Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Anti – Corruption, Public Enterprises, Communications, Civil Aviation, Tourism, Industry and Trade, Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment

GCC Complex
Thursday 5th December, 2013

Honourable Prime Minister of the Cook Islands,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and welcome to this High Level Session where we will be discussing the Action Strategy for conservation efforts in our region for the next five years and beyond.

I would like to take this opportunity to restate Fiji’scommitment as chair of this Conference to work closely with all of you to tackle the environmental challenges we face in the Pacific region.

Together, our goal is simple and is summed up nicely by the Conference’s mission statement:

To protect and preserve the rich natural and cultural heritage of the Pacific Islands forever for the benefit of the Pacific and the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a simple statement. But never has our ability to fulfill this promise been under such threat. As Pacific Island Countries and Territories, we are on the front line of climate change.

Rising sea levels and ever more frequent tropical storms have a very real effect in our national lives, to such an extent that the very existence of some of our island neighbours is threatened.

While some here may follow the debate about the causes of climate change withinterest, as far as Fiji is concerned it is an unfortunate distraction from the global action required to tackle one of this century’s most pressing issues.

However, Dr Nik Sechran had it right when he said that Pacific Island Countries can’t only see themselves as victims of forces beyond their control.

In terms of conservation practices, management of our natural resources and preservation of our environment there is much we can do individually and as a group to improve the prospects for ourselves and future generations.

We must meet the clear and urgent threat with clear and urgent responses where we can – solutions that are practical, affordable and sustainable.

I mentioned this morning that one of Fiji’s firm beliefs, which is shared by our Pacific neighbours, is that only by including the full diversity of perspective, expertise, and opinion will our region have a fighting chance of achieving such solutions.

So today I reiterate His Excellency the President of Fiji’s call for a grand coalition to face up to the challenges before us – a coalition consisting of government representatives, NGOs, the corporate sector, development partners, international organizations and individual communities from throughout the Pacific.

This afternoon, in this room, we have gathered a cross section of such a coalition and so I ask that we participate in this forum in the spirit of Pacific union, particularly as we address some of the specific challenges that the previous Action Strategy has faced over the course of the last five years.

This is our opportunity to provide input that will encourage people to take personal responsibility for the Action Plan and make it more applicable to our various national and regional efforts.

This session also provides us theopportunity to make commitments towards achieving the 10 key actions that will be presented by Taholo Kami, the Regional Director IUCN Oceania Regional Office, later in the session.

Finally, I would like to stress that there are very high expectations – and indeed a lot of pressure on us – on us for when we have to present our key outcomes at the final plenary session tomorrow. It is our responsibility therefore to make sure that we meet these expectations, not just for now but for future generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we willnow launch into this afternoon’s official programme by starting with a presentation from David Shepard, the Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

With those word, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to once again welcome you to this session and wish you productive set of deliberations.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.