My Fellow Fijians, Bula vinaka and a very Happy New Year to you all.
As always, this is a time of celebration as we herald in a new year – 2017. Those celebrations are tempered by the fact that many Fijians have once again lost their possessions and crops in the recent tropical depression. But we can all be grateful that we have been spared the tragic loss of life that accompanied Tropical Cyclone Winston back in February.
Our thoughts and prayers tonight are especially with the families of the 44 Fijians who were killed by Winston. And we ask God to comfort them and give them strength.
New Year is also a time when many of us make resolutions, some of which we keep and others that fall by the wayside. But this year, there is one resolution that as Fijians, we have a solemn duty to uphold. And that is to effectively carry out the task we have been given to lead the world in the fight against climate change. And the threat to our oceans and seas posed by pollution and overfishing.
As many of you know, Fiji has been given the honour by the global community to be President of COP-23 – the United Nations climate negotiations to reduce carbon emissions and arrest the global warming that is triggering extreme weather events like Winston and causing the seas to rise.
As your Prime Minister, I will be guiding the deliberations of almost 200 countries as we gather in Bonn, Germany, in November to continue to seek a more decisive response on the part of the industrial nations. And to set aside funds to enable developing countries such as Fiji to adapt to the changes to their way of life that have been caused through no fault of our own.
In the months before that, I will be travelling the world to forge a consensus on the best way forward. And we will be holding a very important Pre-COP high-level gathering here in Fiji in October before the main Bonn conference the following month.
Tonight, I want to explain to each and every one of you the importance of this mission and why I will be spending so much of my time this year on COP-23 to make it the success that it must be for the sake of every person on the planet. And to explain why it is also crucial that we make a resounding success of the World Oceans Summit – which Fiji is cohosting with Sweden in New York in June.
First of all, I see it as my overriding responsibility as the leader of our nation to secure the future of the Fijian people. To protect our environment, our land and seas, not only for the sake of every Fijian today but for the generations to come.
Nothing is more important than this. Because if we can’t defend ourselves against extreme weather events and the rising seas; if we can’t protect our seas and our marine resources, then all our efforts to develop our nation will be jeopardised.
Everything depends on our ability to get the world to sit up and take notice of the unprecedented threat we currently face to our way of life.
We must persuade the industrial nations to pursue more radical action to reduce their carbon emissions that are causing global warming. We must get the world to stop degrading our oceans and seas.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear. This is not someone else’s problem. It is your problem, my problem. Our problem. And we must do everything possible to forge a strong partnership around the world to fix it.
Our success matters to every person in the path of the stronger and more frequent cyclones we are experiencing. Every family that has lost the roofs to their homes. Every farmer whose crop is damaged or destroyed by floods or drought. Everyone who goes fishing in our waters.
No-one is immune. No-one is exempt. And it is you and your family who I will be fighting for when I crisscross the world in the coming months trying to get my fellow leaders to act. And it is your interests that will be uppermost in my mind when I take the podium in New York in June and Bonn in November to lead the nations of the world in these discussions.
At the same time, I will be giving equal weight to our domestic agenda – our ongoing program of service delivery to the Fijian people, and the continuing reforms that have produced the longest- running period of economic growth in Fijian history. With our increased prosperity, we are connecting more Fijians than ever before to basic services such as water and electricity. And while our roads have again taken a battering from the elements, our road building and maintenance program remains a national priority, including the provision of proper street lighting in urban and rural areas.
And then there are all the other things that have been the hallmark of this Government – strengthening our education revolution; improving access to medical services and the quality of our hospitals; reforming the civil service to make it more efficient and professionally rewarding for those who serve the public; and continuing to refine and strengthen the investment climate in Fiji, which has never been better and is generating the current prosperity that we are determined to extend to every Fijian.
So my New Year message to my Ministers and MPs and the nation’s civil servants is that we must redouble our efforts in 2017 to serve our own people. While at the same time, doing everything we possibly can to fulfill our duty to the world to make COP-23 and the Oceans Summit an unqualified success.
My fellow Fijians, never before in the history of our nation has Fiji been entrusted with such a momentous task. Not only on behalf of ourselves and our Pacific neighbours but on behalf of the citizens of every other low-lying and vulnerable areas of the world.
That a nation of less than a million people has been given the job of forging a plan of action for the entire global community of 7.4 billion people is a phenomenal achievement.
• It recognises the increasing respect that Fiji enjoys – whether it is for our disproportionate contribution to UN Peacekeeping, our capacity-building in our island neighbours, our sporting prowess or the growing collection of Fijian Made quality goods and services that are penetrating markets throughout the world.
• It recognises our leadership role in the Pacific and on behalf of Small Island Developing States everywhere.
• It recognises the progress that we have made here in Fiji over the past decade, and especially the creation of our new democracy.
• And it recognises my Government’s concerted effort to make Fijian voices heard more strongly in the great forums of the world. And especially on the issues on which the well-being, even the survival, of our people depends.
Because of this, Fiji has never stood taller or more proudly in the community of nations. But I must also tell you that the job we are facing in New York and Bonn is immense. And I will need your prayers and your support to carry out the role that has been entrusted to Fiji.
As the year progresses, I intend to keep you fully informed of our progress. But let me give you two simple pieces of information that indicate the scale of the challenge we are facing.
At the Paris Conference on Climate Change at the end of 2015, the nations of the world agreed to reduce their carbon emissions to keep the temperature of the earth well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with that of the industrial age. This was hailed as a landmark achievement, an historic event. Yet even if all the commitments made in Paris are fully implemented, we are told that there is a 50 per cent chance of the global temperature being 2.8 degrees warmer than the industrial age. So we have a momentous challenge before us. And Fiji is pressing for a much more ambitious target if we are to have any hope of resolving this crisis – the 1.5 degree cap contained in the Suva Declaration of 2014.
Here’s another piece of sobering information: We still have a shortfall of as much as 80 per cent in the global financial arrangements that vulnerable countries such as Fiji will need to access to enable us to adapt to climate change. And to build our resilience to cyclones, droughts and rising sea levels. As things stand, the money we need just isn’t there. So we are going to make adaptation funding a core priority of our COP Presidency.
My fellow Fijians, this is a wonderful opportunity for Fiji. The rest of the world is looking to us for leadership and we intend to provide it. Not only at COP-23 and all the negotiations leading up to it but at the World Oceans Summit in June. And I draw great strength and great pride from the fact that I know the Fijian people share that commitment and will be supporting me all the way.
My fellow Fijians, 2017 is a year of immense challenge. But I am confident that the Fijian spirit – the Fijian character – is more than a match for that challenge. And, as a nation, we humbly ask for God’s Blessing as we embark on the great crusade that lies ahead.
My wife, Mary, joins me in wishing you every happiness in 2017. And May God Bless our beloved Fiji.
Vinaka vakalevu and Good Night.