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     Government of the Republic of Fiji

  Ministry of Foreign Affairs

    A Better Fiji through Excellence in Foreign Service

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Media Release

PM's speech at the Climate Change Summit

HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA’S SPEECH AT THE NATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE SUMMIT 2015

9/8/2015

Na Turaga Na Tui Levuka,
Na Turaga Na Ratu Mai Bureta,
Na Turaga Na Tui Wailevu,
Na Turaga Na Rokotakala,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of our Development Partners and Civil Society Organizations,

The Special Delegation from Tuvalu,
The Communities of the Province of Lomaiviti,
My fellow Fijians.

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.


Every Fijian now knows how important it is for our nation to deal with the impact of climate change. The rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by global warming that threaten the welfare of every person living in low lying areas of the world. And especially Small Island Developing States like Fiji.

Every Fijian now knows that we have to persuade the industrialized nations to reduce the pollution from their factories that is causing that warming. And every Fijian now knows that we are going to a United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris at the end of November to try and persuade them to act and act quickly.

In the meantime, Fiji is doing what it must – prepare for a very different world for our children and future generations. Which is why I’m delighted to be with you all in Levuka for the National Climate Change Summit 2015. At which we are developing and refining our own response to perhaps the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
As you know, climate change was the theme of last week’s Summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in Suva, at which Pacific Leaders were joined by three important international guests – the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change, Mary Robinson, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand, General Thanasak and the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma.

These are people with global reputations who are standing with us in the Pacific in our struggle to get our voices heard. And there was a wonderful spirit of unity at the PIDF Summit – the Pacific countries coming together as one and demanding that the world respect our right not to be damaged or displaced by the selfish actions of others, who are putting their interests before those of Pacific peoples.

The Suva Declaration on Climate Change – the document we all agreed on – is a very powerful statement of our distress at the world’s indifference to our plight. The many low lying areas of Fiji and other Pacific nations that are already being swamped by the rising seas. The large number of villages and settlements that are already having to be moved or will need to be moved. And the threat to the very existence of our friends in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, whose nations could simply disappear beneath the waves altogether unless the world takes drastic action.

It isn’t only the rising seas but the extreme weather events caused by global warming that are becoming increasingly more frequent and damaging. We all remember the chaos of Hurricane Evan almost three years ago and the huge amount of damage it did to our homes and infrastructure in Fiji. We were extremely fortunate – through a combination of good planning and good luck – not to have lost a single life in Fiji. And we must always ensure that we are prepared for these events because we simply have no idea when they might strike.

We all felt sympathy this year for the people of Vanuatu – where more than 20 people were killed by Cyclone Pam – not only because we care about what happens to our neighbours and our Melanesian brothers and sisters. But because we also knew it could just as easily have been us.

I am deeply worried as Prime Minister about these cyclones in the Pacific that are beginning to form outside of the traditional hurricane season for the first time. There were three such cyclones off the coast of Hawaii only last week – something that the weather forecasters and experts say they’ve never seen before. We have always been able to breathe easy in the Pacific for at least some of the year. But it looks like climate change is putting an end to all that. And I’m afraid that we may have to be on cyclone alert all year from now on. To live in a state of constant anxiety that one of these destructive storms will suddenly appear out of nowhere and ruin our homes, our crops and our infrastructure.

It is a nightmare scenario that a small island developing state such as ours certainly doesn’t need. We have enough challenges developing our economy and improving the lives of our people without having to constantly worry about the weather. But unfortunately, it appears to be a fact of life and we need to prepare for it.

That is why this third National Climate Summit is so important. We need to bring together all the expertise we can to develop strategies to cope with these extreme weather events and the rising seas. To face this crisis by forging a strong partnership between government, civil society and the private sector. To mobilise the Fijian people through their representatives and develop better strategies to cope with what may be to come.

I feel a terrible sense of injustice – as I’m sure you all do – that very little of this is our fault. Our own carbon emissions are almost nothing in the overall scheme of things. It is those countries with big economies and big industries that are causing these problems. But because of their size, they are the least affected and the most likely to survive. Whereas we cause practically none of it yet are destined to suffer the most.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t going to cut our own carbon emissions and be good global citizens ourselves. We will. And I will soon be announcing Fiji’s own percentage target to reduce our emissions before 2030. We certainly know we have to reduce our one-billion dollar a year dependence on imported fossil fuels.

