“The Fijian economy can be net zero by 2041” – COP23 President’s Remarks at the Launch of the Fiji Low Emission Development Strategy

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all,

I’m very proud that Fiji and the Marshall Islands have become the first two nations to commit to raising the ambition of our NDCs by 2020 and to reach net zero emissions by mid century. When I mentioned this at a Talanoa Dialogue in London two weeks ago, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. And today I’m equally proud, at COP24, to officially launch the vehicle that will get Fiji there – the Low Emission Development Strategy that is our blueprint for a clean energy future.

I’m delighted that so many of you have joined us here this afternoon at the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion, which has been a hive of activism on climate and oceans all through COP, and which Fijians have been privileged to share with our fellow islanders and New Zealand friends. Vinaka vakalevu to everyone who has helped make the Pacific presence at COP24 so visible.

I also want to express my warmest thanks to our friends from around the world who have joined us today in solidarity with Fiji and the Pacific. And especially a great friend of Fiji – Dr Karsten Sachs of the German Government. Without Germany’s generosity, Fiji would not have been able to host the COP last year. So, Karsten, please again pass on our warmest thanks to Chancellor Merkel and her government.

Friends, we have had a great story to tell and thanks to you, we have told it. It is a story of the great challenges we face as some of the most-climate vulnerable people on earth and also those who are among the most dependent on the health of our ocean. But it is also an inspirational story of solidarity in the face of those challenges and of doing what we can ourselves to meet them.

I’m also proud, and I know you all are too, that our Pacific Talanoa concept of inclusive decision-making has captured the imagination of the world. And more importantly that it has led to the Talanoa Call for Action – a call from the Polish and Fijian presidencies for greater action in pursuit of the goals of the Paris Agreement.

This Call for Action is one of the greatest legacies of Fiji’s COP23 Presidency, along with our Ocean Pathway Partnership and building our Grand Coalition that for the first time, has seen national governments joined in the quest for more ambition by states, cities and regions, the private sector, civil society and billions of ordinary people around the world.

Friends, Fiji has made a difference. The Marshall Islands under the leadership of President Hilda Heine has made a difference. All our Pacific neighbours have made a difference. And as COP24 draws to a close, we can be proud of the important role we have played and will continue to play. Because we have given voice to our people and their concerns. And we will continue to make that voice heard in the great forums of the world, demanding more action and more ambition.

We know that this ambition needs to increase fivefold – five times more action than at present – if we are to have any hope of capping the global temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. Our current NDCs will produce warming of at least 3 degrees by century’s end, which would be catastrophic for the whole world, and especially our island homes. So we have no choice collectively but to act.

Friends, we can be proud that we aren’t sitting in the middle of the Pacific looking to everyone else to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and pleading that we are too small to matter. We are determined to lead by example. Which is why Fiji and the Marshall Islands have become the first to commit to further reductions in our emissions, even though these are negligible in world terms.

In the case of Fiji, our current emissions are point zero, zero, six per cent of total global emissions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better through the initiative I am unveiling today. Fiji’s Low Emission Development Strategy makes us the 11th nation to have submitted such a plan to the UN in line with Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. It involves an economy-wide assessment of emission sources to identify where we can make further cuts. And as I keep saying, if we can do it, so can every nation. All it requires is political will and I again appeal to every nation to rise to that challenge.

This strategy is ambitious, inclusive and comprehensive, with a broad range of initiatives that promote sustainable growth and long-term de-carbonisation of the Fijian economy. A major area of focus is the energy sector and achieving reductions in carbon emissions in land transport, maritime transport and domestic aviation, agriculture, forestry and other land use and waste.

As I said in our National Statement at COP last week, we have also become the first Small Island Developing State to include the blue carbon sector in our Low Emission Development Strategy. This involves the preservation and restoration of our mangroves, which as we all know, are vital to the well-being of coastal communities, sequester carbon and are a vital component of the overall emissions reduction effort.

Our Low Emission Development Strategy is a living document designed to inspire action that we can add to at any time on the journey that will take us to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. No Pacific island nation has ever undertaken such a thorough or comprehensive study on an economy-wide, low carbon development strategy. But we haven’t done this on our own. And I want to pay particular tribute to the Global Green Growth Institute for the technical expertise it has provided for this and other projects in Fiji.

Our strategy sets out four possible carbon emission scenarios for Fiji that become progressively more ambitious in scale depending on whether we can secure the necessary finance. The more external funding we can get, the more ambitious we can be.

  • The Business as Usual Unconditional scenario is existing measures already being addressed by the Fijian Government.
  • The Business As Usual Conditional scenario is national policies that require external funding.
  • The High Ambition Scenario is what it says: We can achieve deeper cuts in carbon emissions with substantial external funding, resources and capacity building.
  • And the Very High Ambition scenario is what we would like to do with maximum external support and investment. In this scenario the Fijian economy can be net zero by 2041 and from then produce net negative emissions – with our trees and mangroves drawing down more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than we add through our industry. This is an exciting prospect – not just minimising damage, but aiding the task of repairing the atmosphere already dangerously overloaded with heat trapping gases.

So friends, this is why it is so critical that the global community frees up the many billions of dollars that are needed for mitigation and adaptation efforts all around the world. And I again appeal to the industrial nations to meet and increase their commitments to the Green Climate Fund and for more focus on deploying those and other investments to where they are needed most.

Friends, in closing, I want to thank everyone who has been involved in developing our Low Emission Development Strategy. Every modelled scenario has undergone extensive consultations between the technical experts, government agencies, the private sector and civil society. So they are feasible and achievable and the only thing standing in the way is access to the finance we will need to reach the most ambitious outcomes.

I’m proud that my Government has shown the political will to bring everyone together to produce this strategy. To be Number 11 ahead of 186 other nations to come up with such a comprehensive plan is a wonderful achievement for Fiji. And I now have the great pleasure to formally launch our Low Emission Development Strategy that is the blueprint for our zero carbon future.

As I prepare to leave for Fiji tonight, I also want to extend my personal thanks to everyone who has assisted our COP presidency. I think we can be very proud of what we’ve achieved and may God bless you all.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.