Fiji is a parliamentary democracy in the South Pacific Ocean, located about 2,000 km northeast of New Zealand. It has a population of about 900,000 people. Most of the people live on the two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, but the entire population is distributed across about 110 of Fiji’s more than 300 islands.
Fiji is the economic and technological hub of the South Pacific and has one of the region’s most developed economies. It is also the hub of development in the Pacific and facilitates development assistance throughout the region. Its main sources of foreign exchange today are tourism and sugar. It is rich in natural resources, and also exports timber, minerals, fish and fish products, manufactured goods and agricultural produce.
Fiji is an outward-looking nation that has long contributed to international efforts to establish peace and security. Fijian soldiers fought with British forces in World Wars I and II and Malaysia, and the Fijian military has provided peacekeepers to support United Nations efforts throughout Africa and the Middle East for many years.
Once a British crown colony, Fiji became independent in 1970 and is a member of the Commonwealth today. It is a secular state, and its Constitution stresses a common and equal citizenry and full equality regardless of race, religion or gender.
Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, serves as President of COP 23, after Fiji made history by becoming the first Small Island Developing State to preside over the conference of parties – the annual round of the ongoing United Nations climate negotiations, to be held this year in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017.
PM Bainimarama was elected in 2014 and represents the FijiFirst political movement, which ran on a platform of full equality and economic, educational and administrative reform. Fiji has suffered from racial tensions and has experienced four military coups since independence, the last in 2006. The current government believes that creating a national ethos of equality and increasing the opportunities for all citizens to receive justice, enjoy the benefits of government services and participate in a growing economy will create stability and enduring democracy.
Fiji took on the presidency of COP 23—and sought to co-chair, with the government of Sweden, the United Nations Oceans Summit—as a direct result of its endangered relationship to the sea. Fiji is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the unsustainable exploitation of the oceans, although much less so than many other Small Island Developing States, including some of its low-lying neighbours in the South Pacific.
The nation sees its role as representing all Small Island Developing States and bringing their very special and immediate concerns for efforts to both combat and adapt to climate change before the world. As a Small Island Developing State, Fiji feels very keenly the negative effects of climate change, including unpredictable storms of extreme intensity, such as Tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck Fiji in February 2016; sea-level rise, which has caused the Fijian Government to identify some 80 villages for relocation to higher ground; and warming seas, which have caused changes in fish populations and bleaching of coral reefs.
How Fiji is Affected by Climate Change
Fiji—like its neighbours across the South Pacific—remains one of the smallest contributors to global carbon emissions, yet faces some of the most devastating consequences of extreme weather patterns.
According to Fiji’s National Climate Change Policy, global sea level changes will more than double by the end of the century. Since 1993, Fiji has recorded a 6 millimetre (0.2 inch) increase in its sea level per year, larger than the global average. The rapid rise in sea levels and the resulting saltwater intrusion that stems from the increased ferocity of coastal floods have made portions of the island nation uninhabitable.
The Pacific Islands
The small island nations spread across the vast Pacific Ocean occupy a positive place in the world’s collective imagination for their beauty, their biodiversity and the romance that has been associated with them through literature and film. But they face some of the world’s most serious challenges due to climate change.
From Fiji to the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu to Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands’ array of low-lying islands and atolls, or chains of ring-shaped reefs, confront destruction wrought by rapidly rising sea levels, warming temperatures, intensified storm surges and persistent droughts. Broadly, these extreme weather patterns impede economic development, hamper residents’ ability to access clean water, and destroy the soil nations rely on for agriculture and fundamental food security.