.  Over the course of the next two days, I know we will have an open and honest dialogue, and I am sure the stories and experiences that we share will help pave the way to Katowice and beyond. If we come together as I know we can, we will all leave here better equipped to face the road ahead for our people and our economies.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As I open this meeting today, I am filled with two contradictory feelings. The first is my sense of worry over the urgency of the situation we are facing. This is not new, and it is certainly not new to the people in this room, who share my deep concern and my impatience with a process that never seems to move fast enough—or with enough certainty.

It has taken us more than 25 years to come this far—since we began at Rio—and yet we are face to face with the urgent need to raise our ambition significantly. Because current projections indicate that we could face a 50% probability of much more than three degrees of warming over the next century. We cannot let that happen, because it would spell the end of our way of life forever. To achieve the goal we have set – to keep warming within 1.5 degrees – means that we must ask more of each and every person on Earth. We need to ask more of governments in other parts of the world. And we have to ask more of ourselves as Pacific Islanders. And we must do it with every ounce of strength we can muster.

In Fiji, we have fully embraced the need for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is a part of our long-term strategy, and I congratulate the government and people of New Zealand for their leadership among developed countries in moving in that direction.

Despite my worries over the pace of change, I am, nonetheless, encouraged by the sense of hope that comes from seeing first-hand the elements for a new global economy that is in harmony with our planet.

But how can we make this hope a reality?  One concrete step will be to get the major countries of the world to step up their game and revise their NDCs in line with the Paris Agreement.  As COP President, I will take our voice to the international community with a call for all nations to re-evaluate their NDCs – not to simply revise them here and there, but to rethink them. We cannot allow the term “ambition” to become a cliché, a mantra. To say that we need to be more ambitious understates the situation. The fact is, our NDCs need to be aggressive, and they need to be aggressive enough to yield results – and get us back on track to the 1.5 degree target. We need to meet in Poland this December as a world community that is energised and committed to serious action.

But I have said that I am also hopeful, and that is because we are in the midst of two great movements driven by people, not governments. The first is the movement of science and technology. Right now—today—we are in a period of exponential technological advance, a period in which new technologies bring new discoveries and opportunities to rapidly transform our economies and a greater ability to understand our earth. Every day, we know more about how the earth is warming, the pace of warming, the variations and fluctuations, and the effects on specific areas of the planet. On a worldwide basis, this technology is helping us truly understand the immediacy, the extent, and the particulars of the crisis.

This technological boom is also bringing new solutions—solutions that are more economical, more efficient and more accessible than ever before. And as these solutions take flight, they drive the cost of mitigation, adaptation and resilience down. That is good news for everyone, but it is especially good news for the most vulnerable and least developed—including us.  Cleaner energy sources are driving fossil fuels out of the market in large parts of the world and transforming urban mass transit. Let me give you just one stark example: India seemed committed to coal only a few short years ago, yet it has tripled its supply of solar energy over the last three years—to 20 gigawatts–– and is expects to reach 160 gigawatts by 2022. And India has announced a target of 100% electric vehicles by 2030.

On other fronts, housing and commercial construction are being designed to be more energy-efficient and to better withstand the forces of nature. New materials for consumer products are being developed that create less waste and use less energy to produce. And the digital world is moving so quickly that many technologies become obsolete by the time they are launched.

Significantly, the emerging technology that is enabling us to better understand the workings of the earth in this challenging time and to fashion effective responses to global warming are not limited to the governments of the most developed countries. They are also being discovered or created by entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists in places like India, Mexico, China, Africa, Arabia, and yes, here in the Pacific. It is a truly global response to the crisis, and the best ideas can come from anywhere.

Our challenge here in the Pacific, of course, is to find ways to apply these solutions – and solutions of our own making – to our particular circumstances. We all know what those are. Our people are spread over hundreds of islands, and those in isolated and maritime areas are cut off from the electrical grids and pipelines and rail and road networks of our larger islands. So our solutions have to work in isolation, and often at a small scale and at the community level.

