We Have a Moral Obligation to Assist the Most Vulnerable – COP23 President

Prime Minister and incoming COP23 President Frank Bainimarama’s remarks at the United Nations Foundations Dinner in New York on 19 September.

Friends, we have just witnessed the passion, vision and leadership that has made Governor Brown such a powerful advocate in the global effort to confront the challenge of climate change and I’m proud to have the Governor by my side as I prepare to become the first leader of a Pacific Small Island State to assume the presidency of COP – the ongoing UN negotiations on climate change.  Vinaka vakalevu, Jerry, for putting our collective case for decisive climate action so eloquently and so forcefully this evening.

I’d like to begin by also warmly thanking our host, the UN Foundation and Senator Tim Wirth – another great advocate for climate action; the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa; and all our distinguished fellow guests who are too numerous to single out individually but are also important allies in the great challenge that lies before us. Undoubtedly the greatest humanity has ever faced.

Friends, we gather at a time when the people of the Caribbean, who have already suffered so much from Hurricane Irma, are facing yet another ordeal from Hurricane Maria. And I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that our hearts go out to them this evening, as well as to the millions of people still reeling from Hurricane Irma in the southern United States.

Certainly the thoughts and prayers of every Fijian are with the ordinary men, women and children who are currently suffering the trauma we have shared – the loss of 44 of our loved ones and a third of our GDP from Tropical Cyclone Winston last year.

Friends, this is the nightmare scenario that vulnerable nations around the world are already dealing with because of climate change. But it spares no-one, whether it is the extreme weather events whose terrible force we are currently witnessing, rising sea levels or the changes to agriculture that threaten our economies and our food security.

I believe it is only a matter of time before the doubters – the sceptics – are won over to our cause. Because the science is conclusive. The evidence is all around us. And as that evidence mounts, politicians who ignore it will inevitably be asked by the people who put them there: “Why did you ignore all the  signs? Why didn’t you act decisively to save us?”

As I keep saying – we are all in the same canoe – all 7.5 billion people on earth. And we not only have a collective obligation to save ourselves. As citizens of the world, we have a moral obligation to assist the most vulnerable. To build their resilience to climate change, provide them with access to alternative energy sources, plus affordable insurance to help them recover more quickly from the devastation we are currently witnessing on our television screens.

Above all, it means an absolute and unwavering commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement of two years ago.  As you all know, the formal Conference of the Parties in Bonn in just under eight weeks time is confined to sovereign governments. Yet the campaign Governor Brown is spearheading as the leader of the State of California – the sixth biggest economy in world – underlines the critical importance of non-state actors the world over.

As COP23 President, I have appointed Governor Brown as Special Envoy for Cities and States to help marshal the grand coalition I am forging for decisive climate action. Governments at every level, civil society, the private sector and ordinary men, women and young people uniting for climate action and insisting that more be done. Much more.

I approached the Governor because of the global leadership he is already showing by bringing subnational governments together as part of the Under 2 Coalition. I regard that coalition as an extremely important initiative – a critical pillar of Fiji’s wider grand coalition as COP President. And I urge you all to support the 2018 California Summit that Governor Brown is convening with other subnational leaders. To send the strongest possible message to the Parties and the process.

It’s my own belief that not only do we need, as a matter of urgency, to go under two degrees warming over the industrial age. We need to work as fast as possible to achieve the 1.5 degrees that is the more ambitious target of the Paris Agreement but must now be the benchmark, no matter how hard that may be to achieve. Because the impacts of climate change are clearly worse than envisaged two years ago and we have no time to waste.

Friends, Fiji is a small country with a big responsibility. To live up to the trust the global community has placed in us to move the climate agenda forward. In particular, to advance the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement and prepare for more ambitious action in the Facilitative Dialogue under the presidency of Poland in 2018.  That process is well underway. And I am looking to all the Parties to come to Bonn to work through our agenda in an atmosphere of cooperation and friendship.

With our limited means, we can only perform a task of this magnitude with the generosity of others. So if there is any group or individual who can support us financially, please consider doing so.

Our story is also one of a small nation with big ambitions – to eventually transform ourselves from a developing country into a modern nation state at home. And to play an increasing role in helping to secure the futures of those around us in the Pacific and the world beyond.

For almost four decades, we have contributed troops to UN Peacekeeping missions in troubled parts of the world. And now we are determined to make a successful contribution to the wider security of the planet through our leadership of COP23.

My warmest thanks goes to all of you who have made this event such a success. And I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible as the evening progresses.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.