Your Excellency, Honourable Speaker Mr. Nailatikau, Your Excellency, Honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama, Distinguished Ministers and Members of Parliament, I am delighted to be here today. It is a great honour to address the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji.
I was in parliament for 26 years of my life. Six and a half of them as Prime Minister.
Being in the Parliament of Fiji I feel twice at home. At home because I’m in Fiji and at home because I’m in the Parliament.
Bula Vinaka, good afternoon, and thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality.
Fiji is a country of extraordinary beauty, with a unique connection to the ocean and the sky.
Your strong traditions of community and social responsibility, and your symbiotic relationship with your surroundings, make you natural global leaders on climate and the environment.
From your chairmanship of COP23, the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, to your co-hosting of the UN’s first-ever conference on the Ocean, to the work of my Special Envoy, Peter Thomson, Fijians have been at the forefront of international action and advocacy on climate and the sea.
Fiji has taken on the sceptics and the deniers. Fiji’s voice is loud and clear, and the world is starting to listen.
I thank the leaders, government and people of Fiji for standing up for our planet.
Distinguished Members of Parliament, This legislature demonstrates another of Fiji’s important achievements.
Representatives from different political parties, backgrounds and experiences are here together to debate and decide on national issues.
This was not always the case in many parts of the world, and I congratulate you on your efforts to make this parliament – and Fiji itself – a place of inclusiveness, equality, diversity and tolerance.
We need that spirit more than ever at this troubled time.
I have just come from New Zealand, where I visited the scene of the horrific attack on Muslims in Christchurch.
Around the world, we are facing rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim rhetoric, the persecution of Christians and other forms of xenophobia against migrants and refugees and racism.
We must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred and scale up our response to the hate speech which is coarsening our public dialogue in many countries and regions of the world. The Fijian example of tolerance is a very important example today.
The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are our blueprint for a fair globalization built on prosperous, peaceful and resilient societies on a healthy planet.
Education, healthcare, decent jobs and economic opportunities, respect for human rights and the rule of law, gender equality, diversity and inclusion, fundamental freedoms and democratic values: these are the keys to sustainable growth, peace and prosperity.
Here too, Fiji is showing great commitment and leadership.
I congratulate you for being the first parliament in the world to undertake a Sustainable Development Goals self-assessment.
Your Parliament Speaker’s Debates on the Goals have prompted national discussions between political leaders and civil society, the private sector and academia on Fiji’s development policies.
I applaud your commitment to sustainable development to improve the lives of all Fijians.
It was also in this chamber in 2016 that you unanimously agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, making Fiji the first country in the world to do so.
Climate change is the defining issue of our time. The Prime Minister just told me in our meeting that this is the battle of our lives. It is the reason for my visit to the Pacific region.
Here in Fiji, thousands of people have suffered cyclones, floods and droughts, or lost their homes, schools or crops to rising seas and storms.
The poorest and most vulnerable are always disproportionately affected, and such disasters and their aftermath have a different and often more serious impact on women and girls.
I express my deepest sympathies to Fijians who have been affected by climate change. And I understand the outrage of those who live under the constant threat of that kind of destruction.
The United Nations stands with you. I stand with you and with the other people of the Pacific.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said we have less than 12 years to avoid potentially irreversible climate disruption.
We are seeing record highs in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gas concentrations. The last four years were the hottest on record.
Climate change is running faster than our efforts to address it – and political will in many parts of the world is unfortunately slowing down.
Here in the Pacific region, investment in adaptation is especially crucial given the amount of climate change that has already occurred.
I know you are already acting to build resilience, improve early warning, and drawing on traditional ecological knowledge to devise solutions that work here at home while challenging the world to change entrenched, damaging practices.
Financing is crucial to assist the world’s most vulnerable communities and countries.
We need developed countries to fulfill the pledges they have made to support action in developing countries – including by mobilizing the public and private sector to reach $100 billion US dollars per year to support mitigation and adaptation.
It is also important to have a successful replenishment of the Green Climate Fund and to improve the management of the fund.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To help generate ambition, and to show that our goals are feasible, I am convening a Climate Action Summit in September.
It means carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, from climate risk to the health hazards of air pollution. It means not starting construction of new coal plants beyond 2020.
And it means replacing jobs in traditional fossil fuel industries with cleaner, healthier alternatives, so the transformation is inclusive, profitable and just.
To ensure effective climate action, we require sound legislative frameworks, as well as legislative bodies that can support and push government policies and actions everywhere.
Here again, Fiji is setting an example.
Fiji was the first Small Island State to hold the Presidency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Under your Presidency, you shared with the world the Pacific concept of talanoa – the process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue that takes in the private sector, civil society, academia, media and others.
In October 2017, Fiji became the first emerging market to issue a sovereign green bond. You also introduced an Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy and launched a rural electrification programme to reduce emissions from diesel generators.
Fiji has officially launched an important new initiative to develop finance and insurance products for vulnerable and low-income households in Fiji and other Pacific island countries.
Fiji has also shown leadership in addressing issues of human mobility and climate change, with respect for human rights. You have relocated villages and established guidelines on how to support people displaced by climate-related impacts.
Other countries in the region can learn from your example.
Fiji’s support for the United Nations goes well beyond climate action.
You are deeply engaged in efforts to secure the well-being of the world’s oceans and seas.
The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity.
Overfishing is rampant.
Pollution, especially from plastic, is further poisoning and depleting this vital resource.
The world must do more to respond to the Call to Action adopted at the first Ocean Conference.
The Second Ocean Conference will be held next year in Portugal, my home – and a country which, like Fiji, has been shaped by the sea. Let us use that shared affinity to make the most of this important gathering that follows the Fijian initiative.
Let me also express deep appreciation to Fiji for its other contributions to the work of the United Nations.
You are a steadfast contributor to United Nations peacekeeping, with many leaders that have personally served this noble cause.
Fiji is the first Pacific Island country elected to the Human Rights Council.
And Fiji is a leading voice globally for upholding the protection of refugees. The New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants was adopted during Fiji’s Chairmanship of the General Assembly. Thank you for your stewardship.
The coming years will be a vital period to save the planet and to achieve sustainable, inclusive human development.
The alarm bells keep ringing – most recently with the release by the United Nations just last week of authoritative scientific findings indicating that, and I quote, “Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before … with the great majority of indicators of ecosystems and biodiversity showing rapid decline.”
We must address this global emergency with ambition and urgency.
Every country has a role to play.
I commend Fiji for taking on these global responsibilities with courage and conviction.