Opinion

PM: Climate Change, Single Most Important Crisis Facing Our Nation

 The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s opening remarks at the inaugural session of the 45th Colombo Plan Consultative Committee meeting yesterday in Suva. The President of the Colombo
30 Sep 2016 09:13
PM: Climate Change, Single Most Important Crisis Facing Our Nation
Voreqe Bainimarama Prime Minister


The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s opening remarks at the inaugural session of the 45th Colombo Plan Consultative Committee meeting yesterday in Suva.

The President of the Colombo Plan Council, Secretary General of the Colombo Plan, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Bula Vinaka and greetings to you all.

It gives me great pleasure to extend to you all a very warm welcome on behalf of the Government and the people of Fiji and to thank the Colombo Plan for accepting our invitation to host the 45th session of the Colombo Plan Consultative Meeting.

We hope that while you are here you will enjoy our true Fijian hospitality exemplified by our Bula Spirit. Many Fijians are still feeling the joy of  our historic gold medal win at the Rio Olympics for sevens rugby, so I think you will find our people even more hospitable than usual.

For Fiji, as a Small Island Developing State, climate change is not just a significant global issue. It is the single most important crisis facing our nation. And for some of our neighbours, it is literally a matter of life and death. Extreme weather events, rising seas and environmental change and degradation threaten us at our very core. These are threats to every government, every community and every person.

Some Pacific nations are facing the very real possibility of disappearing beneath the seas. They may have no islands to call their own. The people will have to migrate, but their way of life and their culture may never be the same as reluctant exiles in another country, no matter how generous their new host nation may be.

We are also working with our threatened neighbours. 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 they are already growing root crops there. And should the unthinkable occur, Fiji has committed to provide a permanent home to the entire populations of Kiribati and Tuvalu – our two closest neighbours. We pray that this will be unnecessary, but we must prepare for the unthinkable.

In Fiji alone, my Government has identified some 830 communities that will probably need to be relocated to escape to rising sea levels. Of this group, about 40 are high priority.  We will keep them as close to their current location as possible so that the cultural, social and economic disruption can be kept to a minimum.

But any move like this is bound to provoke anxiety and fear. People need to believe they will be safe when they finally relocate. They will be concerned about the relocation of the graves of their family members – there are huge implications for food security, health, education, employment and the dignity and overall wellbeing of communities.

Many of you present today are facing similar challenges. We, Pacific Small Island Developing States don’t have the luxury of time. The fact that Fiji was the first country to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement shows the urgency of the hour and our commitment to the future of our common humanity. But we have only begun our campaign to spur the world to real action to combat climate change, and we will continue to press and press and press—at every opportunity, in every forum, until the world takes the difficult steps, makes the hard choices and shares the sacrifices necessary to confront climate change.

We acknowledge the U.S government, China and other industrialised countries for following suit and ratifying the Paris Agreement. And we are grateful for the solidarity of our Pacific neighbours in this regard, through the Suva Declaration and their strenuous efforts internationally. But the hard work has just begun.

We are determined to leave our islands in a better state for future generations. And we urge members of the Colombo Plan who have not ratified the Paris Agreement to do so as soon as possible. And then we ask you to join our uncompromising call for action.

In February this year, Fiji was devastated by Cyclone Winston, the biggest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere. In 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam laid waste to Vanuatu. In late 2014, the Philippines suffered enormous destruction and loss of life from Typhoon Haiyan. And we remember, of course, that Winston crossed over Tonga twice; it did a 180-degree turn and came back across Tonga to strike Fiji. So we are not alone as these tropical storms get stronger and even strike outside the traditional cyclone season.

We continue the long road to recovery from Winston, and one of our priority areas is ensuring that schools and homes and damaged infrastructure are rebuilt and re-equipped as quickly as possible. We thank our development partners and many friendly countries for their timely assistance in the wake of Cyclone Winston. Rebuilding is good, of course, but preparation, prevention and resilience are much better.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the theme that we have chosen for our meeting focuses on community-based adaptation to climate change. Every Fijian now knows how important it is for our nation to deal with the effects of climate change. But in the end, when the wind blows, when the rains don’t come as expected, when the waters surge, every community and every household endures the effects in a very intimate way.

