“It is critical for the whole world that the Talanoa Dialogue succeeds” – COP President at Launch of Climate Change VR Film
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
We don’t need a film – even a brilliant one like this – to remind us of the threat we all face from climate change.
Once again, Fijians are mourning the loss of some of our loved ones in an extreme weather event. And I know you will all join me in sending our condolences and our love to the families and friends of the four people who died in the terrible flooding in the West over the weekend.
Easter is meant to be a time of joy, not suffering. And aside from these families, a great many others again suffered the devastating impact of water damage to their homes, businesses and vehicles. As well as many hours of inconvenience caused by blocked roads or flooded bridges.
While mercifully, we were spared a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Josie, the death toll from the flooding still exceeds that of the Cyclone Evan at the end of 2012. We had no deaths here in Fiji back then despite the Category Four winds. And Cyclone Josie reminds us that even if we are spared the destructive winds, the torrential rain these cyclones produce can be just as much of a killer.
I want to issue an appeal to every Fijian today to treat these incidents of flooding with the absolute seriousness they deserve. Do not attempt to cross swollen rivers and streams. Stay out of the floodwaters altogether. Don’t try to drive through water covering the road. Because as we’ve seen, your vehicle can easily be swept away with tragic consequences. And parents: Keep your children from playing in or around flooded streets, creeks and drains. We all have a duty of care to our fellow Fijians. So if you see someone behaving irresponsibly, do what you can to remind them of the gravity of this threat.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now at an almost constant level of threat from these extreme weather events, that are becoming more frequent and more severe because of climate change. And while as a nation, we are striving to build our resilience and adapt to the frightening new era that is upon us, Fiji is also doing what it can to address the root cause of these events through our leadership of the global climate negotiations, COP23.
Whatever the challenges at home, I continue to place the greatest importance on my work as COP23 President. And it is to get the message out loud and clear to the entire world about the absolute need to confront this crisis head on. As a matter of the utmost importance and urgency, we must limit the global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. It is the only way to prevent catastrophe for the whole world and especially for vulnerable nations such as our own. But, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a very serious challenge in getting that message across and let me lay it out in stark terms this morning.
Even with the commitments that have been made under the Paris Agreement of 2015 – our Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide – they are woefully inadequate. Instead of limiting the global temperature to 1.5 degrees, they could, in fact, produce warming of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century. And that would spell untold suffering for our planet. For humans, animals, plants… all living things.
Countless species of animals and plants would become extinct. Human beings would suffer heat stress, food and water shortages and more illness as tropical diseases like malaria move into cooler regions of the world. It would be impossible to maintain current standards of public health. And the devastating impacts would threaten the global economic and social order, not least by creating vast numbers of climate refugees.
As COP23 President, my formal duty is to encourage the global community to fully implement the provisions of the Paris Agreement – to hold the increase in global temperatures to well below two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. As you know, I have been encouraging everyone as COP President to embrace 1.5 – the most ambitious Paris target – as soon as possible. But I repeat: we are nowhere near being able to achieve that with our current NDCs. And that is why the next stage of the COP process is so important – the Talanoa Dialogue to raise the ambition of our NDCs. Deeper cuts in carbon dioxide emissions – much deeper – so that we can finally begin addressing the gravity of this threat to our entire planet.
The Talanoa Dialogue – presided over by Fiji and Poland -is a centerpiece of COP 24. So Fiji will be an important force in the continuing global battle against climate change long after our formal presidency of COP23 ends in December.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is critical for the whole world that the Talanoa Dialogue succeeds. That we use the Pacific concept of inclusive consultation, devoid of finger pointing, to lift our collective carbon emission targets, our NDCs, and give this effort the urgency and importance it requires.
So far from me winding down my COP activities as the year progresses, I will in fact be stepping up the fight. The week after next, I will be in London marshaling the 53 countries of the Commonwealth into renewed action at CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. These leaders represent 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population, many of them in vulnerable nations. Whether it is flood-prone continental states like Bangladesh, drought-stricken nations in Africa, or Small Island Developing States like those of us in the Pacific or the Caribbean. And these leaders are powerful agents for change.
I am also placing the highest importance on the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September, where my COP23 Special Envoy for States and Regions, Governor Jerry Brown, is bringing together all the components of our wider Grand Coalition – state and local leaders, businesses, civil society, scientists and students.
Of course, somewhere in all of this, I also have to fight an election here at home. But I know that the Fijian people understand the importance of what I am doing on their behalf because they realise this is a fight for our very survival. For our people in the here and now, for future generations, for our land and our ocean and all we hold dear. And they are standing shoulder to shoulder with me in this struggle.
Getting people to be more aware of the climate threat is a vital part of our nation’s education, which is why the Fijian launch today of the virtual reality film – Our Home, Our People – is so important. Virtual Reality really is the best way to bring home the reality of the impact of climate change on the Fijian people – a 360 degree experience that is unlike anything else you will have ever seen.
When you put on the Virtual Reality headset, it is really like being there – whether it is the Bayly Memorial School in Barotu, the communities of Nambukadra and Namarai or Vunisavisavi in Cakaudrove, the place that is really at the centre of this film. It brings to life the struggle of the people of Ra and Cakadrove to build their resilience to climate change. It reminds every Fijian who will see it that we are coming together in our spirit of vei lomani – of caring – to support each other and confront the climate challenge. And it reminds every person who sees it the world over that the climate struggle isn’t only about scientists or experts but ordinary people like those Fijians who feature in the film.
It was one of the highlights of the Fijian Pavilion at COP23, not only for the many thousands who passed through it but for me personally. And I urge as many Fijians as possible to try to see it. Because it is genuinely brilliant. And I want to warmly thank the World Bank team that was behind this initiative, both for the production itself and for the way you worked so closely with the communities involved.
I’m especially pleased that the people who feature in the film will be able to see themselves in virtual reality when you take it on tour to Nambukadra, Namarai, the Bayly Memorial School and Vunisavisavi. As well as some great characters and spectacular scenery, Our Home, Our People contains a powerful message – communicating some of the key findings of a Climate Vulnerability Assessment carried out by a team from the World Bank and a team from our Ministry of Economy led by Nilesh Prakash.
This Assessment finds that by 2050, Fiji’s annual losses due to extreme weather events could reach 6.5 percent of GDP, with more than 32,000 people pushed into hardship every year. It also finds that over ten years, an estimated 9.3 billion Fijian dollars will be needed to build resilience and the capacity to adapt to climate change – almost equivalent to our entire GDP for a year. Yet what this film does above all is to give the raw statistics a human face, and remind us that we all have an important role to play in our response to climate change. Every Fijian, including our young people.
I want to say how much I appreciate the participation in this morning’s event of the students and teachers from Saint Anne’s Primary, Lami Primary and Yat Sen Primary schools. They’re showcasing the models they’ve produced as part of their own studies of climate change. And I want to say vinaka vakalevu to them for their own commitment on behalf of us all.
As we clean up in the affected areas after Tropical Cyclone Josie, I urge every Fijian to join the struggle to build a more climate-resilient Fiji. And to support our global effort to tackle the root causes through our presidency of COP-23 and our joint carriage of the Talanoa Dialogue. I also encourage as many of you as possible to come down to the Suva City Library and enjoy the virtual reality experience – the story of Our Home, Our People and their own climate struggle. And I have the great pleasure to formally launch this wonderful film in Fiji.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.