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Media Center > Speeches > HON. PM BAINIMARAMA'S REMARKS AT THE OFFICIAL DINNER FOR UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY- GENERAL

HON. PM BAINIMARAMA'S REMARKS AT THE OFFICIAL DINNER FOR UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY- GENERAL

5/16/2019
• United Nations Secretary-General, Your Excellency António Guterres,
• Honourable Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau,
• Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament,
• Your Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
• Invited Guests,
• Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka. With the sun having set on an incredibly proud day for Fiji, I wish a very good evening to you all.

Just this morning, the leader who we’ve come together to honour tonight –– my friend, Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres –– addressed the Fijian Parliament in what can only be described as a history-making moment for our country.

I thank the Honourable Secretary-General for his high praise of Fiji, and of our efforts to make this country a place of inclusiveness, equality, diversity and tolerance. I thank him for his recognition of our outsized leadership within the United Nations, including our presidency of the UN General Assembly, our presidency of COP23, our co-chairmanship of the first Oceans Conference, our representation on the UN Human Rights Council, and our outsized role in the UN’s global peacekeeping missions in some of the most violence-inflicted pockets of the globe.

But most of all, I thank him for the authentic passion that he has brought with him to the Pacific this week –– a fiery commitment to the future of our children and our grandchildren –– that I share, and that has driven my work as both Prime Minister and COP23 President.

This week has certainly been an eventful one –– starting with CAPP, the Climate Action Pacific Partnership conference, where leaders from around the region came together to unite our voices in the global fight against climate change. We left that meeting with international consensus on the crisis that the Pacific is facing. Then, upon his arrival, the Secretary-General quickly built upon this momentum as he spoke to the “intertwined challenges” that face the world today, transcending borders and generations alike.

And just today, we met those words with action. A few short hours ago, Cabinet endorsed a landmark National Climate Change Policy that will guide the sustainable development of the Fijian economy through 2030. This innovative policy meets these “intertwined challenges” that the Secretary-General warned of with a new “interwoven approach”, emphasising the need for weaving strong cross-connections –– across industry, governments, and civil society –– to achieve resilience, and stressing the importance finding shared intersections and benefits among the many individual threads that play a role in adapting our nation to a changing climate.

Weaving has been fine-tuned for centuries in Fiji, becoming an integral part of our history. Our ancestors found that they could weave many fragile coconut husk fibres together to create the magimagi, a rope that bound our druas with the strength to sail across the Pacific. Similarly, they found that by weaving together strips of voivoi leaves, they could craft baskets and mats that still serve both great utility and ceremonial purpose to this day. Many of our Girmitiyas –– the indentured labourers brought from British India to carry out the back-breaking work in slave-like conditions –– spent their time crafting intricate bedspreads, mats, tablecloths and doilies for their masters and fellow workers alike, artfully crocheting cotton threads in a time that preceded the thriving garment industry we see in Fiji today.

It’s certainly not just in Fiji, either –– around the globe, weaving is a fundamental and intercultural method derived from the concept that individual strands of a material become exponentially stronger when interconnected in a systematic way. It's this same interwoven philosophy that inspires the spirit of multilateralism, and that is at the core of the ethos of the United Nations and the great work that we achieve when we work together.

I think it’s safe to say that these quick and decisive steps to action will resonate well with the Secretary-General. During his time in his previous post as Prime Minister of Portugal, he was known for thinking outside of the box to bring real and meaningful change to his country. In fact, that proven track record of words-in-action –– and a shared impatience for apathy –– may be why he and I share such great chemistry. Through both our private conversations and public commitments over the past few days, it’s become clear that the Secretary-General has taken this same leadership style to the helm of the United Nations –– something we can all find hope in.

But as we all know, the fate of our future lies not in the hands of any one person –– the immense good that the United Nations brings to Fiji is owed to the many hundreds of workers and volunteers who carry out their mission. Their resolve is what fuels the on-the-ground progress, and their dedication is what fuels our shared vision.

The true measure of the UN’s success lies within each life that is shaped by multilateralism in action. It is felt by the young Fijian student in a classroom whose curriculum is helped shaped by the UN, and will grow up to find new career opportunities at his or her footsteps. It is felt by the rural woman who, thanks to a UN-funded accommodation centre, can now safely spend the night at the market instead of sleeping out in the open, affording her newfound physical and economic security. And it is felt by the Fijian family whose home was destroyed by a tropical cyclone, as they receive food and shelter thanks to the quick deployment of the UN emergency funding.

Indeed, it is felt throughout all of the UN’s expansive body of work. These stories of human impact are why we are such a proud home to their Pacific headquarters in Suva, and they are why we are so proud of our mantle of leadership within this community of nations.

And in the months ahead, I look forward to continuing our progress at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in New York, and later, COP25 –– the oceans-centric “blue COP” –– in Chile.

Ladies and gentlemen, earlier today, the Secretary-General joined His Excellency the President Jioji Konrote at Borron House, where he planted a tree in the front lawn. But of the four million trees that the Fijan Government aims to plant over the next four years, this sapling stands out –– and not just because of who put it in the ground. It was a drautabua tree, a critically-endangered species that is unique to Viti Levu, and found nowhere else in the world. The symbolism of this is profound, speaking not only to the great potential in our growth, but to the hope that –– while we’ve come to the edge –– humankind still bears hope for preservation of our climate and our future. That we’ve recognised this crisis before it’s too late, and that, by working together, we can step back from the brink of irreversible catastrophe.

As the Secretary-General and I stood side-by-side for our press statement this morning, I was particularly struck by his words that –– as a grandfather –– climate change is “the battle of his life.” As a grandfather of 19 myself, this resonated deeply with me, as my grandchildren represent everything that inspires our leadership here at home and abroad. They embody both the grave consequences of inaction and the great hope for action. I’m honoured to be fighting this battle –– a battle of our lives –– alongside His Excellency António Guterres, and alongside the United Nations.

On behalf of all Fijians, I again extend a warm vinaka vakalevu, “obrigado”, and thank you.
 
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