“Climate change is one of greatest threats to global security that humankind has ever faced” – COP23 President’s Speech at Climate and Security Summit

Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama’s introductory remarks at the Climate, Peace and Security summit in Brussels, organised by the European Union External Action. 

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

It is a pleasure to be with you here today. I would like to begin by thanking the High Representative for convening this important gathering.

Friends, we owe it to those we represent to frame the issue of climate and security in the simplest terms possible, which is this: climate change is one of greatest threats to global security that humankind has ever faced.

We have come to a point in our history when we are confronted by a nightmare scenario in the not-too-distant future that would see the loss of entire nations, widespread shortages of food and water, more disease, hundreds of millions of people displaced and the almost certain breakdown of the international order as nations fight over scarce resources.

Too often, we tend to think of climate change as solely an environmental issue. It is, of course, but climate change is also a challenge to the most basic component of national interest – the ability of governments to provide security and sustainable development for their people.

In the Pacific, we know the truth of this. Climate change is already threatening the very existence of some of our number. And everywhere, it is profoundly impacting our lives.

In Fiji, we feel the effects of global warming in many ways. Villages we must move out of the way of the rising seas; the loss of ancestral burial grounds; salt water intruding on our crops; and the constant threat of destruction to homes and infrastructure that could set our development back by decades.

I say to you in no uncertain terms that in this frightening new era climate change is already affecting the ability of my government to secure a sustainable and prosperous future for my people. And I know my counterparts in other island nations would say the same.

And we haven’t even seen the worst yet. In the Pacific, climate change will continue to threaten coastlines, encroach further on fresh water supplies and arable land, slowly submerge small low-lying islands, cause more frequent and more devastating tropical storms, and affect maritime boundaries and exclusive economic zones. All of which pose dire threats to peace and security in our region.

We are not taking this lying down. We are taking decisive action to mitigate these risks and build our resilience.

  • For example, in Fiji, we have undertaken a Climate Vulnerability Assessment to better understand the challenge we face.
  • We have launched the first developing-country Sovereign Green Bond to raise funds to build greater resilience and further reduce our already modest emissions.
  • We are developing our disaster risk reduction policy and mainstreaming it into all policies, plans and practices nationally.
  • We are acknowledging the importance of regional collaboration to implement early warning systems that increase our ability to detect threats in time to make adequate preparations.
  • And we are exploring ways to cope with the growing number of Pacific islanders who will be displaced – some across national boundaries – in the coming decades.

However, the reality is, Excellencies, we can do everything in our power and still not succeed in securing the future for our peoples.  This is because climate change requires a global response, and collective action.

In this spirit, I do not want my message today to be one of despair. As the President of COP23 and the leader of a small island nation, I have endeavoured to bring both a moral clarity to the UN process, as well as a sense of hope. I firmly believe that together we have the power to overcome this challenge.

I realise this is no small task. As political and intellectual leaders, all of our efforts must be directed at preserving the multilateral consensus for decisive climate action and standing up to those who would put their short-term interests first.

This requires us to change our understanding of what national interests are. To realise that the only way for every nation to put itself first is to lock arms with all other nations and go forward together, along a new path where global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age and where real, adequate and predictable resources are made available to help the vulnerable build their resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In specific terms, this means ensuring our multilateral systems are more responsive to the links between climate and security. For example, last year Pacific nations called for the UN Security Council to have climate change and security a permanent agenda item. Other reforms will be needed.

And of course we must strive – all the way to COP24 and beyond – to raise the ambition of our Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to match the scale of the challenge we face. More momentum, more decisive action. So that our collective resolve becomes an unstoppable force.

As you know, the vehicle that has been mandated for this collective response in the UN system is the Talanoa Dialogue, presided over by Fiji and Poland, which formally poses three questions:

Where are we? Short answer: nowhere near far enough. Where do we want to go? As far as it takes to achieve net-zero carbon economies by 2050. And how do we get there? By embracing the Pacific talanoa concept of reaching collective decisions through inclusive dialogue and consensus building. No finger pointing. No exercise of naked power in which winners take all. But a respectful exchange of ideas and best practices to reach decisions for the common good, in this case preserving the health of the planet that is our only home.

I want to thank those of you who have already embraced the Talanoa concept and even held your own Dialogues, including the successful EU Talanoa held last week. You will have heard the positive feedback from the first Talanoa sessions in Bonn and how the process shifted perceptions and improved the level of engagement. You will know that this isn’t merely a talkfest to give participants a warm inner glow. The world expects the Talanoa Dialogue to deliver outcomes – concrete action to raise the ambition of our NDCs. And for this, we need your support and participation.

Excellencies, let me leave you with this thought. Ultimately, we are all in the same canoe. Those of you who aren’t vulnerable now soon will be. So let us find the determination and will to change our collective course and sail together towards a peaceful, sustainable and secure future.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.