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Your Excellency, our Chief Guest, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand,
Your Excellency, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth,
Your Excellency, the United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change,
Honourable Pacific leaders, Ministers and leaders of Pacific Organisations,
Representatives of our Development Partners,
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Heads of Regional Organisations and UN agencies,
Representatives of civil society and the private sector,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

On behalf of the Fijian Government and Fijian people, welcome to Suva for the third summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum – our grand coalition of regional governments, civil society organisations and the private sector.
Much has happened since we last gathered in June 2014, not least the successful conduct of the first genuinely democratic election in Fijian history almost a year ago. And I want to begin by warmly thanking those governments and organisations that supported this process – a defining moment for our nation and the wider Pacific region.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to have you in our capital after the two previous summits on Denarau. And we especially welcome our Chief Guest – His Excellency General Thanasak Patimapragorn – the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Sir, we fully appreciate the circumstances in which your Prime Minister was obliged to cancel his own visit to Suva to be with us today. To begin with, please accept our collective sympathy for the terrorist outrage in Bangkok on August 17 that killed 20 people and injured more than 120 others.
Our thoughts are especially with the families of the victims. And our solidarity is firmly with the Thai nation in its fight against terrorism, as it is with any nation confronting terrorism wherever it may be.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We gather today with another battle foremost in our minds – the struggle to persuade the international community to deal decisively with undoubtedly the greatest single challenge of our age – the threat to the entire world and especially Small Island Developing States posed by climate change.

We have 13 weeks before the nations gather in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference to highlight the gravity of the threat we face in the Pacific from rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by global warming. 13 weeks to convince the industrial nations of the absolute necessity to set deep and binding cuts in carbon emissions to arrest that warming and give us a fighting chance.

There are those who say it may already be too late to avert disaster for our coastal communities and to prevent three of our number – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – from disappearing beneath the waves altogether. But we in the Pacific are not prepared to simply sit back weekly and allow this to happen. We are gearing up for the biggest struggle Pacific Islanders have ever faced – the fight for our survival. And we intend to take that fight with other island and low-lying nations all the way to Paris and do everything in our power to get the world to finally sit up and take notice.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The nations of the world have a stark choice to make in Paris. To take decisive action to reduce their own carbon emissions and agree on internationally binding cuts to arrest the current rate of global warming. Or to stand condemned in the eyes of the world for being part of what I have called the coalition of the selfish – those nations putting their carbon polluting industries or resources and the health of their economies before the welfare of everyone.
In our own region, I especially appeal to Australia to abandon this coalition of the selfish and join us in the Pacific Small Island Developing States in this struggle for survival.

We have been watching with intense interest as the nations of the world submit their INDCs in advance of Paris – their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Australia has set a target of reducing emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and more if circumstances allow. Thank you. This is considerably less than the target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels set by our other large neighbour, New Zealand. And I have to say that we’d hoped that Australia would do better.

I have a simple message today for the Australian Prime Minister: Mr Abbott, it is time to put the welfare and survival of your Pacific Island neighbours before the expansion of your existing coal industry and your continuing reliance on this dirtiest of energy sources. The other day, the President of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong, described Australia’s loyalty to coalmines as selfish and I couldn’t agree more.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is also time for the Australian Government to stop undermining the PIDF by actively lobbying regional governments and regional leaders not to attend. I have said repeatedly that this organisation is no threat to the Pacific Islands Forum, which Australia and New Zealand prefer to maintain as the dominant, if not sole, piece of regional architecture.

We established the PIDF as a complementary organization because we felt the voices of all Pacific Islanders weren’t being heard. We wanted something more inclusive. And we especially wanted to provide a platform for our civil society organisations – the genuine voice of the grassroots in the Pacific. And our private sectors – the principal generators of the jobs on which the welfare of our people depends.

Only now has the Pacific Islands Forum begun to open the doors of its exclusive club for governments and admit these other vital pillars of Pacific society. And it is only because of the leadership shown by the PIDF that any reform has taken place in the PIF.
Fiji has long maintained the need for that reform to go a stage further. For those members of the PIF who are not Small Island Developing States to step back from the table and allow us to determine our own agenda and chart our own course. Free from the undue influence of larger powers who are not Pacific Small Island Developing States and whose interests are not always our own, as in the case of Australia in the battle against climate change.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we begin the third gathering of the PIDF, we can reflect on three years of solid achievement and some truly memorable highlights. The legendary Timor Leste Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, as Chief Guest at our inaugural gathering in 2013. The esteemed President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhyono as chief Guest last year. And now our distinguished Chief Guest from Thailand, underlining our continuing desire for a closer relationship with the great nations of South East Asia.

