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6-17 Nov 2017, Bonn

COP23 

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The Fijian Prime Minister and incoming COP23 President, Frank Bainimarama, has said that it is critical for the whole world to “preserve at all costs" the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement that was reached in the French capital in 2015 and the multilateral consensus for decisive action to reduce carbon emissions. Speaking at the 4th Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne, he called for a strong global movement to maintain the momentum for decisive climate action and said that Fiji would would be at the forefront of that movement. Here is his full speech:

The Honourable Australian Minister for Environment and Energy, The Co-Chair of the Green Climate Fund, The CEO of the Carbon Market Institute, Distinguished guests from Australasia and the rest of the world, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all,

This is the first major gathering of business leaders and policy makers that I have addressed as incoming President of COP 23. And I’m delighted to be here with a large number of you who are at the cutting edge – I probably shouldn’t say coalface – of our collective global effort to address the impact of climate change.

On a chilly morning in Melbourne - by Fijian standards at least - I want to start by thanking you for the warmth of your welcome. And to say how pleased I was when I received the invitation from Peter Castellas to speak to you. For the benefit of outsiders, this event is the largest of its kind in Australasia.  In the room today are key business decision-makers, climate policy leaders and private sector investors. All of you coming together at a very critical time, when the multilateral consensus to decisively reduce carbon emissions is being challenged.

I had the pleasure to meet my Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, at his home in Sydney on Sunday night. I was a friendly face at the end of a long day in which he had taken quite a hammering from the Queensland Premier. Over a beer, I asked him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me to help Fiji make a success of this presidency, not only for the people of this region but the entire world.

As you know, Mr Turnbull is on his way to the US this week to see President Trump. It is going to be a very significant meeting on a number of levels, not least because of the current threat to regional security posed by events on the Korean peninsular. But I also asked Prime Minister Turnbull to reinforce the message that I have sent myself as incoming COP President in a letter to Mr Trump. And that is for America to stay in the Paris Agreement and continue to take a leadership role as we confront undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our age.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we must preserve at all costs the historic achievement that was reached in Paris at the end of 2015. The multilateral consensus to take decisive action to reduce carbon emissions and arrest the current rate of global warming. The Paris Agreement must be implemented in full and the groundwork laid for even more ambitious action down the track.  And that means every nation fulfilling the pledges they made in Paris. And demonstrating an unwavering commitment to see this process through.

As a Fijian, I am fond of sporting analogies in my speeches at home, and especially the need for teamwork to achieve any objective at all. So I’m sure you’ll excuse me for saying that the world needs more teamwork on climate change right now than ever before.

As in the case of our Olympic world champion Rugby Sevens team, we can’t have one of our best performers abandon the field of play. So my message to Donald Trump and the message I hope that Prime Minister Turnbull will also convey to him is very simple:

Mr President, please do not abandon the Paris Agreement. Stay the course. Listen to those around you who are encouraging you to do so. Don't let the whole side down by leaving when we have a clear game plan and have put so many scores on the board.  Let’s see this process through for the benefit of all 7.5 billion people on planet earth, including your own citizens in the vulnerable parts of America.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are still formulating our narrative for Fiji’s COP Presidency but I can certainly tell you this: Our number one priority is to build a grand coalition of governments, civil society and the private sector to defend and uphold the Paris Agreement. And formulate a plan of action for everyone.

Paris was France’s gift to the world – a triumph of dogged negotiation and diplomacy.  Last year, the ball was passed to Morocco and now it has moved out through the back line to Fiji. And we’re going to run with it as hard as we can. And in the Fijian way, dodging every attempt to tackle us.

They say we play rugby in Fiji in an unconventional manner and this will certainly be an unconventional COP – the nations of the world gathering in Bonn, Germany, in November with Fiji in the chair. It is the first time the COP president will not be from the host nation. And I want to pay tribute to Germany for putting up the 70-million Euros needed to stage this event but insisting that Fiji take the limelight.

With more than 20,000 people expected in Bonn, we could never have staged an event on this scale in Fiji. But thanks to Germany, the voice of the Pacific will be heard. The voice of the region bearing the brunt of climate change will be heard. And COP23 Fiji in Bonn is a selfless act of generosity on the part of the German Government and the German people that we in the Pacific will never forget.

