“We must limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 1.5” – Fijian Presidency’s Statement at High-Level Gathering on Biodiversity and Climate Change

Address by the Minister for Employment Opportunities, Productivity and Industrial Relations, the Honourable Jone Usamate, at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s High-Level Gathering on Biodiversity and Climate Change on 4 May 2018. 

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I bring you the warmest greetings of our Prime Minister and President of COP23, the Honourable Frank Bainimarama, who is again leading the global climate negotiations in Bonn, which are entering a critical stage as the global community works to finalise the Implementation Guidelines of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

I also bring the warmest greetings of the Fijian people to the people of New Caledonia and our very best wishes as you prepare for your momentous referendum on independence in November. The decision you have to make is of course one for the people of New Caledonia and you alone. But Fijians draw great strength from you all, as we do from our other Pacific neighbours, as together we confront the threat from the extreme weather events, rising seas, and changes to agriculture caused by climate change.

We thank the Pacific Community for organising this high-level event on biodiversity and climate change, and look forward to our deliberations in Noumea today.

The people of New Caledonia don’t need any lessons on the severe impacts of climate change, having recently experienced the effects of Tropical Cyclone Hola. Mercifully, the damage from Hola wasn’t as great in New Caledonia as originally feared, although it caused serious damage in Vanuatu. But in Fiji, we have been reeling from the impact of back-to-back cyclones last month that have again killed some our loved ones, damaged and destroyed homes and businesses, and caused extensive damage to our infrastructure and agriculture.

Tropical Cyclone Josie last month was only a Category 1, but it caused eight deaths. It reminded us that even if we are spared the destructive winds, the torrential rains these cyclones produce can be just as much of a killer. The volume of this rain, and the speed of the subsequent flooding, had to be seen to be believed. In our second biggest city, Lautoka, as much rain fell in four hours as in an entire month. And many other places had more rain in 24 hours than they would normally experience in a month.

The flooding left several of our main urban centres submerged, including Nadi, our national gateway, and the towns of Ba, Rakiraki and Labasa. Once again, there were heartbreaking scenes of peoples’ homes and businesses under water and their possessions damaged or destroyed. And of course, the bereavement – the loss of family members and friends – that has become an all-too-familiar burden not only for Fijians, but other Pacific islanders and people living in the Caribbean and other parts of the world.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we are now at an almost constant level of threat from these extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and more severe because of climate change. And while as a nation Fiji is striving to build our resilience to the frightening new era that is upon us, we are also doing what we can to address to the root causes of these events through our leadership of the global climate negotiations, COP23.

We very much see this as a Pacific Presidency, and the Prime Minister has asked me to again appeal to you all to join Fiji in our collective struggle to draw global attention to the importance of the fight against climate change.

You will all have received, or will shortly receive, an invitation to our Climate Action Pacific Partnership, or CAPP, Conference in Suva on July 25th to the 27th, and I appeal to you to make your attendance at this event a priority.

Not only the leaders of our PSIDS independent nations are welcome, but also representatives from New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia. And we are also inviting out larger neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, to take part in a collective expression of our solidarity and commitment to tackling the climate challenge head on and achieving the ambition for climate action that our region and the world so desperately needs.

At the CAPP Conference in Suva we will focus on action, including the achievements made establishing a regional Pacific NDC Hub – called for at last years’ CAPP Conference – to help implement and enhance our NDCs.

As a matter of the utmost importance and urgency, we must limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. That is our mission in the COP negotiations, and it is the only way to prevent catastrophe for the whole world, and especially for vulnerable nations like our own.

But excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have a very serious challenge in getting that message across. At this conference on biodiversity and climate change, we owe it to our people to lay this challenge out in the starkest of terms.

The commitments that have been made under the Paris Agreement, the Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, fall woefully short of the mark.  Instead of limiting the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees, they could in fact allow warming of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century. And that would spell untold suffering for our planet. For humans, animals, plants … all living things.

This is why our focus today on the link between biodiversity, climate change and the health of our oceans is so important. Because they are inextricably linked and we need a holistic approach to confronting the magnitude of the challenge we face.