We have successfully forged an important partnership between Pacific governments, civil society and the private sector. We have brought many more Pacific peoples into the fold by embracing non-independent national entities such as New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. And we have reached out to the world and embraced any nation that wants to engage with the Pacific in positive manner. A grand coalition of development partners - or those who are keen to become so – who we also welcome today and warmly thank for their interest and participation.

So, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the PIDF is not only here to stay, it has never been stronger or more relevant. This week, we will sign the Suva Declaration, a common position on climate change that we intend to take to Paris at the end of November and place before the world. We intend for the Pacific voice on this issue to be heard as never before. It is arguably our last chance to get the world to act after the abject failure of the Kyoto Protocol. And I urge you all – governments, civil society and the private sector – to focus all you energy this week on ensuring that we go to Paris with the strongest possible collective position.
This struggle is not only about securing dramatic cuts in carbon emissions but getting the world to focus on a broad range of side issues related to climate change that have yet to be debated. These include formulating new international laws to deal with the issue of climate refugees.

Fiji has offered to give a permanent home to the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu – our closest neighbours – in the event of a worse case scenario in which their atolls are swamped or become submerged altogether. But how is the international community preparing to deal with such an eventuality? Who is to organize and finance the relocation of whole nations and existing members of the United Nations? What happens to that membership and the sovereignty of nations that become submerged under the rising waters? Little or none of this is currently part of the global debate and it is high time that it is. Because time is running out.

To begin addressing these issues, Fiji is offering to host a separate section within our Attorney General’s Department to evaluate the legal challenges and issues that will arise and will need to be addressed. I understand that the Commonwealth – through the Secretary General – is keen to support this Fijian initiative.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This gathering is also a landmark occasion because of the signing of the Charter and governing instruments of the PIDF – formal acknowledgement of the PIDF as an international organization. This Charter sets out the PIDF structure, its rules and conventions and its objectives. And I want to thank everyone who has been involved in formulating this blueprint, which has involved a lot of hard work behind the scenes to ensure that the roots of the PIDF are secure and strong. And that it can grow and meet the lofty ideals and objectives that we all expect from it.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to leave you all with the idea that while climate change is the most crucial issue facing us all at this time with just over three months to the Paris summit, we also need to focus attention on development generally. And especially the balance we all need to strike between exploiting our resources on land and at sea but doing so in a sustainable manner. To protect our island homes and the ocean that sustains us for the benefit of future generations of Pacific Islanders to come. Those who are unborn but to whom we owe a sacred trust to leave our environment in the same state in which we inherited it.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I regret to say that we are failing in that obligation. The great Pacific Ocean that is our home and lifeblood has become a rubbish dump, a source of shame. It has become choked with the refuse – the plastic bags, bottles and other packaging of the consumer age. And while we can point the figure of blame at those nations on the Pacific rim, we also need to acknowledge our own role in the trashing of our neighbourhood and accept our own responsibility to turn that process around.

I was very proud back in June to launch Fiji’s Green Growth Framework, in which we have made the sustainable use of our resources on land and at sea our overriding national objective. But as I said recently when I urged a national campaign against littering, not enough Fijians are taking individual responsibility for the protection and preservation of our environment. And the same applies to Pacific Islanders as a whole.

We cannot complain about the external threats to our wellbeing and the preservation of our environment without accepting our own responsibility for the degradation we are causing. So as we fight the battle for international recognition of the threat of climate change, let us also resolve to redouble our efforts to help ourselves – to persuade our people that each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to keep our immediate surroundings clean and preserve our natural heritage.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a range of distinguished speakers and presenters over the next three days and because we strive to be inclusive, we also welcome contributions from the floor. So I want to close by wishing you every success in your deliberations and to also urge you to enjoy our capital and to meet as many of our people as you can.
You are in Suva at a time when we are rejuvenating many of its landmarks. Anyone who hasn’t been here for some time will marvel at the restoration of the venue in which we are meeting – the historic Grand Pacific Hotel, where a young Queen Elizabeth stayed soon after her Coronation. As well as the renovation of our Parliament and the famous Government Buildings clock, that is chiming again for the first time in a generation.

As you’ll have noticed, we are currently upgrading Albert Park opposite – the site of many historic events including our Independence in 1970. And also the place where the great Australian aviator, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, landed in 1928 while making the first transpacific flight.

On behalf of every Fijian, welcome to Fiji and our capital. And as always, I urge you to enjoy our beautiful country and the celebrated warmth and hospitality of the Fijian people.
Vinaka vakalevu.

Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications