“‘Where are we?’: Nowhere near far enough to effectively confront the climate challenge” – COP23 President’s Remarks on the Talanoa Dialogue at Petersberg Dialogue IX

Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama’s speech on the Talanoa Dialogue on the second day of the Petersberg Dialogue. 

A year ago, I spoke in this room about the entire world being in the same canoe when it comes to climate change.  And at COP23 in Bonn last November, I urged the nations of the world to fill the sails of our COP symbol – a Fijian ocean-going canoe – with a determination to accelerate our collective response.

The vehicle we have chosen to achieve more ambition is the Talanoa Dialogue – a Pacific model of decision – making based on inclusiveness and consensus. All of us moving our canoe forward together in a process that for the first time, sees national governments joined by state and regional governments, civil society, the private sector and billions of ordinary citizens.

It is a Grand Coalition bringing together our best minds and brightest ideas to ramp up our response to climate change. And to do so in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation, free of finger pointing, grandstanding and a “winner takes all” approach.

Excellencies, Fiji and its neighbours are proud to have brought this Pacific concept to the UN process. And as president of COP23, Fiji is proud to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Polish partners in presiding over the Talanoa Dialogue at COP24 in December.

We also appreciate the support of Morocco in the design of the Dialogue. But I need to be blunt with everyone about what is at stake and what we need to do. And in the context of the three formal questions the global community has mandated us to address in the Talanoa process.

First, “where are we?”: And the simple answer – as I see it – is nowhere near far enough to effectively confront the climate challenge. The Nationally Determined Contributions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions arising from the Paris Agreement are simply inadequate. Instead of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age – the most ambitious Paris target – they are set to produce warming of at least 3 degrees by century’s end. And that would be catastrophic for all humanity – including the loss of entire nations, widespread shortages of food and water, more disease, hundreds of millions of people displaced and the almost certain breakdown of the global order as nations fight over scarce resources.

As I keep stressing, it is a nightmare scenario that must not be allowed to happen – a threat to global security as great as any war. And we must do everything possible to preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive climate action and stand up to those who would put their short-term interests first. Whoever they are. Wherever they are.

The second question we have been mandated to address is “where do we want to go?” And my own answer is; as far as it takes to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In other words, raising our NDCs as much as it takes to meet that deadline in 32 years’ time. Because I am convinced it is the only way we can keep within the 1.5 degree warming target of the Paris Agreement. And the only way we can address the scale of the current threat, preserve the lives and livelihoods of all 7.5 billion people on earth, and preserve the health of the planet that is our only home.

Excellencies, we must all embrace a fundamental truth: If you aren’t vulnerable now, you soon will be.

And the only way for us to put our nation’s first is to lock arms with all other nations and move forward together. Because if each country tries to preserve its narrow national interests, we will all lose. We will be powerless to protect our own people from the consequences of climate change. Every wise leader knows this. And we must pool our collective wisdom and put the planet first because that is ultimately putting our people first. One world acting in unison to confront the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

And finally “how do we get there”? And my answer is:  By the whole world embracing the Talanoa Dialogue, embracing the absolute imperative for more ambition and fulfilling that ambition through every nation raising its NDCs.

Excellencies, we witnessed at the first Talanoa Dialogue in Bonn last month a shift in perceptions about the value of this process. In fact, any initial cynicism quickly dissipated and participants were surprised how much it improved the level of engagement and flow of ideas.

As I keep saying: The Talanoa Dialogue is not a talkfest where we go away with a warm inner glow, having boasted of our own achievements. We are coming together to swap ideas about how we can all improve our performances. And the world expects the Talanoa Dialogue to deliver outcomes -concrete action to raise the ambition of our NDCs.

Let me – as COP23 President – also clarify some timelines for this process. The deadline for contributions to the Talanoa process through the dedicated UNFCCC portal is October 29. That’s everyone having to submit their ideas in just over four months’ time. Then comes the political phase at COP24 in December.

And it is critical that governments come to Katowice demonstrating the political will to raise ambition and make the Talanoa Dialogue the success it needs to be for the whole world.

Excellencies, please return to your capitals committed to doing everything possible – as Fiji is doing – to raise the ambition of your own NDCs.

And please exert whatever diplomatic influence you can on others to do the same. We need tangible commitments from every nation on further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no room for failure. We do not have the luxury of time. So let us use the Talanoa Dialogue as a springboard for more action. More momentum.

Beginning now and in the various Talanoa sessions that are already taking place at regional, national and local level around the world; in the six months to Katowice and beyond; and for that momentum to be an unstoppable force by the time the leaders of the world gather for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September next year.

That summit will be the first of its kind since global leaders came together for the Paris Agreement of 2015 and we must make it count. It will be taking place the year before the Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020. So as a means of raising ambition, its importance cannot be overestimated.

Because, if anything, we know that since Paris, the climate threat has escalated. And we need to match that with our response.

Excellencies, we all have a duty to show leadership on this issue – to take our people with us. I want stress in closing that this is not merely a journey of survival but one of opportunity. With the right leadership, humanity has the know-how, the enterprise and the resources to reach our 1.5 degree warming target. If we can meet the challenge of achieving net zero carbon economies by 2050, we won’t just be averting catastrophe. We will be laying the foundation for an exciting and more prosperous future – new technologies, cities and communities that are clean and more resilient. And a planet in a state of health worthy of our children and future generations.

So, Excellencies, let us all seize the opportunity that the Talanoa Dialogue provides and put the climate struggle on a new and more ambitious course.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.