SPEECH: FIJI’S STATEMENT AT THE COP-21 UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

The President of the 21st Conference of the Parties – Your Excellency the President of France,
Your Excellency, the United Nations Secretary General,
Fellow Heads of Government,
Ministers,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning/afternoon to you all.

We gather together in Paris as members of the human family at a critical point in global history. And as the leader of a Small Island Developing State, I have travelled 16-thousand kilometres across the world with a message to you from the people of the Pacific.

It is an SOS message. We are in grave distress – in the words of the Suva Declaration, our collective communiqué – grave peril. And we appeal for your urgent assistance to save us.

The rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by climate change are already beginning to destroy our islands and our way of life. And if the world doesn’t act decisively now to reduce the carbon emissions of the industrialised nations, we are doomed.

This gathering of the nations in Paris is our final hope – and as I thank the French President for providing us with the venue to air our concerns, I also beg you all not to let this opportunity pass. We are at five minutes to midnight and time is running out.

We have a stark choice in the coming days. To seize the moment and save our common home – Planet Earth. Or blunder into an age of soaring temperatures, searing droughts, punishing storms and vast areas of the world submerged. As well as creating a whole new category of the dispossessed – climate refugees. The people of entire nations, in some cases, having to find new homes.

It is truly a nightmare scenario. But we have it in our power collectively in the coming days to dramatically reduce its impact, even if it may be too late to avert it altogether. And we must act, and act decisively, before it is too late.

Mr President, every Small Island Developing State and low-lying area of the world is threatened. Yet we in the Pacific seem destined to suffer the most. This crisis includes the loss of three nations – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. Members of the United Nations that will simply slip beneath the waves altogether. Living on only in the memories of their people in climate exile elsewhere and on old maps of a world that no longer exists.

As I keep saying, never in the entire sweep of human history has the Pacific been so threatened. Not from the guns and diseases of our colonisers. Not from war in the Pacific nor the testing of nuclear weapons – all of which we endured last century – but from the sea. Rising slowly as the icecaps melt and the average global temperature climbs because of the carbon emissions of the industrialised nations.

I have another message today – an invitation to those of you who think this is some distant threat to come to the Pacific and witness what I am about the tell you with your own eyes. The nightmare scenario is already unfolding. And not only on low-lying coral atolls like the nations I have mentioned but on mountainous volcanic islands such as those in Fiji.

The sea is steadily encroaching on arable coastal land that has been home to our people for generations, flooding their homes, destroying their crops and forcing them to higher ground.

In Fiji, we have begun the process of relocating 45 communities and have so far identified 830 that are at risk. With the assistance of the European Union, we are currently mapping the entire nation to determine precisely which areas we can expect to lose. And we are also beginning to plan for a scenario in which Fiji gives refuge to the citizens of surrounding island nations.

Already, the Government of Kiribati has purchased 20 square kilometres of farmland on our second major island, Vanua Levu, to guarantee the food security of its people. And in a worst case scenario, Fiji is also willing to provide a permanent home to the entire populations of Kiribati and Tuvalu – our two closest neighbours.

We will obviously need the assistance of the world to undertake the massive task of relocating people to Fiji and providing them with the additional infrastructure they need. But we have made this offer to our fellow Pacific islanders with open hearts because we understand how vulnerable they must feel.

We have also have made budgetary allocation next year to examine the legal implications of climate change such as climate change refugees and the loss of territoriality. So we urge all nations to work with us on this important initiative.

Mr President, the collective crisis we face goes way beyond the encroaching seas. Because we are just as vulnerable, if not more so, to the extreme weather events accompanying climate change. The parching droughts that are already having a severe impact on our agriculture. And the howling cyclones coming out of nowhere, with increasing frequency and severity, killing our people and destroying our infrastructure.

The recent prolonged drought in western Fiji significantly reduced the yield of our sugar cane crop – our nation’s second biggest export earner – and consequently the earnings of the 200,000 Fijians who depend on sugar for their livelihoods. And we have been alarmed to note that cyclones are now forming in the Pacific outside the traditional cyclone season, raising the prospect of a year-round threat.

In Fiji, we are still repairing some of the infrastructure that was damaged when Cyclone Evan slammed into the country at the end of 2012, after cutting a swathe through Samoa, Tonga and Wallis and Futuna. And nine months ago, Cyclone Pam devastated our immediate neighbour, Vanuatu, killing more than 20 people and laying much of its infrastructure to waste. Even within the past couple of days, we have seen Cyclone Tuni batter Samoa with heavy rains, widespread flooding and landslides.

So, Mr President, all around us are signs that we are bearing the brunt of climate change brought about by the industrial revolution, having benefited the least from its riches. We haven’t caused the rise in global temperatures that has produced this existential threat. Fiji’s own carbon emissions are a minute proportion of the global output – zero point zero, zero four per cent (0.004%). In fact, the average Fijian generates almost five times less carbon than the average person in the rest of the world. An estimated 1.5 tonnes compared to a global average of 5.6 tonnes.

