“When it comes to climate change, we in the Pacific have never had the luxury of tip-toeing or dragging our feet. Instead, our steps forward are bold and they are loud, for the world to hear.” – COP23 President’s Remarks at the Opening of the Third Climate Action Pacific Partnership Meeting CAPPIII

Bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

It is my great honour to welcome all of you to Suva for this Climate Action Pacific Partnership event – the third we’ve convened since the start of Fiji’s Presidency of COP23.

As you know, we regarded Fiji’s Presidency as a whole of the Pacific Presidency. We sought to draw global attention to the extreme vulnerability we in the Pacific face to the impacts of climate change, along with all other vulnerable nations, and indeed the entire world. And I was deeply grateful to my fellow Pacific leaders for their support in fulfilling the obligation placed on Fiji to move the global climate agenda forward.

But before we seized upon that historic opportunity, it was here, at this very hotel in Suva, back in 2015 that we Pacific island leaders first launched the Suva Declaration. It was here that – in recognition of the threats we faced – we made our stand in support of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels: The only target that staves off climate catastrophe for many of our people.

Then, together in Paris, through the Association of Small Island States, we successfully pushed for recognition of the importance of pursuing the 1.5-degree threshold, and that aspiration was subsequently written into the Paris Agreement. That was a victory; a victory that began right here, in these same halls, with Pacific leadership and with Pacific effort. That is what we – the nations in this room – are capable of delivering. Let us allow that legacy of global leadership and that proven record for inspiring global action empower our discussions in the coming days.

But, that being said, we can hardly afford to spend time basking in the glow of our past accomplishments. Because even after the Paris Agreement, many leaders – including in the UN – still tip-toed around actually publically referencing the 1.5-degree figure. It still seemed too ambitious to too many people, and it still frightened too many corporate interests.

But when it comes to climate change, we in the Pacific have never had the luxury of tip-toeing or dragging our feet. Instead, our steps forward are bold and they are loud, for the world to hear. We’re not shackled to those big industrial interests whose reckless actions have driven the world to the brink of catastrophe. No –– we speak not for corporate interests, but for the interest of our people. Our voices are raw, uninfluenced by persuasion of deep-pocketed parties who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Change is costly, they say. But we in the Pacific know that not changing is even costlier.

And as the years have gone on, the consequences of their timidness are becoming clear, backed by the overwhelming weight of an ever-expanding body of scientific evidence. The most recent IPCC Report, in particular, has told us – quite clearly – that even warming of 1.5 degrees will carry even deadlier consequences for our region and the world.

It gives me no pleasure to say that we were right in insisting on 1.5-degree target from the start. I wish we had been wrong. I wish that we had overstated the situation. In fact, we now know that our current commitments put us on track for warming of three degrees, which is unthinkable. And less than a fortnight ago, another scientific report warned us that a million species may be at risk of extinction, mostly due to climate change and other causes that are directly tied to human activity.

But, while we are seeing greater global recognition of this crisis, appropriate action has yet to follow. The response so far has been limited to mainly speeches, rhetoric and pleasantries – and in some cases, outrageously out-of-touch statements from public officials.

We have politicians next door in Australia, saying we can’t expect them to act on climate, and we Pacific islanders can just move to higher ground. But we know that some of our nations don’t even have higher ground to move to. We have others saying vulnerable people can come and live in their country, and in exchange we must give up our seas and be economically exploited. Last week, in Melbourne, I called out those statements for what they were: insensitive at best, and new age colonialism at worst.

I have to say, I was no shining example of traditional Pacific politeness. When I’m speaking for people whose homes and livelihoods are being destroyed by rising seas, I don’t have time to be quaint or cute. We need to adapt if we’re going to survive in this struggle for global action. We need to be bold. We need to be direct. And –– as we have done throughout this journey –– we need to speak together, in one voice, for sake of all of our people. Because, make no mistake, the journey ahead of us is as urgent and perilous as it has ever been.

While many nations are needlessly stalled in revising their Nationally Determined Commitments, we in the Pacific are watching with increasing alarm as the waves lap at the doorsteps of our vulnerable communities, worsening cyclones ravage our economies, sun bleaching and greater acidity destroy our coral reefs, and salt water ruins land we’ve farmed for generations. These already-deadly impacts are a result of only one degree of global warming. As I speak with you now, current global emissions have our planet on course for the utter catastrophe of three degrees of global warming by the century’s end.

There’s only one way we prevent the current crisis from escalating into total chaos. All major economies must arrive in New York this September at the UNSG’s Climate Summit with clear commitments in place to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, and to become carbon neutral. New Zealand’s new Zero Carbon Bill tabled last week deserves commendation in that regard.

Many countries will arrive in September with similarly enhanced NDCs, and it is my strong hope that the nations represented here will be among them. In any case, all nations need to present NDCs that meet those criteria by 2020.

We know that the contribution of Pacific island countries to global greenhouse gases is relatively small, but we can’t lead from the rear. We have to show our strength and lead by example.

With COP23, we Pacific Island nations have had a leadership position that Small States seldom have on the world stage, and we must continue to assert that leadership role very strongly. We cannot give it up. We have too much at stake.