Government resources, know-how and organisation must be marshalled for the public good, and government leadership is essential, but in the end it is the local communities that must be prepared. People must be able to adapt to the multiple threats caused by rising sea levels, storm surges, drought and increasing intensity of tropical cyclones. And every nation must forge a strong partnership between the national government and the local communities.

As a nation, our natural resources, including our flora and fauna, are at immense risk. Moreover, variations in climatic conditions place additional stress on ecosystems, which makes them more vulnerable and harder to protect. In some cases, ecosystems that have provided livelihoods for people for generations face dramatic change: Some species may disappear, and new species may arrive to take their places, bringing different sources of food or new challenges for earning a livelihood in our rural communities.

In this regard, it is essential to build awareness in and develop strategies for communities whose resources and immediate environment are at risk from changing climate. We need to be constantly on guard to the need to adapt, and we need to arm our local communities with the information and resources they need to do so.

In Fiji, we have also put into place long-term strategies for ensuring that our young people understand the effects of climate change.

Part of this has been to develop educational policies on sustainable development and bring together the right personnel and resources. But we are also keen to tap into traditional knowledge, as part of our overall mitigation strategies.

The fact is that environmental protection must be a major focus of our development efforts for the foreseeable future. So in 2015, Fiji launched its Green Growth Framework with particular emphasis on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on the sustainable development goals. These commitments are being incorporated as a matter of priority into our five- and twenty-year National Development Plans currently under formulation.

 

Oceans

In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, we will also be co-hosting, with the government of Sweden, the UN Oceans Conference on the implementation SDG14, in New York, in June next year.

The unrelenting degradation of the oceans and their precious resources should be a matter of grave concern to every nation. We know how important the oceans are. The importance’s of the ocean to our Pacific peoples are self-evident—for their culture, for their livelihoods, and for their health. But they are also the earth’s circulatory system, and their health affects the health of every continent, every island, every city and every farmer’s field.

Therefore, I ask you all to do everything you can to promote the themes and ideals of this conference and draw global attention to the issues at stake – the urgent need to reverse the pollution, the proliferation of rubbish in the ocean, the overfishing and the destruction of marine habitats that has reached alarming proportions in so many parts of the world.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have a chance next June to bring the nations together to formulate a more concerted and holistic response to saving our oceans and seas.

Fiji is naturally very proud to be co-hosting this event with our Swedish friends. It is a great honour for a Pacific Small Island Developing State to be given the task of doing so, and Fiji shares that honour with every Pacific Islander.

 

Colombo Plan and Fiji

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

While the focus of this meeting is on resilience to climate change, I do not want to ignore all the benefits Fiji has gained through the Colombo Plan in the areas of fighting drug trafficking and preventing drug abuse, community policing, sharing of information between the public and law enforcement agencies, SME development, gender equality, human rights.

It is my Government’s priority to build a nation and a workforce that can meet the challenges and reap the rewards of the 21st century. Our training and education must be highly targeted and refined, and that is where the Colombo Plan has set its foundation.

The Colombo Plan policy objectives dovetail well with Fiji’s national priorities, and the Colombo Plan training programmes have been of enormous benefit to Fiji’s development in the 44 years that we have been a member.

So in the true spirit of the Colombo Plan, I call on member countries and international Non Governmental Organisations for their active co-operation with Fiji and other Pacific Island Countries in combating the effects of climate change through the Colombo Plan initiatives.

I am certain that you will see parallels in your own countries to the challenges we in the Pacific face in responding to climate change, and I am sure that this area of work will feature strongly in future programmes of the Colombo Plan. This is, after all, the greatest challenge we face globally in the 21st century.

We have much to learn from each other, and this meeting gives us the platform to share lessons learnt and best practices.

I wish you every success in your meeting. Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 

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