“As Pacific island leaders, we must now show the way forward” – COP23 President’s Opening Remarks at Pacific Talanoa

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It is a pleasure to be with you here today. I delivered my main message earlier this morning, so I will keep my remarks brief to allow us to make the most of our time this afternoon.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, no one here needs to be reminded just how urgent the situation facing us is, as the impacts of global warming on the lives and livelihoods of our people continue to grow more severe.

Unfortunately, I fear this urgency isn’t felt in many corners of the globe, and this is ironic. As I mentioned earlier, the scientific evidence has never been clearer. The general consensus, as we see through the actions of communities, corporations and local and regional governments, has never been stronger. And yet government actions are constrained by short-term special interests—interests that would be wiser to learn to adapt than to stick their heads into the sand. And so I strongly believe we owe it to our people, those on the front lines, to continue – in any and every forum we gather – to lay out the challenge before us in the starkest of terms.

Simply put, the commitments that have been made under the Paris Agreement, the Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, are frightfully inadequate. Conservative estimates say they will, if fully implemented, allow warming of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century.

In the Pacific, we are already struggling with the effects of the current level of warming of around 1 degree. A world that is at least 3 degrees warmer by the year 2100 is almost too terrifying to imagine. 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 people would be forced to leave their homes, if not their countries, posing a direct threat to the global economic, security and social order.

I doubt anyone in this room would question the importance of the world embracing the 1.5 degree target – the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement – and the need for our economies to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible. And I know you agree that even while we strive to build resilience in our own countries, we must also join forces through unified and bold leadership on the global stage.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the opportunity to demonstrate this leadership is upon us – in the form of the Talanoa Dialogue to raise the ambition. It is an opportunity we cannot let go to waste.

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

The talanoas held at the May Sessions in Bonn got us off to a good start. I was pleased by the widespread support for the underlying concept of the talanoa, which is that no one has all the answers to the climate threat, and only by working together, and learning from each other, do we have any hope of overcoming it.

Since then, we have been encouraged by the talanoas taking place around the world, including important regional talanoas in Europe and Africa; the many being held at the national and local levels; and also, those taking place within sectors, within professional networks, and even between companies and their customers.

While not avoiding known responsibilities and the need for transparency and accountability, more and more people are opening their minds to the possibility that talanoa might be a better way of deciding what we can all deliver under the Paris Agreement than pointing the finger at someone else or engaging in self-defeating arguments.

If done well, the Talanoa Dialogue can connect people with ideas to people with the resources to turn those ideas into actions. It can inspire others to follow the lead of those who are setting ambitious targets for zero emissions, renewable energy, establishing a price for carbon, or issuing climate bonds. And those are just a few examples. Ultimately, it can create a space for the best minds to share the best ideas for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement—and eventually saving our Earth.

However, as exciting as these possibilities are, there is still no guarantee of success. The ultimate test will be the ambition and effectiveness of our NDCs, which must be made stronger – much stronger – before the Paris Agreement starts in 2020. The Talanoa Dialogue at COP24 in Katowice is a critical moment where political leaders should send a strong signal of their commitment to raising ambition, based on what we learn from each other in this process.

This will require political courage and nothing short of visionary leadership. This leadership may be lacking elsewhere, but it must be active and energetic here. As Pacific island leaders, we must now show the way forward.

And so, Excellencies, friends, I call on you not only to actively engage in today’s talanoa, but to join me as talanoa ambassadors in the coming months as we make the final push toward Katowice. We must make our expectations for a robust, open and inclusionary political phase of the Dialogue crystal clear, and we must take all necessary measures to cultivate support for a positive outcome. A truly positive outcome that will reassure the world that the goals of Paris are still within reach – that as a global community we are up to the challenge.

Part of the leadership required of us is to acknowledge that governments cannot meet this challenge alone. This is why, as the current COP President, Fiji has insisted on the full participation of the Grand Coalition of non-governmental actors, who have invaluable insight, experiences and ideas to contribute.

Our commitment to this ideal is witnessed here today, where we are joined by representatives from our regional neighbours, Pacific business, Pacific civil society, science and the global investment community.

Bula vinaka and welcome to you all; thank you for joining us. We look forward to hearing your ideas and experiences on how we can take bold climate action in the Pacific to build resilience and further reduce our already low emissions.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, with those words, I close by urging us all to take advantage of the opportunity today provides to send a signal that we in the Pacific have the political will, the ideas and the ability to help bring about positive change not only in our region, but in the world.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.