08/05/19

“Cowards don’t make history” – Prime Minister Bainimarama’s Address at the Australian Emission Reduction Summit

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I’m delighted to be back in Melbourne and to be introduced to you this morning by someone I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past couple of years.

John Connor has been a key part of the leadership of Fiji’s global climate campaign as Head of the COP23 Presidency Secretariat. And as he leaves us to head up the Carbon Market Institute, he has the thanks and best wishes of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people. And my particular thanks as the President of COP23. Vinaka vakalevu, John, and we wish you every success as you return your passion and commitment to the climate
struggle in Australia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in ten days’ time, the Australian people will choose a new government. And, as it should be, the climate crisis is one of the issues on which that decision will be made.

It is not for me to lecture the Australian people or express a particular preference. We in Fiji have been grateful to the current government for its support for our COP Presidency and for their larger commitment to “step-up” their presence in the Pacific. And we know you will come to our assistance when we bear the worst impacts of climate change, as Australia did in 2016 when Fiji was hit by the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, Cyclone Winston.

But I do feel entitled to give a return serve to a former tennis great turned politician who mentioned me by name at an election meeting the other day. It was in the context of my calls for Australia to stop burning coal, halt the development of new coal mines and do more to embrace clean energy sources. None of that is new, but I guess it has particular resonance at the present time.

The Honourable Member suggested – or appeared to suggest – that rather than heeding this advice, Australia should instead just help Fijians move to higher ground to escape the flooding from sea level rises. I’ll hit back –the proverbial tennis ball, of course – with this:

In Fiji, we have already moved three communities and have a priority queue of some 40 others waiting to be relocated. The decision to relocate a Fijian community may seem like an easy one, but abandoning your home isn’t some cold and calculated business decision – for those affected, it’s a deeply emotional loss. An elderly Fijian widow now wakes up in the morning to find the ocean at her doorstep, slowly wearing away at a home she and her family have known for generations. A young Fijian sugarcane farmer, who learned how to toil the ground from his father and his father before him, now watches helplessly as the fields that fuel his livelihood become too salty for crops to grow. And an entire coastal village mourns as the graves of their ancestors are forever inundated and washed away, robbing them of the deep and spiritual connection to their land. They have no choice –– it is a matter of survival.

But despite the enormous difficulty of these decisions, Fiji is lucky we even have the higher ground to allow for relocation at all. I’m keen to hear what the Honourable Member believes the people of Kiribati should do in the face of rising seas, where the highest point in their country sits at just 1.8 metres above sea level. There’s been another suggestion floating around from one of your former Prime Ministers that Australia should offer citizenship to Pacific islanders whose nations are disappearing beneath the seas in exchange for control of their seas and fisheries. In a time where we must be future-facing, we can hardly tolerate such insensitive, neo-colonial prescriptions.

I implore leaders of Australia to visit these communities, and see them first-hand, before they propose solutions that are so blatantly out of touch with the reality we Pacific islanders live with on the ground, day in and day out.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Relocation is enormously complex. New resources and space must be allocated. New forms of livelihood must be identified and cultivated. That is why Fiji has developed the world’s first relocation guidelines and is in the process of establishing a Relocation Trust Fund dedicated to this purpose.
Building greater resilience to climate impacts, including relocating vulnerable communities, is obviously a major priority. But if that’s where we focus all of our energy, we’ll be faced with a climate catastrophe that no nation can navigate. We need to address the root of the problem by urgently modernising and decarbonising our economies and societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, the last time I spoke to this distinguished meeting two years ago, Fiji was just preparing for its presidency of the United Nations Climate Conference, COP23. We Fijians were determined to do
three things.

First, we wanted to strengthen the global consensus for action.  We sought to do this by helping build a grand coalition for momentum—an informal coalition of governments at all levels, the private sector, community groups, scientific institutions and others.

Second, we wanted to deliver on our institutional mandate to guide negotiations aimed at producing a rulebook for the Paris Agreement at COP24 in Poland. But we saw this as more than a technical undertaking. We saw the need to create an environment that truly facilitated a meaningful dialogue. And so we launched the Talanoa Dialogue, a transparent and blame-free way to exchange viewpoints and experiences and make decisions for the common good.