Of course, we still have to fund the Fijian presidency itself. And we have gone to the world seeking support in the form of contributions to enable us to do this job properly on behalf of everyone. I have to say that the response so far has been disappointing. And if any of you can assist with this effort, I am especially keen to hear from you. Because we have a lot of ground to cover in the next six months and we need to do it well.

As President, I am expected to remain impartial as I preside over the negotiations in November. But I will naturally bring a Pacific perspective to the proceedings. And I will be joined in Bonn by the other island leaders to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear.

I intend first to listen and to learn, which is why I am looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible today and at the function tonight. And then I intend to lead. To carry out my principal task as President to advance the Rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. And lay the groundwork for more ambitious climate action in the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018.

I assume the incoming Presidency of COP23 deeply conscious that as the first Small Island Developing State to be honoured with the role, we need to perform. And I am reaching out to every single one of you to be part of the team we are building – the grand coalition that I speak of. 

We need governments in the room in Bonn in November pushing the negotiations forward. And supported outside by a vast movement for decisive climate action - the non-state actors in this matter of life or death whose roles are just as critical.

These include other governments at state and local level, including people like Governor Jerry Brown of California, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and who presides over the sixth biggest economy in the world.

Then there are the civil society groups of all kinds, representing the grass roots in our societies across the world. And last but by no means least, those of you in the private sector – the risk-takers, the innovators, the generators of economic wealth and progress.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji wants to bring you closer to the decision making process. To make your voices heard. I am determined to spend as much time in the non-state zone in Bonn as I do in the formal negotiating sessions. Because it is your ideas, your innovation, your capital that will ultimately determine the success of our effort to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

It is you who will develop and refine the technology to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. And it is you who will develop fresh avenues to enable that technology to spread across the planet. Creating new and more innovative means to finance access to that technology and make it more affordable, especially for developing countries.

We also want you at the forefront of climate adaptation, of partnering with governments to build the resilience of vulnerable nations. It is a huge undertaking but my message as the team coach this year is that it can be done and it must be done. Because our very survival depends on it.

There is no longer room and certainly no longer time to question the science. And we must keep listening to the best scientific advice we can get. This says that man-made climate change is not a hoax. It is frighteningly real. And the evidence is global – whether it is the loss of the Arctic ice flows within four decades, the loss of cities like Miami in five decades, or in the Pacific, the loss of three entire nations over a similar period – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.

Barack Obama spoke when he was running for President about “the fierce urgency of now”. And in no other field of human endeavour is the urgency more fierce than it is to address the underlying causes of climate change.

Previously, I used to say that we must all act before it’s too late. But the best scientific advice now says it is already too late. Even at the current rate of global warming of one degree celsius above that of the pre-industrial age, our coral reefs may be too far gone to be saved. Billions of people are already being affected by the impact of climate change on agriculture and their ability to feed themselves.

So it is now a question of limiting the damage. Doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t get worse. And as incoming COP President, I appeal to you all and to every citizen of the world to keep up the momentum for climate action.

Where governments fail to lead, the private sector must do so – as is happening already in America. Where the call to action goes unheeded, civil society must mobilise ordinary people to turn up the pressure. And where politicians deny the magnitude of the challenge we face, men and women must use their power at the ballot box to replace them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I find myself being asked why a small developing country like Fiji – with a total population smaller than Auckland or Adelaide – would take on the Presidency. And my answer is this:

We do it for ourselves, for the families and friends of the 44 Fijians who lost their lives when the biggest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere – Cyclone Winston - slammed into Fiji in February last year.

We do it for the Pacific and other small island developing states, who are bearing the brunt of climate change, whether through extreme weather events, rising seas or threats to their agriculture.

We do it for every vulnerable nation - low lying countries like Bangladesh, low lying cities like New York, Miami, Venice, Rotterdam and Ho Chi Minh City. Drought affected areas like Arizona, Nevada and sub Saharan Africa.

