“We Need Measures that Provide Practical Access to Finance” – President’s Speech at Event on Loss and Damage

Bula vinaka, guten morgen and a very good morning to you all.

Loss and Damage in the context of climate is not an abstract concept. It is a reality experienced by far too many people around the world already.  And we know that is the case with 1.1 degree warming. On some recent projections, we are headed to 3 or 4 degrees and that is going to spell catastrophe.

AOSIS and the Pacific Small Island Developing States have been making the case for the most climate vulnerable since the late 1980s. In 1991, AOSIS proposed an insurance pool to cover the cost of loss and damage. And this week, at last, an insurance mechanism was launched that will finally provide better access to more affordable insurance for those who need it most.

Additionally, this week the Fiji Clearing House for Risk Transfer was launched which will assist in the sharing of insurance information and solutions. And I’m very proud that these initiatives have happened during our Presidency of COP23. I want to pay tribute to the perseverance of all those who have been promoting this idea for almost 30 years.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this change is necessary because the current global insurance system does not work well enough for the poor and vulnerable. And certainly our people and my Government really struggled when Fiji was struck last year by the biggest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere.

Cyclone Winston killed 44 of our loves ones, destroyed many thousands of homes, schools and health centres and caused losses amounting to 30 per cent of our GDP. Mercifully, it spared most of the tourism areas on which our economy relies heavily on. But as I have said before, we are deeply apprehensive, even fearful, about what would happen if a similar event were to score a direct hit on our major towns, cities and tourism properties. It could easily wipe out our economy in the space of a few terrifying hours and set back our development for decades. And also make it impossible for us to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals.

On top of the terror and heartbreak of Winston itself, many of our people had to deal with the fact that the loss of their homes and possessions wasn’t  covered by insurance. They effectively had to start their lives again with no financial means. And while my Government responded quickly with a Help for Homes Initiative to assist our people to rebuild, we cannot always replicate such assistance each time a climatic event occurs.

What these initiatives will offer is practical assistance and hope. With a generous financing arrangement for the partnership from Germany, the United Kingdom and other nations and financial institutions such as the World Bank, climate-vulnerable people throughout the world at least have an avenue to bounce back more quickly.

It is a huge leap forward and we are delighted at the level of cooperation between government, international institutions, private sector insurance, academia and civil society organisations that has made this possible. It is another wonderful example of the Grand Coalition in action and a good result from COP23.

Within Fiji, we know that our infrastructure must be upgraded or designed to cope with climate change. This week, we have also celebrated a water and wastewater investment of more than 400-million US dollars through a blended finance arrangement to improve the climate resilience and the public health of our capital city, Suva, and its surrounds.

As well as threats to infrastructure, we also have major concerns over the effect of sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification on our fisheries, reefs and mangroves. This is already affecting our coastal communities and is obviously a threat to the future of our tourism industry if we don’t solve this problem now.

So Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, loss and damage isn’t some distant prospect. It is a grave and present reality. The issue, as ever, is what we do about it. And as COP President, I am aware of the responsibility of maintaining the dialogue between Parties – which I’m told is now going to be called the Suva Dialogue – to maintain focus on this issue and get to grips with its impact.

At the same time, we need measures that provide practical access to finance for adaptation and enable us to build our resilience to climate change. It was one of my main motivations for taking on this role. And I intend to use my Presidency of COP to encourage more initiatives like the insurance mechanisms launched this week.

Thank you for your interest in this event and we look forward to hearing the perspectives of the remaining speakers.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.