In COP23, Environment and Climate Change, News

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka, guten morgen and a very good morning to you all.

No one who has ever lived through an extreme weather event like the cyclone that struck Fiji last year – Cyclone Winston – will ever forget it. The fury. The terror. The sense of helplessness. And in the case of the families of the 44 people who died, a continuing sense of loss.

As I toured the affected areas, I marveled at the resilience of our people, the welcoming smiles amid the devastation. And as the nation responded to their plight, their sense of helplessness eventually giving way to a determination to bounce back. To rebuild their shattered homes, their shattered schools and their shattered lives.

Friends, our own experience in Fiji is not unique. Our near neighbours in Vanuatu suffered a similar blow with Cyclone Pam a year before. And, of course, we have recently witnessed the suffering of hurricane victims in the Caribbean and southern United States. Plus the astonishing spectacle of Hurricane Ophelia slamming into Ireland and Scotland soon afterwards.

Friends, when a hurricane hits Scotland can we really be in any doubt about the gravity of climate change? Of any of the changes that are occurring all around us for that matter, whether they are extreme weather events like storms, floods and droughts; ice melting in both polar regions, wildfires in various parts of the world, acidity in our oceans and the bleaching of our reefs, or the changes in temperature that threaten our agriculture and food security.

Friends, aside from galvanising my determination to help our people back on their feet, Winston also sharpened my determination to make Fiji more climate resilient. And to do whatever I can in the great forums of the world to highlight the plight of the climate-vulnerable. To secure the finance and access to affordable insurance we need to be able to adapt to the frightening new era that is upon us.

It is certainly one of the reasons I took on the challenge of the Presidency of COP23. Because if I can do anything to assist the cause of the vulnerable nations – to draw attention to their challenges, let alone progress the climate action agenda, it will have been well worth it. And I am deeply honoured by the confidence the global community has placed in Fiji to help chart a way forward for us all.

For all its devastation, Cyclone Winston spared our main tourism areas – our principal revenue earner as a nation – but it still caused damage equivalent to 30 per cent of our GDP. Imagine if a developed country was faced with a destruction bill of 30 per cent of its GDP in any disaster. But, Friends, it could have been much worse had Winston scored a direct hit on our major cities, towns and tourism properties.

This is the level of risk we now face in Fiji along with every vulnerable nation. That an extreme weather event striking our entire nation could cause destruction on an epic scale. Catastrophic. Apocalyptic. A blow that in the space of a few terrifying hours, could wipe out decades of development. And make it impossible for us to meet our Sustainable Development Goals.

Friends, it is how we deal with that level of risk that brings us together today and I want to warmly thank the members of the distinguished panel who are contributing to this important event.

I fundamentally endorse the premise that has inspired this gathering. That climate change adaptation is a development issue, not simply a scientific or environmental issue. And every development decision from now on has to be made with building climate resilience at its core.

It is what we are already doing in Fiji and must be done throughout the world. Transforming our economies to become more resilient to climate change and transforming the development agenda itself. And doing so across the full spectrum of our societies from governments to the smallest of our communities. With the needs and aspirations of our people at the heart of that transformation.

Friends, just as we are bringing people together at COP in a Grand Coalition to tackle climate change, we need to build the same coalitions within our societies to address the climate threat. And before I hand over to our panel, let me briefly highlight some of the initiatives we have embraced in Fiji, some of which you can learn more about during this event.

Among other things, the Fijian Government in partnership with the UNDP, the Australian Government, an international NGO and private sector agencies has been championing the concept of ‘risk-informed development’. With support from the UNDP’s Pacific Risk Resilience Programme, we are bringing local communities into our national planning processes. We are insisting that any new development or capital project must take into account climate risk before being given the go-ahead. And after what we learnt from Cyclone Winston, the Fijian Government is partnering with the private sector to enhance our resilience through the Fiji Business Disaster Resilience Council, which was established with support from the Pacific Risk Resilience Programme.

We have also integrated risk into our budget process, with special measures for vulnerable communities and vulnerable groups – including our women – and allocations for adaptation and infrastructure development. And just before I left for Bonn, we approved the framework for a National Adaptation Plan, which is designed to guide our climate change adaptation program in a holistic, comprehensive and cost effective method.

Friends, I don’t have time to go into it all here but we are certainly keen to share our own experiences with other nations and other communities. And I want to thank the UNDP and the Australian Government for assisting Fiji and other Pacific nations to enable us to develop our capacity and prepare us for an era that we all know is going to be very challenging for all of us.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to speak to you today and I wish you well in your discussions.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.


[Information sourced from here]
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