And we do it for the world – Fijians with big hearts reaching out from our island home and determined to assume a leadership role on behalf of our own generation and the generations to come. To whom we have a sacred trust to leave our planet in the same state as we inherited it.

I don’t expect it to be easy. I have already mentioned the difficulty we are having persuading certain countries to assist us financially to do the job we have been entrusted to do. But as I keep saying, failure is not an option. And I certainly appeal to you all today to spread the message that Fiji needs assistance if we are to make our presidency of COP23 an unqualified success.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are also not a nation of finger-pointers, who expect others to do all of the heavy lifting and especially those who generate the most emissions. Because this is a global challenge and we must all play our role in confronting it.

Fiji has undertaken to slash our own emissions – that are tiny in the overall scheme of things – by 30 per cent by 2030. Mainly by lifting our reliance on renewable energy from the current 65 per cent to 95 per cent over the next thirteen years.

We are also shouldering our share of the burden of finding new homes for those who are displaced by climate change. We have offered to give permanent refuge to the populations of two of our nearest neighbours - Kiribati and Tuvalu - in the event that they are submerged altogether. And while we will need assistance to resettle them in Fiji, we welcome these Pacific brothers and sisters with open hearts and open arms.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we are doing our bit and here’s how I think some of you might be able to do yours. How the private sector can really make a difference.

Our own experience in Fiji tells us that many of the impacts of climate change cannot be reversed. As a nation, we find it alarming – and I am sure you will all understand this – that a single extreme weather event like Cyclone Winston could come out of nowhere at any time. We were fortunate with Winston that while it devastated a large part of the country, it spared the main tourism areas on which our economy depends. But it still wiped out one third of our GDP. And we are facing a situation in which a single event scoring a direct hit on Fiji could wipe out years of development and set us back for decades.

So we know more than most that as well as reducing global emissions, “the fierce urgency of now” also extends to climate adaptation and the need to build the resilience of our communities in nations such as Fiji.

While there is no doubt that we have a large climate finance roadmap – which Australia, to its credit, has been driving – the developed nations must follow through on their commitments to assist developing countries. And we also need to recognise that public finance alone is not enough. And governments must create the right conditions for private finance to flow.

I see three key areas where this is critical.

First, we need to dedicate more finance to adaptation. In Fiji, for instance, we need to build more seawalls and develop more climate resilience. And I appeal to the business community to work with us to find new avenues in which finance can flow into these areas.

Second, we need private sector parties to work with us and secure new investment in the critical areas of renewable energy and access to clean water. Yes, we face challenges in the Pacific with economies of scale. But these two areas are an urgent priority and we badly need private sector involvement.

And third, we need the private sector to work with us to secure more affordable access to insurance cover for climate-related events. The rebuilding costs after something like Cyclone Winston are a greater burden on governments and ordinary people than they should be. Because we still haven’t been able to successfully develop an insurance product that can work in the Pacific. 

Given that this event is being hosted by the Carbon Markets Institute, let me also say that Fiji believes carbon markets and carbon pricing are among a number of ways that jurisdictions with large carbon footprints can mitigate carbon emissions. But we also believe that every country and states like California will develop and design measures to suit their national circumstances. We see markets playing a role in many of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. But our role as President is to help facilitate the discussions – including the development of Article Six – not dictate what the position should be.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to close by repeating my appeal to you all to support Fiji’s presidency and also do what you can individually and as a group to get behind our global movement for decisive climate action.

As the incoming COP president, I am still very much feeling my way.  But I’ve embarked on some intense training to master the technicalities of the negotiations. And I have a great team behind me in the form of our COP negotiator, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan and our Climate Champion, Inia Seruiratu, who is our Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management.

We have also assembled a team of international consultants, many of them Australian, to assist us with this effort, including the people from Baker McKenzie who assisted Morocco with its presidency. So with our diplomats around the world, we have a strong team for the Fijian effort to maximise our chances of success and move this agenda forward.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you. And as I always do wherever I go in the world, I ask you not only for your support for COP but  invite you to Fiji to experience the world famous hospitality of our people.

I certainly invited Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday to come and join us for our pre-COP gathering in Nadi in October. He will be more than welcomed in Fiji than in Queensland at the present time and I can promise you all the same.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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