My Government is committed to meeting at least 90 per cent of our total energy requirements through renewable sources. We’ve already got to 60 per cent since the Nadarivatu Hydro-electric Scheme came on line two years ago and we are striving to take that figure higher.

We are providing seven-year tax holidays for renewable energy companies willing to establish themselves in Fiji and have reduced to zero, the duty on renewable energy equipment. So nobody can accuse us of not playing our part in the global quest for a more sustainable energy future.

Unfortunately, we in the Small Island Developing States are getting a sharp lesson in the reality of international politics. What they said in ancient Greece still applies in the 21st century - the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. But I can tell you one thing and my fellow Pacific Leaders all agree. We are not going to go down without a fight. We are going to Paris with one voice to tell the nations of the world enough is enough. Make the binding cuts in carbon emissions that the scientists say are needed to reduce emissions and lower the average global temperature. Or be condemned for all time for being immoral and extremely selfish. Making the vulnerable and defenceless like us suffer so that they can maintain their lifestyles isn’t acceptable and we are going to say so. Very loudly.

My fellow Fijians,
While we may be small and unable to force change – to force the world to act – there are certain things we can do and must do. Even if we can’t stop these events, we must improve our ability to cope with them – to build a national resilience to the effects of climate change. Improve our own disaster preparedness. And also play a leadership role in helping our Pacific neighbours do the same.

I heard the other day that there are suddenly a lot of people in Vanuatu with Fijian names because of all the nurses and other relief workers we sent to help them through the effects of Cyclone Pam. We have also displayed leadership by offering to take the people of Tuvalu and Kiribati – our closest neighbours – if the worst case scenario happens and their countries end up being submerged. But with the assistance of our development partners, Fiji can also do more to help our neighbours build resilience to extreme weather events. And we are able and willing to pass on to them the lessons that we have learned that kept our people safe during Cyclone Evan.

Just as we need to go to the world with one voice demanding action on global warming, the Pacific also needs to stick together in combatting the effects of climate change. We will not be defeated in this struggle. We are going to emerge stronger and more resilient. But we will have a much better chance of doing so if we can combine our brain power and our resources. And the same applies to our response in Fiji. We need to be smarter and more adaptable. We need to be better prepared. And we need to constantly be alert to danger. To teach every Fijian – no matter how old they are – of what to do when storms or flooding hit. Of how to help themselves and how to help others – the whole nation working together to defeat the forces that can come out of nowhere with such destructive effect.

That is why this year’s Summit theme is so timely – “Building Climate resilience through genuine community and stakeholder partnerships”. It’s a fancy way of saying “we have to stick together to beat this”. And from wherever you are in Fiji, I want you to go back home carrying this message. No-one can afford to ignore the threat. No-one can afford to be complacent. Because if we don’t strengthen our disaster preparedness, we are leaving ourselves open to the possibility of death and destruction on a scale we have never had to face before.

My Fellow Fijians,
I’m delighted that this Summit has such strong participation from the grassroots and especially from our hosts in the Lomaiviti Group. Because while we in Government can determine policy and co-ordinate a national response, it is ultimately ordinary people who will be our foot soldiers in this battle. Ordinary men and women protecting the young and the elderly and keeping them safe. Strengthening our homes, our schools and our churches. Building our defences. Always being prepared.

I especially want to thank the people of Ovalau and Lomaiviti for hosting this event and for all their hospitality and hard work. Vinaka vakalevu on behalf of every Fijian. It’s wonderful to be in Levuka – the site of our old capital and so many of the great events of our history. I encourage all our visitors from other parts of Fiji to take the history walk tomorrow to learn more about Levuka and soak up the atmosphere. It is not only one of our nation’s greatest assets but also now one of the world’s greatest assets, having been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

My fellow Fijians,
I appeal to you all to work as hard as possible over the next three days to come up with imaginative, affordable and achievable outcomes. To build our resilience to climate change and reduce the risk to every Fijian. And I now have great pleasure in declaring the National Climate Change Summit 2015 open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

END.