So we haven’t caused this crisis. The blame lies squarely with the industrialised and emerging nations. Carbon emissions spewing from their factories. From the energy they burn. The cars they drive. The planes they travel in.

It is their lifestyles that should rightly change, not ours. And my message is that the industrialised world has a moral obligation to make that change. To refrain from putting the health of their economies, the wealth they generate from selling or using fossil fuels and the jobs of their workers before our very survival. They should also realise that the sooner they refigure their economies to wean themselves off carbon, the better they will be. Because they will be putting their nations firmly on course for a sustainable future instead of merely delaying the inevitable day of reckoning.

Mr President, we need to act decisively as a matter of extreme urgency. And Fiji and the other Pacific Island nations have come to Paris with a much more radical plan to cut emissions than is currently on the table.

Rather than capping the average global temperature at 2 degrees celsius above the level that existed before the industrial revolution, we want that cap reduced to 1.5 degrees celsius. And we are asking the community of nations to cut carbon emissions as deeply as necessary to achieve it.

We are alarmed by the scientists telling us that a 2 degree cap will do little or nothing to save us and that even 1.5 degrees may be inadequate. Because at the current temperature increase of 0.87 degrees Celsius, we are already facing the severe impacts I’ve mentioned.

In our Suva Declaration formulated at the recent summit meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in the Fijian capital, we are also demanding that these carbon emission cuts be legally binding. Because the gravity of what we are facing has gone way beyond nations being able to opt out. Of copping out of Cop-21 sometime down the track.

We are also prepared to practice what we preach – in the case of Fiji, to reduce our own carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. This is a huge sacrifice for a nation of Fiji’s size and stage of development – the current zero point zero zero four per cent (0.004 %) reduced by almost a third. How do we intend to do it? By lifting the use of renewal energy sources for power generation – hydro and solar – from 60 per cent in 2013 to 99 per cent in 15 years time. Harnessing more of the power of water and the sun to drive our energy needs and reducing our dependence on diesel.

At the same time, we have developed a Green Growth Framework, with a heavy energy component, that makes the sustainable use of our natural resources on land and at sea our number one national priority. And this Framework is being incorporated into new 5 year and 20 year national development plans that we are formulating to move Fiji into a more sustainable future.

We are also stepping up our efforts to build our resilience to climate change. And especially our level of preparedness to cope with the more frequent and more severe weather events and natural disasters we are being told to expect.

Mr President, clearly the industrialised nations must accept their responsibility to shoulder much of the financial burden that less developed nations will incur because of the impact of their carbon emissions on our economies, our societies and our ecosystems. So as we appeal to them to drastically reduce those emissions, we also appeal to them to dig deep into their pockets to assist us. It is vital that the Green Climate Fund be adequately funded and we ask the wealthier nations to make that commitment in Paris.

I want to express Fiji’s appreciation to our Commonwealth partners – Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom – for the contributions they have already announced in recent days to the global pool of funds to deal with climate change and urge other nations to do likewise. It is only fair that those nations that have benefited most from the industrial age also carry most of the financial burden for its consequences. And I urge these nations to face up to that responsibility in a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

Mr President, I also implore the industrialised nations to embrace the benefits of reforming their own economies now rather than being forced to make more painful adjustments down the track. Because, as I say, any delay in reducing carbon emissions is merely delaying the inevitable, given the grave challenge we all face as a global nation.

In particular, governments need to explain to their people that the mining and use of coal – the dirtiest energy source – is only for short-term gain and cannot be justified. It is simply not sustainable economically and environmentally and actually undermines the potential for future growth. Fiji has asked its largest immediate neighbour, Australia, to impose a moratorium on the development of further reserves of Australian coal and appeals to other countries to do the same. And countries everywhere would do well to examine the advantages of embracing a clean-green economic model – as Fiji has – in a world that increasingly prizes sustainable development.

So Mr President, I call on the community of nations to accentuate the positives of change with their people, not the negatives. And rather than turn a blind eye to the crisis we face, confront it head on. For governments to patiently explain to their people that there is no option other than to take radical action on carbon emissions now – however painful – to avoid even more pain further on.

It is a matter of political will and of education, of the world’s leaders taking their people with them. Using reason to marginalise the climate change deniers. Using persuasion to win over the climate sceptics.

Mr President, it will require courage and it will require difficult choices. But from Fiji’s perspective, there is only one choice facing every nation this week, one decision that we all have to make.

It is whether to side with what I have called the coalition of the selfish on climate change – those nations bereft of vision, obsessed with short-term economic gain and betraying the long-term interests of their people. Or to side with us in the coalition for action on climate change – those nations led by men and women who are enlightened, bold and accept the irrefutable evidence. And who have the long -term interests of both their people at heart and the long terms interests of the planet we all call home. Planet Earth. Our only home, which as Pacific Islanders, we appeal to every nation, to help us preserve and protect.

Mr President, my fellow leaders, delegates, thank you for the privilege of addressing you. Or as we say in Fiji, Vinaka vakalevu.