We already know in the Pacific that our coral reefs are dying – and this is happening even at the current level of warming of 1 degree. But I ask you to imagine a world that is at least 3 degrees warmer by the year 2100. Countless species of animals and plants would become extinct. Human beings would regularly suffer heat stress, more illness and food and water shortages. Indeed, more nations would go to war in the struggle for food and water. And vast numbers of climate refugees would be created, posing a direct threat to the global economic and social order.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a nightmare scenario that the world must do everything it can to avert. As that great Pacific climate campaigner from the Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, said so often, “1.5 to stay alive.” The world has no choice but to embrace this target – the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement – as soon as possible.

But I repeat, we are nowhere near being able to achieve this with our current NDCs. And that is why the next stage of the COP process we have now embarked on is so important – the Talanoa Dialogue to raise the ambition of our NDCs. We need deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – much deeper – so we can finally begin to address the gravity of this threat.

In Bonn, Germany, this weekend, the first formal talanoa of the Talanoa Dialogue is taking place. And it is vital that this process – presided over by Fiji and Poland, the incoming President of COP24 – produces more ambition for climate action, stronger NDCs.

As you know, Talanoa is a word we use in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to describe a type of inclusive discussion that leads to consensus and decision-making. And we can be proud that the world embraced this uniquely Pacific concept at COP23 as a way of moving this process forward.

There will be a further Talanoa at the CAPP Conference in Suva in July and while we encourage many talanoas, this will represent a key Pacific regional Talanoa contribution.

There are other important talanoas taking place across the globe but what we hope will be the biggest talanoa of all, will be the formal mandated political leader Talanoa Dialogue at COP24 in Katowice, Poland in September.

Many parties and non-party stakeholders are very interested to see how this process of consensus building around stories of success and innovation can be built into future Paris Agreement processes. As President we are very keen to see these ideas come forward.

As President of COP23 we are also very aware of the need to ensure progress on the Paris Agreement implementation guidelines that will make the Paris Agreement operate when it starts in 2020.  The parties have mandated that these be finalized at COP24 in Poland and we are working with parties to achieve that even if, as appears likely, we will need another session in September before December’s COP24.

One of the important achievements from COP23 was the launching of the Ocean Pathway Partnership. Fiji is co-chairing this partnership with Sweden.

The Pathway has a two track strategy for 2020 supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement that includes:

  1. Increasing the role of the ocean considerations in the UNFCCC process and;
  2. Significantly increasing action in priority areas impacting or impacted by ocean and climate change.

We invite those of you yet to join the Ocean Pathway to do so. Again this is something the team is working on as we speak in Bonn but we will happy to explain more in the dialogue to come.

We must accelerate our action before and after 2020 if we are to have any chance of meeting the 1.5 target and achieving the necessary net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That is the only way to save us here in the Pacific. If we don’t, three of our number, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are doomed and the rest of us face the bleakest of futures – more extreme weather events – including stronger cyclones – the loss of more coastal areas, and a terrible threat to our food security because of changes to agriculture on land and the loss of marine habitats at sea.

Friends, yesterday in Bonn there was another meeting on the related issue of loss and damage, it was called the Suva dialogue. The Fijian Presidency places high importance on greater discussion and action on this issue and was pleased to make some achievements at COP23 relating to loss and damage. These include the Fiji Clearing House for Risk Transfer and the InsuResilience Global Partnership which aims to bring affordable insurance and other financial protection to millions of vulnerable people around the world.

This was a great achievement, but we need to do more. We look to our larger neighbours and friends to ensure there is not only much greater pools of public and private finance, but that they are easier to access than at present.

This will be vital if we are to build greater resilience to climate impacts, to address loss and damage, to ensure stability and security in our region and together grow a global net zero emissions economy by 2050 that has met and surpassed the sustainable development goals by 2030.

So, on behalf of the Fijian COP23 Presidency, I close by urging us all to take advantage of the opportunity today provides to exchange ideas and to get to know each other better.

Thank you to the SPC, and the governments of France and New Caledonia for making this gathering possible. Let us commit ourselves to change and let’s make our deliberations count.

Vinaka Vakelevu.