Statement by the Prime Minister of Fiji and President of COP23 on the COP23 Journey

I am honoured and eager to share with the Fijian people the results we obtained in the year of Fiji’s Presidency of the 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which we know as COP23. And to share with you our resolve to keep up the fight.

But before I report to you, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on the life and service of your predecessor and our dear colleague, the Honourable Dr. Jiko Luveni, who passed away nearly two months ago.

Dr. Jiko was a pioneer, the first woman to be elected Speaker of Parliament and the first Fijian woman to graduate from the Fiji School of Dentistry. She was a loving wife, mother and grandmother.  But I think we will most remember Dr. Jiko Luveni for her decency and goodness. Had she been with us today, she would have made the ideal first female President of the Republic of Fiji. So, I ask all Fijians to reflect on her life and her character and to remember her as someone who — in her own quiet way — made Fiji a better place.

And, Mister Speaker, I’d like to offer you my warmest congratulations on your appointment as Speaker of this august Parliament. With your long and storied history with the RFMF and Government and your extensive knowledge of how this chamber works, we look forward to your guidance and wisdom.

Mister Speaker, I would now like to turn to the subject of Fiji’s role as a leader in the fight against climate change, which poses a threat of unprecedented scale and breadth to Fiji and our neighbours in the Pacific.

Mister Speaker, my fellow Fijians, when Fiji was asked, at COP22 in 2016 in Morocco, to take on the Presidency of COP23, we knew it would be a huge undertaking. But we saw it as both a duty and an opportunity. We felt a duty to take on this role and give a voice to the smaller, weaker and most vulnerable nations of the world.

It is a principle of international relations that all nations are equal. Our flags fly at the same height. Our heads of government are received in the same way, with the same protocol. We each take our turn speaking at international meetings, with the same amount of time allotted. The leader of the United States and the leader of Tuvalu are equals.

But despite the time-honoured system of diplomacy and the good will of larger and more powerful countries, we small countries know that having a place at the table isn’t enough. A place at the table doesn’t always ensure that you get your share of what is being served. We often have to fight to be sure we aren’t dining on crumbs and scraps. That is one reason we coordinate our positions and band together in regional groups or groups with common interests. By taking on the Presidency of COP23, Fiji elbowed all Small Island Developing States into a position to make sure our voices were heard loud and clear and our critical needs given the attention they deserve.

The Fijian Presidency’s goal was to deliver a visionary COP that energised and advanced the Paris Agreement. That required an even hand. But while we did so, we owned a bully pulpit to call attention to the plight of the vulnerable. And we used it.       

But Mister Speaker, Fiji’s legacy is not one of confrontation. Fiji’s legacy is a legacy of inclusion, cooperation and respect. We cemented this legacy in two ways:

First, by urging into action a Grand Coalition of nations, regions, cities and towns, civil society, labour, the private sector, women and youth and communities of all kinds to work together in this long-term struggle. We argued that the problem was too great to be resolved by national governments alone, and more needed to be done to integrate the experiences of these groups — to understand their problems and learn from their solutions — into a broader global conversation and a more productive negotiating process.

Second, we established Talanoa as an official vehicle for bringing different experiences and viewpoints together. I do not have to explain to you what Talanoa is, as we had to do when we launched this initiative with the UNFCCC. But it has been revolutionary because it has begun to move the discussions from a climate of zero-sum negotiations among nations to a climate of understanding, inclusion and respect among nations and people.

Talanoas have since taken place all over the world. As Fijians, we can be proud that we have shared this Pacific concept with the world at large as a tool to accelerate ambition in the climate struggle.

Mister Speaker, during Fiji’s Presidency of COP23, we were able to lead countries in reaching agreements on a number of very important issues, which I would like to tell you about shortly. But I would like to speak first about achievements closer to home.

Fiji’s Presidency brought concrete benefits to Fiji itself, many of which would have been impossible to achieve in so short a time had we not occupied the Presidency of COP23. That is because our Presidency opened opportunities for us to engage closely with global leaders, experts and institutions that are finding the technology, financing and ideas we will need to develop a more sustainable economy and adapt our infrastructure to climate realities.

To start, the Green Climate Fund and the Asian Development Bank are providing funding to improve Fiji’s water management system. These funds are already at work and will eventually –– when combined with other fund sources –– total some 220 million US dollars to relieve the strain on our urban water-supply and sanitation systems to the benefit of more than 300,000 Fijians.

And Fiji was the first emerging economy in the world to launch a sovereign green bond, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange, raising 100 million dollars. This is financing renewable energy, clean water and energy-efficiency projects here in Fiji, and has repaired school buildings damaged by Cyclone Winston so they can better withstand extreme weather.

The Fiji Rural Electrification Fund is an innovative project now providing sustainable electricity for the first time on the island of Vio. We built this first site with the help of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and we are now moving to phase 2 –– and another ten communities for which we are seeking support.

