12/08/19

“We will not accept, here in the Pacific, any lack of resolve on the part of the community of nations in tackling the climate threat.” – COP23 President’s Keynote Speech at the Sautalaga Event of the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

We gather here in one of the most climate-vulnerable nations on earth to issue an impassioned plea to the world to finally confront the most important challenge of our age – a more decisive and more ambitious collective response to the threat of climate change.

I bring you all the greetings of every Fijian and our warmest thanks for your continuing friendship and solidarity. And especially your support for our own climate action agenda on behalf of all Pacific peoples, including our Presidency of COP23.

Right from the start, we have been determined that Fiji’s efforts be not only on behalf of ourselves but every climate-vulnerable person in our region. And I pay special tribute to our hosts – the Honourable Prime Minister and people of Tuvalu – for your support for Fiji’s efforts and for being such a powerful voice for action yourselves in global forums. It is an influence entirely disproportionate to your size but one that is also acknowledged throughout the world as having established the Pacific Islands as a decisive force for change.

Your leadership of the climate struggle and the particular vulnerability of your nation was recognised back in May when the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, came to Tuvalu and highlighted your challenges in dramatic fashion. The TIME magazine cover photo of the Secretary General standing in the rising waters in a suit is one of the great images of our time.

I am deeply honoured on behalf of every Fijian for the welcome you have extended to us here today and for convening this important Sautalaga event. And I also want to reaffirm the message that our former President, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau – now the Speaker of our Parliament – conveyed to you when he visited you here in 2014.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, Fiji, Tuvalu and our Pacific Island neighbours intend to do everything humanly possible to get the world to take the decisive action needed to save low-lying atolls like Tuvalu from the rising sea levels and extreme weather events associated with climate change. But if, God forbid, that effort fails because the industrial nations continue to selfishly put their own interests above our own, Fiji will offer a home to you – the people of Tuvalu. We have made the same offer to your neighbours in Kiribati.

This is obviously not our preferred option or yours. Because natural justice demands that you continue to live in the place you call home, the islands you love, and the islands of your ancestors. But in the Fijian spirit of loving and open hearts, we are determined that you not be climate refugees. In a worst case scenario, we will offer you refuge among us so that at the very least, you remain close to where you rightly belong.

Excellencies, the world must not turn its back on the peoples of Tuvalu, Kiribati or the Marshall Islands – those under direct existential threat now – or on any of the billions of people living in other climate-vulnerable parts of the planet. Which is why I also want to say this today:

We will not accept, here in the Pacific, any lack of resolve on the part of the community of nations in tackling the climate threat. Fiji is especially unhappy about what happened in Bonn in May when certain fossil fuel producers used their muscle to exclude any further mention in the UNFCCC – the ongoing climate negotiations – of the temperature cap we called for in 2015 in our Suva Declaration on climate change. This is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. That was our position in Suva four years ago and it was subsequently endorsed by the world’s scientists on the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And we will not stand by and allow that target to be diminished in any way.

As the late Tony DeBrum of the Marshall Islands – one of the great Pacific statesmen on climate change – famously said: “1.5 to stay alive”. That, Excellencies, is our position. It remains our position. And we intend to keep fighting for it.

I pledge to you all today that Fiji will use everything in its power – and I as current Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States will do everything in my power – to marshal our collective strength here in the Pacific to restore and reinvigorate the 1.5 degree target in every global forum, including next month’s Global Climate Summit in New York and at COP25 in Santiago, Chile in December.

I am proud to say that Fiji is rising to the challenge laid down by the UN Secretary General to go to New York with an increase in our own NDC, our Nationally Determined Contribution, to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. And I urge all of our Pacific partners, wherever possible, to do the same. The path to more ambition, in our own case, involves a faster transition to renewable energy, more efficient utilisation of our forests and mangroves – nature’s carbon capture – and a range of innovative mechanisms to achieve the net zero emissions target that the Secretary General has requested by 2050, 31 years from now.

We are also introducing a Climate Change Act in Fiji that will enshrine, in law, our domestic response to the climate threat and the threat to our oceans and place that law at the heart of our national policies and priorities. Among other things, it will establish procedures for the relocation of communities that are at risk and support the Relocation Trust fund that has already been approved by our Parliament and that we will be launching at the New York Summit next month.

In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030. I ask you all to join in this ambitious venture, and also support a 10 year moratorium on seabed mining from 2030 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.

We are also leading, with the Marshall Islands, the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership that is working on a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.

Excellencies, more broadly, we need greater cohesion and greater resolve in our collective response to the climate threat and the threat to our oceans, on which so many of our people depend for food and their livelihoods. And I ask my fellow Pacific Island leaders to support a collective approach on the part of us all that is ambitious, holistic and achievable.

In conclusion, I want to say something about how I perceive our relationship with our Australian and New Zealand friends, those great nations on our perimeter who are part of our organisation. My views until now on their place at this Forum are well known. But we are in a new era in which both countries are attempting to re-engage with us in a more respectful and inclusive way and I, for one, warmly welcome that.

I want to express my thanks to both the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, for the efforts they have made, and are making, to improve the relationship with Fiji and the other island nations. And especially for the support both countries are providing to enable us to meet the climate threat, including the provision of significant climate finance. We are bound by geography, history and shared values. And nothing must ultimately be allowed to come between us.

I want to say this to the Australians in particular about the issue of coal in relation to our collective quest for a carbon free future: Fiji recognises that coal has always been an important part of the Australian economy, as an export revenue earner and for your national energy security. It has enabled you to build a strong economy that also gives you the means to support our region.

We appreciate the importance to Australia – indeed all countries – of having reliable and affordable access to power. We respect the fact that you have your interests and we have ours. And just as we don’t expect to be told what to do in pursuit of our own interests, it is not for us to be prescriptive about how you should run your affairs.

Having said that, I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change. That transition should be just for your own people and just for us here in the Pacific, where we face an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate. You are already providing leadership in renewable energy investment and are leading in research and development across many aspects of it. Please do more. And we would all welcome benefitting from that effort.

Put simply, the case for coal as an energy source cannot continue to be made if every nation is to meet the net zero emission target by 2050 that has been set by the UN Secretary General and every other responsible leader of the climate struggle. I certainly look forward to seeing for myself, the progress Australia has made in managing the challenges of transforming its energy sector and integrating renewable energy when I make my first official visit there next month. That visit will take place in an atmosphere of friendly engagement while I continue to press the case strongly on behalf of Pacific nations for the 1.5 degree target.

Excellencies, in closing, I want to repeat my warmest thanks – our warmest thanks – to Tuvalu as the host of this PIF and the wonderful welcome we have received. I look forward in the coming days to strengthen the great friendships between us and our collective agenda.

We are now, and for all time, one Pacific, conscious of our vulnerability but determined to resolve our challenges and improve the lives of our people. And we intend to continue to be a respected voice for climate action in the world, now and in the years ahead.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.