And we are seeing progress here too – like the solar panels providing energy to our largest commercial bottling facility just up the road from here.  Advancements in batteries and battery storage, coupled with solar energy, now allows for ever-increasing scalability of solar technology to reach our more remote areas. We see that in Vio Village, our first off-grid rural community to be electrified by a new program using solar-battery hybrid micro grid systems, in partnership with the innovative leadership of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

So what does all this tell us, and why should we be hopeful? It tells us that we should not fear setting ambitious targets, as we did back in 1992, because we now have good reason to believe that we can achieve them. We need technological innovation and rapid deployment at scale—and we need to take steps to end the main causes of continuing harm through carbon pollution. We can achieve that in large part because technological innovation is growing exponentially in critical parts of our economies all over the world.

And here in the Pacific, we are already finding new and inventive ways to pay for the solutions we will need to institute this change.  We are very pleased with the response to Fiji’s Green Bond, which we launched last year and which is now listed on the London Stock Exchange.  And by the way, Fiji’s Green Bond, the first ever from a developing country, is also a form of innovation –  policy innovation – which we need just as much as we need technological innovation.  New policies fit for the new economy will get us where we need to go if we work together – governments, communities, the private sector and international financial institutions.

For example, the NDC Hub for the Pacific, an initiative that emerged from last year’s CAPP meeting, will help us share our own experiences—our successes and our failures—and stay abreast of the ideas and technologies worldwide that can help us arrive at a net-zero carbon future.

The other movement involves concrete actions. In many places, the people of this planet are ahead of their national governments in confronting climate change and the threat to our oceans. Regional and local governments are setting ambitious programmes because the effects of climate change are very real and very immediate where we live and work. They are listening to their citizens, and their citizens are telling them to act.

So I am hopeful not just because national governments have greater tools at their disposal to solve this crisis, but because leaders at every level of government and civil society are stepping up.  Cities are taking actions both large and small – from redesigning urban mass transit to planting rooftop gardens and installing infrastructure that encourages citizens to use bicycles. The people are speaking, and their collective voice is loud and clear.  With greater than 50 per cent of the human population now residing in urban environments, cities have tremendous power to transform our world for the better.

And some of the world’s largest corporations are changing the way they do business. One by one, they are drastically reducing their use of disposable plastic in the interest of saving our oceans – and in some cases eliminating it completely. They are investing in cleaner sources of energy and sourcing sustainable materials in production –  and reimagining their supply chains to create “circular economies” that keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them, and then recover and regenerate products and materials. They are listening to their customers and shareholders and employees, who want them to act responsibly.

The people aren’t waiting for national governments. They aren’t waiting for political leaders to tiptoe across the minefield of special interests. They aren’t waiting for President Donald Trump to have an epiphany and change his mind, or for a few governments to figure out just what they are going to do with all that coal they have been mining. They see the future, and yes, they are worried, but they also see the opportunity presented by solving big problems. And they want action.

But here is a hard fact we must all face: No nation, no matter how powerful it is, can protect its citizens from the effects of climate change on its own. We all need to help each other. Obviously, the most vulnerable need the most help, but we will be lost unless the major producers of carbon do their best to reduce their emissions. On the other hand, if they succeed, everyone will benefit. There is plenty of opportunity for different strategies to be used, but it is clear that every successful strategy, no matter where it is deployed, will work to reduce risk for everyone.

My friends, the tools exist to expand our economies at the same time that we dramatically reduce our impact on the environment.  We need only the political will to do the hard work of updating our laws, policies and financial systems to seize and accelerate this great global opportunity for growth.