We will assist not only Fijians, but also our brothers and sisters across the Pacific, with the regional Pacific Nationally Determined Contribution Implementation Hub, which was first raised at the July 2017 Climate Action Pacific Partnership Conference here in Suva.

And we also launched the Climate Finance and Insurance “Drua” Incubator, with the aim of developing or supporting financial initiatives and climate insurance concepts that can be applied to Fiji and the Pacific.

We promoted the cause of the most climate-vulnerable nations, especially those in the Pacific, by helping to share their stories, and we focused on special measures to assist them, including how they can pay for what they need to meet the climate threat. And we helped develop new, inclusive and innovative ways to speed up the response to climate change.

Countries reached an historic agreement on agriculture at COP23 and the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture will help lead to new strategies for adaptation and mitigation to reduce emissions and build resilience to the effects of climate change.

Mister Speaker, politics aside, all Fijians can be proud of all of our achievements during our Presidency, culminating at COP24 in Katowice, Poland last December. There, all our work came to a fruitful conclusion as the guidelines for the Paris Agreement were adopted, which ensures that the Paris Agreement can be put into action once it starts in 2020.

At a time of few examples of countries working together across the international stage, COP24 marked an important step forward in our collective efforts to combat climate change.

While in Poland, I delivered a declaration on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States that included a call for OECD countries to phase out coal by 2030, and for all other countries to follow suit by 2040 at the very latest. We are very pleased to see that the ranks of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, launched at COP23 in 2017, also continues to grow.

Fiji has insisted, and will continue to insist, on more ambitious actions needed to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial levels. This is why, just before COP24, we joined with the Marshall Islands as the first nations to commit to raising our NDCs. We now challenge others to follow in our footsteps.

In addition, at COP24 we launched the first Fijian National Adaptation Plan with the vision of achieving a climate-resilient development pathway that enables Fiji to anticipate, reduce, and best manage growing environmental and climate risks.

Furthermore, Fiji’s first-ever Low Emission Development Strategy was also launched at COP24, defining pathways to achieve low-emission development in Fiji until 2050. Our aim is to forge a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 across all sectors of our economy.

Mister Speaker, last but not least, Fiji’s National Planned Relocation Guideline was also launched during COP24 –– guaranteeing that all community relocations are done sustainability, they offer viable options for economic activity, and will provide support and services for those being relocated. While relocating our villages will always be a last resort, we must prepare for the worst.

Mister Speaker, as I said, we may have ended our COP23 Presidency, but we know we cannot end our efforts. At COP24, at the end of the historic global Talanoa Dialogue, our own young global climate champion Timoci Naulusala joined a Polish girl, Hanna Wojdowska, in reading out the Talanoa Call for Action to conference delegates and to the world.  For them, and all other children facing an ever more frightening future, we must continue to fight.

Mister Speaker, Fijiwill continue its press for the most ambitious action possible through the chairmanship of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States, as chair of the World Bank Small States Forum and as co-chair of the Ocean Pathway Partnership. We will also continue our involvement in other important alliances such as the High Ambition Coalition and Climate Vulnerable Forum. We will ensure our voice is heard at the most important tables like the UN Security Council, which the Honourable Attorney-General addressed last month, and the UN Secretary General’s Special Climate Summit in September 2019.

Our commitment to the Ocean Pathway Partnership causes us to push for the opportunity to target COP25 as the “Ocean COP,” and to make 2019 the year to guarantee that Ocean action is integrated in the UNFCCC and climate efforts. We will continue to support private sector efforts, like those of the pearling industry’s Blue Pledge, look to begin the clean-up of our regional shipping, and launch a coordinated Ocean Policy for Fiji.

Mister Speaker, we have also made a significant impact at the regional level with the Climate Action Pacific Partnership, or CAPP, conferences which serve to share and refine strategies and solutions for the Pacific.

Mister Speaker, when we took on the COP23 Presidency in 2016, Fiji was still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Winston. We committed to heading COP23, but only if it would come at zero additional cost to the Fijian taxpayer. And a remarkable support network, both here at home and from the international community, we delivered on that pledge.

Those partners are listed on the COP23 website, but I do want to make special mention of one partnership: The German Government. They not only provided generous direct financial support, but they made the conference in Bonn the success it was. So, to the people of Germany, to GIZ, and to all our partners –– vinaka.

Mister Speaker, before I conclude, I would also like to sincerely thank our Pacific island neighbours, who have been a source of great solidarity and inspiration, along with the members of the COP23 Presidency leadership and the Fijian Delegation. This journey would not have been possible without your tireless work and dedication.

Mister Speaker, although our presidency mandate came to an end two months ago, Fiji intends to continue the push for more ambition in 2019 and years to come. We will continue to be a voice for decisive climate action for ourselves and all vulnerable people around the globe.

And we also intend to keep leading by example, demonstrating to the world that when it comes to fighting climate change, the size of any nation is no barrier to making a significant impact –– as Fiji has proven, sometimes the smallest nations can have the biggest voice.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.