And third, we wanted to urge the world to bring together the policies, innovation, enterprise and investment we need to produce the solutions economies will need to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions—and to do it quickly.

With carbon market rules to be resolved in Chile at COP25, I believe we met our first two objectives quite well.

But we have unfinished business on our third objective, to set course for decarbonisation. It still remains to be seen if we can muster the political will required to urgently plot this new course.

Unfortunately, as we gather today, the world remains on track for a catastrophic average global warming of at least three degrees. We must cut this number in half and aim for 1.5 degrees. Even at this level, the impacts felt around the world will be severe, but it gives us a much better chance to adapt, develop and prosper than a world that’s three degrees warmer.

Friends, Fiji no longer presides over the climate negotiations, but we will not take one step back where this climate crisis we are facing is concerned. In fact, we will continue to exert all the leadership we can with all the energy we can muster, and in a few minutes I will share some thoughts on what climate leadership means as we head toward 2020.
As I mentioned, we have two priorities: to build greater resilience to growing climate impacts and to urgently modernise and decarbonise our economies and societies.  Your Pacific island neighbours are asking for support and solidarity in doing both.

Next week in Suva Fiji will host both the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and the third Climate Action Pacific Partnership Conference.

At the Conference, and with the Secretary-General, we will share policies we have adopted, actions we have taken, and new information on the urgency of our situation.

I can tell you that Fiji has been very active in the two years since we last spoke.

In addition to the relocation guidelines, we became the first developing country to issue a green bond to finance climate mitigation and adaptation projects.
Two years ago, we enacted a 10 per cent Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy –– an innovative new revenue stream that comes entirely from non-essential spending and high-income earners: Yachts, privately chartered flights, imported cars, resort stays, entertainment, and meals and alcohol at establishments making more than 1.5 million dollars, for example. Every cent brought in by ECAL –– 150 million Fijian dollars in the last financial year alone –– is then dedicated to funding Fiji’s biodiversity and climate adaptation activities.

We carried out a sweeping Climate Vulnerability Assessment, determining precisely where our infrastructure would require investment to build resilience –– an initiative that allowed us to transparently cost out our efforts and work with our development partners and the market to build this capacity.

We released a low-emissions development strategy that could put Fiji at net-zero emissions as early as 2041.
We committed to enhancing our 2030 nationallydetermined contribution before the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September this year.

We are also being innovative in our approach to infrastructure development. Following Cyclone Winston, my Government has emphasised the need to “build back better,” so we are building our infrastructure with full consideration of the changing weather and climate conditions we will certainly face.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I hear leaders of governments and industry groups lament the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I want to channel my inner Greta Thornburg, the impassioned climate champion from Sweden, and shout to the world that these costs are not hypothetical, they are real, and they are now. These costs are already being shouldered by nations of the world—and they are growing at alarming rates. For example, after the winds of Cyclone Winston had died down and the flood waters had finally receded in Fiji, the

World Bank was able to assess the cost to our economy— a staggering 1.4 billion U.S. dollars, or a full thirty per cent of our GDP. Let’s put that into perspective: it would be like a storm wreaking 400 billion US dollars of havoc in damage to Australia. For any nation, such an outsized impact undermines growth. In Fiji, the lost opportunity for development from Winston knocked our economy back years.

And let’s not forget the human costs. Winston also killed dozens of our loved ones, and we again lost friends and neighbours in the unprecedented flooding that was brought on when cyclones Josie and Keni hit us with a one-two punch within two weeks this time last year.

It seems each time I make a speech I have fresh examples. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, the wrecking balls that ripped through Mozambique within two weeks, and Cyclone Fani, which just devastated parts of India and Bangladesh, are just the latest. One million people in India were evacuated in the face of the incoming Fani. That’s more than the entire population of Fiji.

So let’s be clear: These costs –– to our economies, our industries, our people, and our potential –– are crippling. This climate crisis kills. This climate crisis destroys the lands we love. This climate crisis threatens the security of
communities, nations and regions.

This is why, last year, Pacific nations –– and I was pleased Australia was among them –– signed the Boe declaration labeling climate change as the biggest threat to the security of the Pacific.

