“We’ll continue to put the 1.5-degree target in our sights, and we need to enlist every government in the effort to hold global temperature rises to that level. Failure is not an option.” – COP23 President’s Remarks at the High-Level Event on Interlinkages Between Water and Climate Action

Bula Vinaka. 

Thank you for the invitation to address this forum. 

Along with many in this room, I have spent considerable time on the frontlines of the global campaign for climate action. As the Fijian Prime Minister, my people live every day with the severe consequences of our changing climate; and it is my duty to carry their struggles, their experiences and their voices to the highest levels of global leadership. But even given the time I’ve spent as an advocate for this cause, still – I find myself taken aback by the sheer scale and the pervasive nature of the threat we face. 

Among a myriad of disastrous impacts, erratic weather patterns will put safe, clean water painfully out of reach for hundreds of millions of people. Today, there are two billion people living in nations that face severe water stress on a near daily basis. We already face a crisis, and climate change will intensify that crisis into even greater catastrophe.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Following the release of IPCC’s report last year, we now know just how much that half a degree matters. For Fiji, as a champion nation for vulnerable people the world over, we know that when it comes to accessing clean water, that half a degree difference in global temperature can mean the very difference between life and death for millions of people. 

But forget two degrees. With our current nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, the world is heading towards at least three degree warming – a catastrophic outcome that we must do everything in our power to avoid. 

Excellencies, by 2050, it is projected there will be nine billion people in the world. If present trends continue, climate-induced water stress will become massively more prevalent. Rising sea levels and stronger cyclones will create even more intense storm surges, washing salt water into freshwater aquifers; destroying vital water sources, in particular, in island and coastal communities. 

But the devastation won’t be limited to the coasts. If we don’t take action, the balance of the seasons will soon be written off as ancient history. The rainy seasons will bring even more intense floods, drowning entire communities, while the dry seasons will bring even longer droughts, scorching farmlands, destroying crops, and parching vast numbers of people by depleting ground water resources. 

Reductions in crop yields will bring malnutrition, disease and death on an unprecedented scale. Lack of access to clean water will be responsible for a new wave of public health calamities, with diseases sweeping through regions where they previously have not been present. And as water resources dry out, we’re going to see massive waves of migration out of what will become inhospitable regions in the world. Countries that share common water supplies will see their diplomatic relations tested. Conflicts will emerge. Not over ideological differences. But over the most basic resources such as water, and other fundamental building blocks for human development. 

I don’t mean to dishearten us with such a bleak imagining of our future; I mean to inspire us. Because there is something that can be done to avert that future. We can spare ourselves much of that grim reality through the coordinated global effort to meet the 1.5-degree target; dramatically limiting the probability of extreme drought, precipitation and the risks associated with water availability. 

When the leaders of the world gather here at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit later this year, we have an important opportunity to change this future – to chart a new course. For more countries – and larger emitters in particular – to join Fiji and the Republic of Marshall Islands in their commitment to enhance their NDCs and develop long-term strategies. If we can do it, so can you – and I, together with my follow high ambition leaders, will use every tool at our disposal to help chart this new course. 

Excellencies, as COP23 President we helped lead the Talanoa Dialogue, using the inclusive Pacific process of talanoa to take stock of global efforts through 2018. After that dialogue, in partnership with the Polish COP24 Presidency, I launched the Talanoa Call for Action, through which Fiji will continue to lead the global campaign to raise the ambition of nationally determined commitments. We’ll continue to put the 1.5-degree target in our sights, and we need to enlist every government in the effort to hold global temperature rises to that level. Failure is not an option. 

In Fiji, our efforts to urgently adapt our economy to a new climate reality have produced a tremendous body of knowledge and experiences. We’ve learned important lessons; and we’ve learned those lessons by actually putting resources on the ground and implementing adaptation projects. But for the world to get on track to the 1.5-degree target, we need other nations, the major emitters in particular, to put rhetoric aside in favour of action that creates real development that benefits real people; teaching real lessons that can inform and transform this global campaign. 

If we don’t act now, the nightmare scenario will become a reality. Every failure or setback holds lessons for us all. Every success can be applied on a larger scale and spare suffering for countless millions. Fiji is already turning words into action. We are already putting resources to work. The world’s major economies need to live up to the commitments to boost public and private financing to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. Adaptation initiatives in water must be a key priority in all economies. 

We are strongly urging the Secretary-General to mobilise new financial resources and technical know-how to support nations facing severe stress from water shortages. And we urge the nations of the world to produce those resources. There is no alternative. 

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.