“We Need to Push Forward, for Climate and for Health” – President’s Speech at High Level Event on Climate and Health

Prime Minister and COP23 President’s speech at the Health Actions for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement event in Bonn, Germany on 12 November 2017.

Bula vinaka, guten tag and a very good afternoon to you all.

We all know that climate change will have an increasingly serious effect on the health of our people and create some serious challenges for our health systems and infrastructure. And I’m pleased to see that in the COP negotiations, health is now getting the priority it deserves. Because the evidence from the medical and public health community has been building for many years.

For a long time, many people didn’t see health as something that needed to be treated specifically in our climate negotiations. Yet the very first article of the UNFCCC treaty, signed in 1992, refers to protecting health and well-being from the adverse effects of climate change. And the “right to health” is enshrined on the first page of the Paris Agreement.

To fulfil that promise, we need to invest in new infrastructure that can withstand what nature will deliver, and we need to make our health systems stronger and more agile. Climate change is already causing stress in our health systems, so now is the time to fix them. And we must embrace the fact that human health is inherently tied to modern, resilient infrastructure.

This challenge hits wealthy nations and poor nations alike, but it is a fact that poorer people live under less-protected conditions than the more affluent. So improving health delivery, fortifying existing infrastructure, and extending resilient infrastructure to vulnerable communities are urgent tasks.

And those tasks will require financing. This is a massive undertaking for developing countries, in particular, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.

Health risks are also exacerbated by climate events which cause devastation, which we saw in the Caribbean just weeks ago. We in the Pacific and other parts of the world are equally vulnerable to climatic events that put pressure on our health systems. In Fiji, we are still recovering from the impact last year of the biggest cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, that killed 44 of our people and wiped out a third of our GDP and damaged much of our public infrastructure, including health centres.

Unfortunately, only a small fraction of international finance for climate-change adaptation is for projects that aim specifically to protect human health, and Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States will see only a small fraction of that.

That is why the initiative we are launching today is so welcome and so important. It is a joint initiative of the World Health Organization, the UN Climate Change secretariat and the Fijian COP23 Presidency. And its objective is to ensure that we will have health systems that are resilient to climate change by 2030. It also stresses the need to reduce carbon emissions worldwide to protect the most vulnerable.

I am especially pleased that this initiative is a true partnership to produce solutions. And I hope a report will come up in the next COP. And it backs that partnership by tripling international financial support to climate and health in Small Island Developing States.

The whole point of our holding these meetings is that the world must face the challenge presented by climate change together, through collective action. This is one way collective action can be targeted to very specific outcomes.

Like our neighbours in the Pacific, Fiji is already experiencing the effects of climate change on health but we are doing what we can to meet that challenge. Five of the eight objectives of Fiji’s National Climate Change Policy seek to reduce the vulnerability of Fiji’s population, health systems and public health environment to the impacts of climate change.

Our health-care sector is currently in a period of rapid growth and improvement. We are building new hospitals and expanding and improving existing ones. We are building them stronger and better. We are encouraging young Fijians to take up medical careers by giving full scholarships. We have dedicated significant government resources to making pharmaceuticals available, in particular to those in the lower socio-economic bracket.

We have also embarked on a major water project, with the collaboration of the European Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Green Climate Fund.  It will protect our water infrastructure in the greater Suva area—both fresh water and wastewater—against extreme weather events. And it will benefit approximately 300,000 people, nearly one-third of our population. It will also provide greater access to clean drinkable water.

Friends, as well as its focus on resilience building in the health sector, our new initiative stresses reducing carbon emissions, because there is a simpler truth that goes beyond the particular concerns of small-island states: The things that we must do to reduce global warming over the long term are good for our health now. The cities with the poorest air quality in the world are in developing countries and are populated by millions of people who live on the edge. The poor cannot escape the contamination or afford routine medical care. So they are condemned to live with declining health.

That is why major cities have been trying to reduce pollution for decades, long before we started talking about global warming. We need to push that effort forward, for climate and for health.

I would like to thank Dr Tedros for making climate and environmental change a top priority for the World Health Organization, and my friend Patricia Espinosa for elevating the relationship between climate change and health to the position it holds now.

I also want to give a special welcome to Governor Schwarzenegger. Governor, thank you for being with us today and for your very public commitment to the struggle against climate change. By devoting your energy, your leadership, and the good will you have amassed over a lifetime to this campaign, you are making a real difference.

Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to a thoughtful and enlightening discussion today, and I thank you all for participating—and for caring.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.