Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m honoured to welcome all of you and especially my fellow Pacific Leader from Tonga to this important gathering, with its focus on the development of strategies to promote Green Growth in our region.

This Retreat brings together a wide range of participants from the government, non-government and private sectors in our immediate region and beyond. And on behalf of the Fijian people, I wish you all a fruitful discussion on how we can grow our economies in a sustainable manner, without jeopardising our pristine environment and the futures of generations of Pacific Islanders to come.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let there be no doubt about the significance of what brings you together and our collective need to find practical and affordable answers to the challenges before us.

Put simply, the old ways of growing our economies with an emphasis purely on growth for growth’s sake are no longer acceptable. Because too much of what has been done in the past has been unsustainable, in some cases seriously so. In far too many instances, the resources of Pacific peoples have been exploited without regard for the need to nurture them carefully so they continue to provide the prosperity on which we all depend, now and into the future.

As you all know, the term ‘Green Growth’ has been adopted globally to describe a path of economic growth which uses natural resources in a sustainable manner. But it has particular resonance in the Asia Pacific region where we know that far too often, development has come at the cost of environmental degradation.

We need to forge a new development model for Pacific Islanders – one that is more holistic, integrated, inclusive and above all sustainable. And we must overhaul our economies in a way that links economic growth and environmental protection. To build green economies in which the driver of growth is more intelligent, more effective and has the common interests of all citizens in mind.

As I told our first National Green Growth Summit in Fiji last June, we need to be a lot smarter in the way we exploit our resources – whether it is our fish at sea or our forests on land – so that we can extract the maximum income from them for our development needs but still protect them so we can keep living off them now and into the future.

There is only so much we can do as individual countries. We inhabit one ocean, one Pacific, and the sustainable development of our maritime resources, in particular, requires a concerted regional approach.

Each of you in this room brings your own experience of the particular challenges you face at home. But this gathering gives you the opportunity to share those experiences and forge a collective way forward to enhance and protect the resources we all share as one Pacific family.

I urge you to bring both focus and passion to these discussions. The time for a ‘softly, softly’ or vaka malua approach to the preservation of our resources is over. We need to be more frank and more assertive as we hone in on those areas that require immediate attention and set out a timetable of priorities. And we need to be relentless in identifying and tackling any threat to our collective way of life. Whether it is the threat posed by climate change, the need to protect our oceans and forests or threats to the health and welfare of every Pacific Island community, wherever it may be.

We can talk all we like about the Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations will endorse in September to drive the new global development framework until 2030. But we need to seize the initiative as Pacific Islanders now to lay out our own goals and achieve them with a degree of determination, even ruthless self-interest, that has been noticeably absent in the past.

In 2011, eight out of the 20 most aid-dependent countries in the world were in the Pacific – the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.

This means their ability to fund development goals is extremely limited. This is not to say that other developing countries such as Fiji do not have limitations either. We have to be realistic. The developed nations have to be realistic.

If we are all committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals at a global level then political imperatives should not get in the way – national, regional or global. And given the limitations of the Small Island Developing States generally, we in the Pacific need to collaborate a lot more with each other.

We have had a tendency as Pacific Islanders to look to the outside world to help us address our challenges. As if someone else is always going to come to our aid and provide us with the solutions we need. But we have begun to learn from bitter experience that we must stand up for ourselves. Because our interests are not necessarily those of others, including some of our neighbours. And nowhere is this chasm between our interests and the interests of others more acute than on the most pressing issue of all – the threat to Pacific Islanders posed by climate change and rising sea levels. This is of course not of our making. We nonetheless need to continuously bring this critical issue of our survival to the rest of the world.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you all know, there are a host of ways in which we can make a difference in other areas. We are generating too much waste and have been slow to embrace items that are bio-degradable. There is too much pollution, both on land and at sea, that is threatening a range of precious ecosystems and the quality of our arable land. And our dependence on fossil fuels has become not only a moral issue but a huge economic burden on us all.
In Fiji, our national fossil fuel bill now exceeds more than $1 billion dollars per year. So we must all turn to sustainable energy sources as much as possible – such as solar power, wind and hydroelectric generation – areas in which Fiji is making strides.

We must also constantly remind our fellow citizens that we all share a personal responsibility as Pacific Islanders to protect our immediate surroundings. It means picking up rubbish when we see it, picking up plastic bags and bottles that are clogging our beaches and waterways and disposing of them properly.

And we must continually remind our policy-makers in Government and the business community of the need to put sustainability and environmental protection as the over-riding priority in any development proposal. We need more scrutiny, not less to ensure that proper standards are met. Indeed, sustainability should be at the core of everything we do.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I spoke at the first PIDF of us all forming “a grand coalition throughout the Pacific to protect our environment. In order to make sure that development is sustainable and that the common good comes before sectional interests. So that we leave the Pacific to our children and grandchildren in a better state than when we inherited it”.

That crusade continues and I ask you all to place it at the forefront of your deliberations over the next two days.

As a popular Native American proverb puts it: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.

We must all have – at the forefront of our minds – the kind of islands we will bequeath to future generations.

And with that thought, I have the great honour to declare the 2015 Pacific Green Growth Leaders’ Coalition Retreat open.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.