SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE CLOSING OF PACIFIC MINISTERS MEETING ON STRENGTHENING CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCE

Your Royal Highness,
Honourable Ministers from Fiji and the other Pacific nations,
Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished delegates and guests from the United Nations and the Pacific,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all!

I’m very pleased to be able to address you all at the end of this conference, with its emphasis on the special impact of climate change on Pacific women, adolescents and children. I know your deliberations have ranged over a wide number of measures to build resilience for these most vulnerable members of our societies. And all this is adding to the collective store of knowledge we will all need to access in the years and decades ahead.

But as Prime Minister, I want to concentrate your minds this evening on the big picture – the gravity of the challenge we all face in getting our voices heard on this issue of crucial importance for every person in the Pacific. Every person on the planet.

It is no exaggeration to say that climate change presents the greatest threat to Pacific Small Island Developing States in the entire sweep of human history.

We survived the epidemics of influenza and venereal disease that our colonisers brought with them and which decimated our people. We survived the experience of having some of our people stolen and forcibly taken to work in the plantations of our larger neighbours. We survived being used by the great powers as testing grounds for the most destructive weapons ever known to man.

But unless the world acts decisively in the coming weeks to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it, is doomed. Doomed to suffer the most negative impact of the rising temperatures caused by the carbon emissions that have accompanied the industrial age. Without having contributed to those emissions in any meaningful way at all.

In fact, we in the Pacific are innocent bystanders in the greatest act of folly of any age. The industrialised nations putting the welfare of the entire planet at risk so that their economic growth is assured and their citizens can continue to enjoy lives of comparative ease. All at the expense of those of us in low lying areas of the Pacific and the rest of the world.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I come here tonight with a deep sense of foreboding. Because five weeks out from the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, I have yet to detect the necessary political will on the part of many of the industrialised nations to face up to their obligation to humanity to effectively confront this crisis.

I very much fear that Cop-21 can be a cop out. There can be dozens of speeches but they can be more of the same. The world’s biggest polluters giving lip service to the need for effective cuts in carbon emissions. Yet stalling – once again – on taking the hard decisions we all know are required to ensure our futures and save our planet.

Speaking personally, I won’t be going to Paris wearing the usual friendly, compliant Pacific smile. In fact, I won’t be going to Paris in a Pacific frame of mind at all. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the other island leaders, I will sternly remind the industrialised nations of their obligations and press as hard as I can for the adoption of the recent Suva Declaration. To limit the global average temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. And for the Paris agreement to be legally binding on all parties.

Yet, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I fear that the Small Island Developing States – and least developed nations the world over – are destined to leave the French capital empty handed. I fear that our interests are about to be sacrificed. That might will triumph over reason. Over justice.

This will happen even though the argument for urgent and decisive action is unassailable. Three of our Pacific neighbours – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – are destined to physically sink beneath the waves altogether. Other nations will lose large tracts of arable coastal land. And we will all be more vulnerable to the extreme weather events that already come out of nowhere, kill our people and ravage our economies. All because of the inaction and gross irresponsibility of what I have unashamedly called “the coalition of the selfish”.

Even our nearest developed neighbours – Australia and New Zealand – have failed to back us in this struggle. The Australian Government, in particular, seems intent on putting its own immediate economic interests first. The Lucky Country determined to stay lucky, at least for the short term, at the expense of its unlucky island neighbours.

To Malcolm Turnbull, the new Australian Prime Minister, I want to send a special plea. Make good on your previous strong stance in favour of deep and binding cuts in carbon emissions. Do not do deals with those who have enabled you to gain high office and betray your principles and our position.

I implore you to put our welfare and our very existence as Pacific islanders before your energy sector. I implore you to highlight to your people that such economic practices are only for short term gain and not sustainable economically and environmentally. Thereby undermining future growth potential. I urge you to impose a moratorium on the development of further reserves of Australian coal. It is the dirtiest of energy sources. And there is no place for it in a world that desperately needs cleaner energy to halt the present rate of global warming.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very encouraged by the recent groundswell of public opinion within Australia calling for a ban on new coalmines and the expansion of existing ones. This includes an appeal by 61 prominent Australians published yesterday for such a ban to be placed firmly on the agenda of the Paris summit. And for the carbon reduction targets contained in the Suva Declaration to be adopted by the entire world.

I urge you, Mr Turnbull, to heed that call. And to side with us in the Pacific against the proponents of coal and the climate change deniers in your own government. You have shown leadership on this issue before. Now that you have the job of prime minister and can really make a difference, please show leadership again.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as I have indicated, I will not go to Paris without putting up the strongest of fights and neither will my fellow island leaders. We are united. We are determined. And that is where everyone in this room today has a role to play. In helping us to get ordinary men and women in the developed world to amplify the voice of the Pacific. To pressure their elected representatives to do the right thing.

Yes, we must build resilience, as you have been doing in Nadi this week. By all means, prepare for a worst case scenario in which our island nations have no choice but to come to terms with radical changes to our way of life and even the prospect of some of us having to find new homes. But right now, we must show no sign of accepting our fate or appeasing the forces ranged against us. Because that will merely encourage the industrialised nations to maintain the status quo.

We must take our fight to Paris and beyond. We must build a global coalition for action on climate change and defeat the coalition of the selfish. And with the assistance of men and women of conscience and goodwill the world over, I believe we can.

Here in Fiji, we are also doing what we can. We will soon announce our own emission targets to take to the Paris summit. They will be as ambitious as we can possibly afford as a developing nation. But let me make it clear that we are not the problem. In fact our per capita carbon emissions in 2013 were estimated to be 1.5 tonnes compared to a world average of 5.6 tonnes.

We have also built energy efficiency into our various national plans – our National Climate Policy and our Green Growth Framework, that makes the sustainable use of our resources on land and at sea our number one priority.

We are already committed to generating 99 per cent of our electricity requirements from renewable sources by 2030 compared with 60 per cent in 2013. And our own program to build resilience is well advanced. We have so far identified 830 Fijian communities that are at risk from climate change and 45 communities that require relocation. And this month, we began an important project to digitally map the entire country and identify those areas that are especially vulnerable as a means of increasing our overall preparedness. Starting in the northern division of Macuata, this mapping will extend to the whole of Fiji by the end of next year. And I particularly want to thank the European Union for assisting us in this crucial exercise in building our resilience by being able to assess more precisely where we are most at risk.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, rest assured that your efforts this week are also deeply appreciated. It’s been a great pleasure having you all in Fiji and I hope you leave with happy memories of both the place and our people. Of one thing you can be certain. We are holding our friends close in this struggle. We will never forget those who side with us now, just as we eventually hope to convert those in the world who have yet to do so.

I now declare our gathering formally closed and wish you all a safe trip home. And on behalf of every Fijian, thank you for standing shoulder-to shoulder with us and assisting us to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.