Fiji’s Story at the High-Level Talanoa on a Rapid Transition to a Net-Zero Emissions Society

On 12 September, Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President shared a story from Fiji at the High-Level Talanoa on a Rapid Transition to a Net-Zero Emissions Society at the Global Climate Action Summit.

Friends, my story – my talanoa – is about the transformation we have been making in the lives of a small community in western Fiji, and the Fijians who have now become standard bearers for our collective effort to bring affordable, clean, renewable energy to billions of people throughout the world.

The tiny island of Vio is off the coast of our second city, Lautoka – where I grew up as a child – and has a population of about 250 people living in fewer than 50 homes. In common with many small or isolated communities in the Pacific and across the world, the people of Vio have been beyond the reach of our national electricity grid.

They used to make do with candlepower in the old days, then kerosene lamps, and now, for the first time, they are about to enjoy the wonders of electricity 24 hours a day.  What some may take for granted, the Vio community will soon be experiencing for the first time: children being able to do their homework in proper light in the evenings; families having the ability to keep devices charged and maintain access to the internet — these are profound improvements for the people of Vio Village. And we are doing this with the power of the sun. Indeed, Fiji is doing everything possible to make the switch to clean, renewable energy. And further reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions by setting a goal of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Friends, this is the part of the story when the hero comes in, in the form of the Hollywood actor and humanitarian, Leonardo DiCaprio. Because the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is assisting a charitable trust set up by my government – the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund – to build a solar-battery hybrid energy system in Vio using a micro-grid to connect each of the homes with clean, renewable electricity.

We’ve had the technical expertise in Fiji to do so through Viti Renewables, a joint venture between a private solar developer, Sunergise (Fiji) Limited, and our national power company, Electricity Fiji Limited. And a local organisation – the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network – is providing community engagement and training. But I want to warmly thank Leonardo DiCaprio and his team for having the vision and generosity to provide the seed funding for this project in Vio, and help mobilise a second round of funding for 10 more communities under the program.

Friends, this is not just charity. These communities will pay a retail tariff for the benefit of 24-hour access to solar battery power.  And that revenue will be used by the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund to ensure continued services to the community and to expand the program to other communities.

We have formed a public -private partnership in which the government also contributes to capital costs. And the goal is to eventually create a self-sustaining model in which the initial donor funding builds the first systems and the revenue generated supports the expansion of the program.

Friends, as we acknowledge the generosity of Leonardo DiCaprio, we are also seeking other donors to scale up this program a quickly as possible to reach the roughly 400 other Fijian communities currently not served by the national grid. I commend it to anyone who believes that from little things, big things grow. And especially the challenge of bringing clean, renewable energy to small or isolated communities that either have no services yet, or are totally reliant on fossil fuel generators that do not provide adequate services and are themselves costly to operate and maintain.

The partnership that is pulling this together symbolises the critical importance of the Grand Coalition I spoke about in my opening remarks – my government working with the DiCaprio Foundation, as well as Fijian companies on the cutting edge of renewable technology, to give a resounding answer to the question “where do we go from here?”.

It is to bring the energy, innovation and wealth of the private sector and donor community – plus all the elements of our Grand Coalition – to develop renewable energy projects that make a genuine difference in the lives of ordinary people and the health of our planet. And launch us firmly on “a rapid transition to a net zero emissions society” – the theme of our talanoa.

In Vio, friends, it is already happening. And I am convinced that this is a model that can be replicated throughout the Pacific and around the world.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.