Small States and Vulnerable States
Fiji believes that the extreme weather events and rising sea levels caused by climate change pose the biggest single threat to small and vulnerable states like our own. Which is why we have chosen to take a lead in global forums on this issue and are pressing home the urgency of collective action to arrest global warming.
Fiji is proud to have been the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and lodge the ratification instruments. We urge every country that has yet to do so to follow our lead and I am pleased to see the Commonwealth also taking a lead on this issue.
The position of Fiji and the other members of the Pacific Islands Development Forum is very simple. While we regard the Paris Agreement as an important first step, the cap on global warming that we agreed on there to arrest the negative impacts of climate change is not enough. Rather than a cap of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, we are pressing for a more ambitious target of a cap of 1.5 degrees.
We are convinced that this more radical course of action – necessitating deeper cuts in carbon emissions – is absolutely essential. Because the latest scientific reports on warming clearly demonstrate that a two degree cap is not enough to save us.
We are especially vulnerable in the Pacific in that three low lying countries – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – are destined on current projections to sink beneath the waves altogether. In Fiji’s case, we have already relocated three at-risk villages. We will need to move some more in the near future. But our biggest fear is the extreme weather events associated with global warming, of which we have had a terrifying recent experience.
Seven months ago, the biggest cyclone ever to have made landfall in the southern hemisphere slammed into Fiji with winds of more than 300 kilometers an hour. Cyclone Winston killed 44 of our people and left many thousands homeless. And it left us with a damage bill of around 1.4 billion dollars or around 30 per cent of our GDP.
Our tourism industry, which is our largest contributor to our GDP, was not severely affected as most of the properties remained intact. But as I told the General Assembly this week, we face the terrifying prospect of a single extreme weather event scoring a direct hit wiping out our economy and setting back our development for decades to come. It would also make it impossible for us to meet the Sustainable Development Goals that we have collectively promised to implement.
So I appeal to the other Commonwealth countries to heed the plea of the Pacific nations for a more ambitious cap on global warming. And to help us place this on the global agenda.
The other principle threat is to the health of our oceans and seas – the pollution, overfishing and loss of marine environments that threatens the welfare of coastal communities the world over. I ask you all to give your full support to the High Level UN Oceans Conference that Fiji and Sweden will be co-hosting in New York next June. We need urgent action to formulate a comprehensive and holistic global plan to save our oceans and seas. And Fiji believes that this is an area in which the Commonwealth can take a particular lead.
I want to acknowledge the tremendous effort already being made by the Secretary General and the Commonwealth Secretariat in pursuing these agendas. But we must all put further effort into achieving the threshold required for the Paris Agreement to come into effect by persuading those nations you have yet to do so to complete the ratification process. And I urge you to consider the merits of the Pacific call for a lower global temperature cap as we prepare for Cop 22 in Marrakesh in November.
We also need a firmer commitment from the developed world to give vulnerable nations access to the levels of funding we require to step up our adaptation and mitigation programs. And to enable us to meet our own carbon reduction targets.
Peace and Security
Fiji welcomes the priority being given to peace and security on the Commonwealth agenda. With the increased global threat that terrorism and violent extremism presents, it is critical that the Commonwealth be seen to be doing its share to complement the work of the United Nations and in particular the Secretary General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.
For Fiji, our contribution to UN peacekeeping operations are a fundamental pillar of our engagement with the world and of our identity as global citizens. Fiji will continue to play its part in the deployment of our men and women in uniform – military and police – to UN operations. Although far removed from the immediate threat of terror ourselves in Fiji, we continue to be committed to those who are vulnerable, wherever they may be. And we urged Commonwealth member governments to continue to stress the utmost importance of concerted international collaboration to counter violent extremism. It is one of the greatest challenges ever posed to our way of life in the democracies and we must fight it for the sake of our very survival.