While we are a vulnerable people, we will continue to show that, when armed with the proper resources, we are adaptable, inventive, and determined. We will show that we have made the hard choices and begun the hard work changing our economies to suit a changing climate. To continue, we and many other vulnerable and developing countries will need creative, blended financing –– from governments, from international financial institutions, from philanthropic organisations and from the private sector. That financing must be flexible and it must be innovative, and lenders must be more willing to take on more risk.

To win this fight, larger economies must increase the amount of climate finance for mitigation, resilience and adaptation efforts in small, developing countries, and –– equally as important –– devise ways to deliver that financing quickly, before more lives are needlessly lost. We will need at least 100 billion U.S. dollars a year worldwide by 2020, and the Adaptation and Green Climate Funds will need to be both replenished and increased with direct allocations. We will also need to make appropriate and affordable insurance products available as an integral part of any programme of resiliency.

And we will continue the work we started to make sure that improving and sustaining the health of the world’s oceans is an essential part of any strategy to fight global warming. At the moment, we are faced with two crises of epic proportions –– a climate crisis and ocean crisis –– and while they each deserve separate attention, they are bound together intimately.

Ladies and gentlemen, last year, the president of COP24 and I stood together in Katowice and announced the Talanoa Call to Action. You may recall that many were naturally a bit sceptical of Poland’s COP24 Presidency because Poland is a major coal-producing country. Yet, we found in Poland a willing partner that was equally concerned about the crisis we face.

They know, as we know, that everyone is climate-vulnerable, but some countries have weaker defences than others. It may be because they are less developed. It may be because they are small islands. It may be because they occupy a unique geographical position. But the coastline of Australia is as threatened as the coastline of Fiji, and so are its coral reefs. Europe and North America flood just like Vanuatu with torrential rains. Whether they are called cyclones, typhoons, or hurricanes, worsening storms are a life and death matter everywhere in the world. And heat, wildfires and melting ice are affecting every continent.

It is essential that every nation on earth recognises that taking strong action on climate change is very much in its own national interest. Yes, we want every nation to care about every other nation. We want people to care that some small islands could disappear altogether. But we want them to understand that this is not our crisis alone. This is their crisis. This is everyone’s crisis.

It is not an easy thing to move nearly 200 nations to take collective action, especially action that forces governments, people and institutions to fundamentally change the way they think and act. That is probably why we often have to come to a crisis point before we can really get down to business. But I am hopeful when I see that more and more people worldwide are seized with the enormity of the problem and the dire consequences of not acting. They are exercising a growing influence over governments and markets alike, and they are forcing change even when their governments lack to courage or foresight to lead.

We saw this reflected in the Talanoa Dialogue that took place this past year, and we are seeing it again in the growth of sustainable sources of energy, the investment going into green technologies, the drive to build structures that are carbon-neutral or even carbon negative, and grassroots efforts to plant trees and increase green space. The most hopeful trend, perhaps, is that socially-conscious consumers are demanding sustainability in products and services, and the market is rewarding companies that satisfy this demand.

This is all very positive, even at this late hour. We need more than government action to solve the climate crisis. We need every citizen of every country to take to heart the role he or she plays in the environment. We need people to think beyond their own desires and convenience. We need people to care about how their actions and habits affect others. We need people to act responsibly every day.

That is all good, but it is no substitute for government action. The people can push their governments, but governments must set high standards. Governments must marshal the resources. Governments must encourage research. Governments must adopt laws and policies that incentivise good behaviours and penalise bad behaviours. Governments have to adopt plans to make sure that there is equity in the transition to green economies. We cannot have a successful transition if there are winners and losers. We cannot say we have succeeded if the burden of change is borne by the most disadvantaged, or if people lose their livelihoods without being shown the path to a dignified alternative. We can only have a successful transition if governments help everyone adjust and find their place in the green economy. Governments have to show the courage and the will to do what they know they must do. And governments must have the wisdom to understand what governments alone can do.

That’s why we were deeply disappointed when the current administration of the United States announced its rejection of the Paris Agreement. But in the total absence of national leadership, we saw the birth of leadership of a different kind –– with American cities, states, corporations and civil society organisations taking fate into their own hands, knowing that their individual economic impacts are often larger than many countries at the decision-making table, and that their influence they wield should reflect that. This innovative approach has been spearheaded by two former governors of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, and the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

I was also very pleased to see that Britain just had its first coal-free week since 1882. In fact, reductions in coal use in the UK have been responsible for cutting emissions from electricity generation in half since 2013. This shows that real change is possible when government leads the way and sets strong priorities. Perhaps even more importantly the UK Government has just received advice from its Committee on Climate Change to adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050. I look forward to the UK Government joining the growing number of others in adopting that goal.

Building on that innovation, and that momentum, is why we are here. To avoid global catastrophe, we in the Pacific must build on this collective wave of progress. We must continue to lead from the frontlines of this existential crisis. In the course of these few days, we will exchange information that will help us meet our goals of decarbonising and building resilience. We have a great deal of experience and expertise in our region, and we will hear from experts from around the world who will discuss technologies, policies, processes and behaviours that bring results. It is up to us to make all this wisdom work for us. So, when we do meet in New York this September, we can be more than voices other nations need to hear, we can also be examples of that other nations need to follow.

I wish you all a productive and inspirational experience at this CAPP event.

Vinaka vakalevu.