We in the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the massive economic devastation that can come in the wake of climate disasters. Just in the past year, Fiji was struck by Tropical Cyclones Gita, Josie, and Keni, causing massive flooding and destruction –– something those in this room don’t need reminded of, as I know that the same storms went on to strengthen and impact other nations at this event. And as climate change is causing storms to become stronger and more frequent, huge portions of the GDP of a Small Island State like Fiji risk being wiped out by a single cyclone. But, my friends, our vulnerability should not be mistaken for weakness. Because while we in this room may be extremely vulnerable to rising seas and strengthening storms, the “vulnerable” label doesn’t leave us feeling hopeless. Being an underdog doesn’t dishearten us –– in fact, it has the opposite effect. In the face of adversity, the fight that ignites us is the Pacific spirit –– and it’s what allows us to come out on top. It’s this fight that is driving us to action, and sparking exactly the type of thinking and action needed to bring about real and tangible change.

Our challenge has been getting access to the financing and technologies to put these innovations into place in our communities, so our people benefit from this transition. While our collective global economic weight may be small, our voice is powerful, because we stand as the moral authority for the vulnerable people of the world.  Let us use the voice we have been given for this critical time. Let us make the institutions of the global economy hear us loud and clear. And let us create the connection to the global markets that will bring this technology here and transform our economies for the better.

We have demanded our rightful place at the table of climate negotiations, and we are asserting our moral authority as vulnerable states to drive the world to a more ambitious, more aggressive action. This is our moment. We must lead, and we cannot lead from the rear. We must be out front with our actions, by rethinking how we can take bold climate action that helps us build the resilience of our communities and economies and further reduce our already minimal emissions.

It is the price of leadership that we have to do more, to show the way, to lead by example. Most of all, we must be united—speaking with one voice, and very loudly.

Clearly, we have much to say, but our voice will not be heard if we don’t speak out as one – loud and clear. The Talanoa Dialogues happening here and around the world, including at the forthcoming California Global Climate Action Summit and the United Nations General Assembly in September, and ultimately, at COP24, must create momentum for change that carries us forward.

We have made it a hallmark of Fiji’s COP23 Presidency to build what we call a Grand Coalition to fight climate change – a broad gathering of local communities, subnational governments, civil society, business, faith-based groups and others all sharing their experiences and acting in common purpose. We were determined to bring to COP real stories from the people – from the front lines – and to ensure that we keep the pressure on all actors to get the job done.

We knew from the outset that climate change was too big for governments to confront alone. And so today, we bring together some of the best minds, biggest investors, and most committed climate action campaigners in our own region to examine what we can do. To continue our exchange – started at the inaugural CAPP last year – of ideas, innovations, and solutions that we can pursue here in the Pacific that can be part of a global solution. And that can even inspire others to pursue greater ambition and action elsewhere.

As you know, this Climate Action Pacific Partnership Event – CAPP – is part of the program of activities of the High-Level Champions appointed under the Paris Agreement. Fiji’s Champion, the Honourable Inia Seruiratu and his team have worked tirelessly over the past year and a half to further bring the Grand Coalition into the heart of decision making processes the world over.

I would also like to acknowledge the common vision we share with leaders like California Governor Jerry Brown and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. These three men took up the leadership that their national government had forsaken, and they rallied their fellow citizens and major corporations and institutions around them.

As many of you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has founded Regions20, uniting subnational regions of the world to mobilise private-sector capital for investments in climate-smart infrastructure projects. And Governor Brown will host the Global Climate Action Summit in California in September. I am proud to have their friendship and commitment, and we will hear from both of them at this meeting.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We have two days of hard work before us. We have less than four months’ time until Katowice. And we have a long road ahead in confronting climate change. So let’s get busy. I would like to thank the governments of Australia, Canada, France and Germany for their generous support of this meeting, as well as all the governments and other institutions that have contributed to Fiji’s COP23 Presidency. We are grateful for your partnership.

And of course, we in the region also look to our friends from larger nations present here today for their support in helping us to highlight our own challenges – to help share the stories they hear over the next two days.

I wish now to leave you today with one thought: Our COP23 logo features a huge wave that seems to be engulfing an island. But it does not have to be so, because there are two waves we must learn to navigate. One is the wave of climate change, which could destroy us; the other is the wave of technology, popular will and rational hope, which can save us. Let’s get on that wave today and ride it—to Katowice and beyond. To the future that we know we must shape.