The Pacific faces a number of security challenges as the world changes and new powers emerge. This is the time for all Pacific nations to draw closer together, to eliminate or minimise differences, and to move as one into a future that is more secure and more prosperous. Sadly, there will be no security, no prosperity, if we do not confront the climate crisis with the same force that we would use against any foe. And we cannot do that without our Australian neighbour. Our security is bound together.

Friends, it is also a mistake to talk only about the costs of mitigation, because mitigation brings new technologies and new economic opportunity. Electric cars and buses, which seemed like a fantasy a few years ago, are gaining adherents and markets. Battery technology is growing by leaps and bounds, and so are sales of electric vehicles—to the point where manufacturers see exclusively electric fleets in the not-too-distant future. Incandescent lighting long ago began giving way to LED lighting. Buildings are being designed to be carbon neutral and even carbon negative, creating opportunities for all of the industries that contribute to construction—and even some that never have. Some short-sighted people see the market as the enemy of the environment. I am not one of them. I believe the market can, and indeed should, serve the environment if we guide it to.
There is clearly an unstoppable momentum now, and it is being fueled by many things—idealism and social consciousness, scientific curiosity, entrepreneurship and profit motives, and consumer demand. These forces are all working together to drive us to a zero-carbon future. In fact, there are credible estimates that climate action could deliver benefits of 26 trillion U.S. dollars to the global economy through to 2030.

Ladies and gentlemen, I said earlier that Fiji was going to continue to play a leadership role in confronting the climate crisis. What we need is leadership. The kind of leadership that will allow us to respond to this crisis with the scale and urgency it deserves.

There are some encouraging signs of this leadership emerging around the world. Countries as small as Fiji and the Marshall Islands and as large as Canada, France, Argentina, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries all pledged to increase the ambition of their national climate commitments. Australia should make the same
commitment.

In case there’s any doubt about what I mean by leadership, let me spell it out clearly.

First, every country has to strengthen its NDC by 2020. Almost no country has an NDC that can support the goals of the Paris Agreement. We simply need more effort and more commitment if we are to have any chance of limiting the average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and hopefully to 1.5 degrees.  We acknowledge and encourage governments at every level, the private sector and civil society. But national governments must lead. If they don’t, then the citizens must push their governments to act –– or, like my friends Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fill the vacuum of national leadership with state- and city-based solutions.

Second, every country should develop and submit a long-term strategy and a specific target date for achieving net- zero greenhouse gases. Obviously, some countries will need financial support, so financing is critical. These strategies can include specific targets for phasing out fossil fuels, supporting natural climate solutions, transferring to electric vehicles, transitioning industries and introducing carbon pricing.

Third, major economies need to set a target date for cutting their emissions in half.  Every country will have to set its own date, and some developing countries may need international support but, as the IPCC has noted, we must cut global emissions by around 50 per cent by 2030 if we are to reach the 1.5-degree target.

Of course, the key to success will be increased financing, the fourth element. This includes embracing more innovative approaches, working with both private and philanthropic capital and taking more risk.  Developed and major economies should increase the amount of climate finance for developing countries for mitigation, resilience and adaptation efforts and devise ways to quickly deliver that financing. The world must raise and then rapidly deploy at least 100 billion U.S. dollars a year by 2020. Public financing should include replenishing the Adaptation and Green Climate Funds and direct allocations.

Countries that are able to announce these commitments at the UN Secretary General’s Summit in September will be at the forefront of climate leadership. But we are calling on all countries to come to that Summit at least prepared to commit to these important undertakings by the end of 2020 at the latest.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have often lamented the fact that we have been talking about climate change since the Rio conference in 1992, and we have yet to come to grips with what we all must do. I know that it is hard to move nearly 200 nations to collective action of this magnitude. The slow progress was to be expected until we reached a crisis point.

That existential crisis of humankind has arrived. It is here, in 2019, when the consequences are clear and the future disasters are getting clearer every day. They are clear in the Arctic, which is losing ice at a rapid rate. They are clear in southern Florida, where cities are raising the levels of their streets. They are clear in Fiji, where we are moving communities to higher ground. And they are clear here in Australia, where you have suffered sweltering summers and unprecedented destruction from wildfires.

We know what we must do. Cowards don’t make history –– what remains is to muster the will, the creativity, the sense of common purpose, and the sheer courage to do it.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.