Launch of Pre-COP 2017 – We Need Absolute Dedication to the 1.5 Target

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all,

This is an historic day for Fiji as we begin the process of accepting the baton from Morocco and beginning our term as President of COP23.

President Mezouar, I want to begin by congratulating you on your own Presidency of COP22 and for the support you have given me and Fiji from the very moment we took on this responsibility. We remember with gratitude your strong endorsement of Fiji’s Presidency; your constant reminder that this is a year in which we must accelerate progress in the negotiations to safeguard the interests of the most vulnerable; and also the unwavering confidence you have expressed in our leadership as the first small island state to be honoured with the Presidency of the COP.

My thanks go to you and your excellent team. And I especially congratulate you for delivering a great speech in English and also your use of the iTaukei language. Vinaka vakalevu.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. We can no longer ignore this crisis. Whether it is fires in California, Portugal and Spain. Flooding in Nigeria, India and Bangladesh. The dramatic Arctic melt. Ice breaking off the continent of Antarctica. The recent hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean and the southern United States. Or the hurricane that has just struck Ireland and Scotland – the tenth hurricane of the Atlantic season this year.

It’s hard to find any part of the world that is unaffected by these events. And we in the Pacific need no lessons on this threat after Fiji was struck last year by the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere. And Vanuatu was devastated by a similar event the year before.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, future generations will rightly judge us on what we did about all of this. We must rise to the challenge. We must commit ourselves to solving this problem. Fortunately there is not only hope that we can find and implement solutions to climate change but there is opportunity to create better lives for our citizens once we make the hard decisions that need to be made.

We can bring clean power to people who need it. We can introduce better and more affordable energy systems. And we can feed our people with better stewardship of our land, water and forests. We can use our resources much more efficiently through a combination of political will, ingenuity and finance. But finance that is well spent – investment for a better future.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, people ask me what I want to bring to these negotiations, which after all, have been going on for many years. And I say it is to bring a sense of urgency to the process. I recognise that my fellow leaders among the island states made a major contribution to the creation of the mother agreement in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. In subsequent agreements in Kyoto in 1997, and in Paris in 2015. I honour their work. Leaders like the late Tony deBrum – “Mr 1.5 to stay alive”. Their contribution will never be forgotten.

And frankly, it would have been in everyone’s interests had we done what they argued for earlier. They have had a long history of being right. And they will tell you now that we need to exercise more collective power to solve this problem before it’s too late.  We received the same message from our own people on the tapa scroll delivered so spectacularly by drua on Denarau Beach yesterday evening.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I can tell my own people that we are embarking on a series of projects here in Fiji that will improve their everyday lives and help them to adapt to the effects of climate change. Communities will now have clean power where they previously had diesel generated power or no power. Our capital city – Suva – will now have a more resilient water and waste management system. And creating our own Green Bond will provide better access to climate adaptation finance in Fiji.

All this is happening. And all of this can be replicated in other countries, other vulnerable countries. But nations cannot protect themselves individually without all the parties to this agreement doing what they have already agreed to do and more.

This is why the international negotiations are so vital to the interests of our people and the same is true for the people you all represent. As you know, Fiji’s task as President of these negotiations is to progress the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement – to bring the vision of the Paris Agreement to life.  And to design the Facilitative Dialogue which many of you are already calling the “Talanoa Dialogue”.

I must say that ever since Fiji introduced the Talanoa concept in Bonn back in May, it seems to have captured the imaginations of a great many of you. The spirit behind it seems to fit the needs of this process at this time. To share our stories in an atmosphere of respect, without finger-pointing. Not merely focusing on what people haven’t done but what they could and should do to lift ambition and reduce the risk to us all.

And that’s the point of talanoa. It’s about delivering outcomes for the common good. And if Frank can be frank for a moment, I’ve always had a bit of trouble with the word “facilitative”. It’s a tongue-twister that really doesn’t resonate with my own people, that’s for sure.

So Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: urgency, political will, cooperation, ambition and an absolute dedication to meet the 1.5 degree target is what we need and what we must take to Bonn. It’s not enough to scare people. We can’t resign ourselves to our fate. We have to inspire in our people the absolute certainty that life will get better if we solve this problem. It’s a future we don’t have to be afraid of if we have the courage to act.

I want to close by saying vinaka vakalevu to all those who have worked so hard to bring us all together – the COP23 Secretariat, the wider Presidency support team and the many people from the various arms of the Fijian Government, private enterprise and supporting agencies who have contributed to this event.

And so with less than three weeks to COP, let’s get to work to make this vision real. Because the work that we will do together matters. It will shape a world of decisions that will take us in a new and better direction.

Vinaka vakalevu.  Thank you.