“We must be much more ambitious” – COP23 President at the Talanoa Talks in London

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

We gather tonight at a critical phase of our collective struggle to persuade the world to accelerate our response to climate change. And I want to thank you all – and especially our stellar line-up of speakers – for joining me for this landmark event that is part of the Talanoa Dialogue at the heart of Fiji’s presidency of the UN climate negotiations.

Many of you will know by now that Talanoa is a Pacific concept of decision-making based on an inclusive, respectful exchange of ideas that we use to reach a consensus in our own societies about the best way forward. And as COP23 President, I am proud to have led the effort to share this concept from our island homes with the world at large as a tool to accelerate ambition in the climate struggle.

In a world in which many forces are trying to undermine our ability to work together, the Talanoa Dialogue may be the greatest legacy of Fiji’s COP presidency, as the first Small Island Developing State to preside over the UN negotiations. Already hundreds of sessions like this have been held all over the world. And the wonderful thing is that these are not merely talkfests but genuine exchanges of ideas that are leading to more ambition and more action.

Right from the start as COP President, I’ve been convinced that governments alone cannot effectively confront the climate challenge without also marshalling the ingenuity, enterprise and commitment of every global citizen. So we have helped forge a Grand Coalition for climate action encompassing cities, states and regions; the private sector, civil society and faith-based groups; and billions of ordinary people around the world.

We are deeply honoured tonight to have with us a diverse range of powerful, influential and inspirational voices in the climate struggle. But as I tell my own people: No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, you too can be a climate warrior. An agent for change in the greatest battle of our age – to prevent a breakdown of our climate systems that are now causing stronger and more deadly fires, storms and flooding to all parts of the world; repair our damaged oceans and lands; and in doing so, secure the futures of all 7.5 billion people who call our earth home, as well as the generations to come.

Talanoa sessions like this are providing a sharper focus for what must be done – bringing together some our best minds and those capable of inspiring action, to motivate people of goodwill everywhere to embrace the urgency of what we need to do and the ideas that will get us there.

As we know, time is running out. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, made a striking observation in the recent documentary to commemorate his 70th birthday. In every other form of human endeavour, he said, we all accept the science. But not on climate change. And I think it is the great tragedy of our times that far too many people of power and influence are ignoring the science, the evidence all around us. Because they are putting short-term economic and political interests before our collective long-term interests. Before the sustainability of our environment, our economies and the very survival of life as we know it.

Friends, as you know, Fiji is about to hand over the COP presidency to Poland. And the Polish have adopted as a theme for their Presidency for the next 12 months what they call – “A Just Transition”. I want to say as outgoing COP President that I agree with this. But it must not only be a just transition for those workers, regions and economies affected by the move from dirty energy to clean energy but a just transition for everyone. And especially the most climate vulnerable.

Because natural justice also demands that those human beings who are facing extreme weather events, rising seas or changes to agriculture also be given the opportunity and the means to properly adapt. To make the transition to a more secure future in a frightening new era, that in many instances, they have played no part in causing.

So, friends, we must not only be much more ambitious in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to cap the rise in the average global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial age – the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement. We must also be much more ambitious in raising the many billions of dollars needed to finance climate action and adaptation for the most vulnerable. And much more ambitious in continuing to develop alternative clean technologies and making them more affordable and accessible throughout the world.

Fiji intends to continue to lead that push for more ambition even after we formally surrender the COP Presidency next week. To keep being a voice for decisive climate action not only for ourselves but vulnerable people everywhere. And we also intend to keep leading by example, demonstrating to the world that the size of any nation is no impediment to making a significant impact in the climate struggle.

I’m very proud that Fiji and our Pacific neighbour -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. And we are appealing to all nations to do the same – a call to action from the Pacific on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people on earth.

If we can do it, so can you. And as our COP23 Presidency draws to an end, I again appeal to leaders everywhere to demonstrate the necessary political will to raise ambition and action to the level required to meet the climate threat and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

We know because the scientists have just told us that the window of opportunity is closing fast. So the choice we face is very stark: Act decisively to preserve life as we know it and ensure the wellbeing of our people. Or enter history as the generation that betrayed humanity and recklessly endangered our planet.

At the same time – as I keep stressing – other windows of opportunity are opening. Because however challenging the adjustment may be, the technologies and solutions exist to transform our economic prospects through a more sustainable use of the earth’s resources. And we can and must embrace these technologies and best practices, invest in them and make them more widely available. Because if we have the courage to do so, we will be opening up new horizons of opportunity for ourselves, our children and future generations, as well as preserving the only planet we call home.

Friends, thank you for your own commitment to the climate struggle and especially to our distinguished line-up tonight. I am deeply grateful that you are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Fijian people and other climate vulnerable people throughout the world. And now let’s talanoa for ambition, talanoa for change.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.