Bula Vinaka Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for being here this afternoon.

We are pleased to announce the launch of the second round of public consultations on the revised draft of our national Climate Change Bill.

Since the last round of public consultations, held from September to December last year, the world has been forced to confront a further shared trauma.

While we have succeeded in keeping COVID out of Fiji since the early days of the crisis and have had no cases since May, we have suffered economic and societal disruption. That was the price we were forced to pay for keeping the disease out of the country. But the pandemic has allowed us to foresee what kinds of disruption might await us if climate change accelerates. Whether we must respond to a cyclone, or to loss of livelihood due to changing climatic patterns, or to a pandemic, we will have to increase our collective efforts and develop effective strategies to target and correct the factors and conditions that make us vulnerable. How we as individuals, businesses and decision-makers consider the scientific knowledge available to us and then make policy decisions and invest our resources is more critical than ever before.

Well before COVID-19 became a household term, this effort to develop legislation intended to improve the coordination and coherence needed to minimize the impact of such threats on our people and economy was underway.

Today, the pandemic has brought forward a set of new insidious threats that have further validated the importance of building national capacity to anticipate and manage risk.

COVID-19, like climate change, is a transboundary threat and one that again signals the need to proactively shape the vision for the future we want and the path we must blaze to get there.

The revised draft of the climate change bill, which is now available online, is the result of an effort that has been refocused and reinvigorated by the confluence of threats that now bear down upon us. In this draft, we considered views contained in hundreds of submissions received from the public through social media platforms, formal feedback from international partners, inputs from cross-government consultations, and findings from research into international best practice. The result is a draft climate change bill that is unique in its scope and implications.

Over the coming weeks we will be meeting with the public and a range of interest groups directly while further feedback is collected from online submissions, internal consultations, and small group consultations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this revised draft bill includes within its provisions the treatment of issues that are most important to us. That is one of the factors that makes this a truly ground-breaking piece of legislation. Many of its provisions address concepts that have never previously been given treatment in national legislation, and some of those elements are international legal firsts. The bill does not shy away from difficult issues. 

It is the first piece of legislation globally to include provisions that recognise and set out a legal process for considering planned relocation of communities as a legitimate form of climate change adaptation.

The Bill sets out our intention to retain our sovereign right over our existing maritime boundaries irrespective of the future impacts of sea-level rise. This is important as EEZs are defined under international law as the 200km zone that extends outward from our coastline. As a Pacific Island State on the front lines of sea-level rise and  coastal erosion,  we must assert our position through the Bill that these boundaries will remain fixed and that our sovereignty and the boundaries within which we exercise our sovereign rights will not be affected by these changes.
More broadly, this is also the first piece of legislation drafted by a small island state that integrates provisions to support our ability to achieve our net-zero 2050 target. This is alongside a framework to advance adaptation objectives and help ensure climate change impacts do not circumvent our ability to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals. Of course there are other factors, in particular, finance, that can have an adverse impact on us achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
 What makes our effort unique is that this legislation is defined by our context and needs. It focuses on increasing our overall capacity for risk governance and compliance as well as setting out specific adaptation-focused requirements and frameworks.
Inter-generational equity, gender equality, social inclusion, and the protection of human rights are principles that lie at the heart of this bill, which is presented as a set of protections for the rights assured under our national constitution. It is presented as much as a means to shelter our economy as it is to prevent climate change from creating greater inequality in our society.
To do so, the bill demonstrates and draws from current best practice in relation to climate risk reporting, requiring our financial institutions, companies, and state entities to demonstrate and report on their efforts to pre-empt and counteract the impacts of climate change.
Through the declaration of a climate emergency, this draft legislation creates and refines the governance structures needed to help improve inter-ministerial cooperation and coherence. The bill creates new requirements of Government to ensure that decisions, investments, budget submissions, proposals, and infrastructure plans account for and clarify strategies to minimize Fiji’s exposure to climate change risks.
The provisions of the bill focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are tailored to both our ambition and our capacity to achieve that ambition. For example, complex emissions reporting is not expected of small businesses; instead, our focus is on improving sector-specific emissions data, setting cumulative national carbon budgets, and increasing incentives for low-carbon transition. To ensure that Fiji can capitalize on opportunities to protect our environment and build socio-economic resilience, this legislation provides a framework for engaging with carbon markets by legally recognizing carbon-sequestration property rights.
Although it is tuned to our context and needs, this legislation is not without teeth. The enforcement mechanisms and new criminal offences it recognizes are consistent with the urgency with which its objectives must be considered.
We now have further opportunity to consider this legislation together and engage more people and institutions to realise its potential.

Those reviewing this bill for the first time will note that it places primary responsibility on the public sector, but also encourages the private sector with greater opportunities for innovation and an environment that will allow climate-smart entrepreneurs to reap some real benefits if they act early.

This legislation is a framework for guiding efforts to support our climate response as well a legal framework to support Fiji’s climate resilient development. While it serves to rationalize our existing policies and plans around new requirements and legal mechanisms, it is also inter-related with the principles and objectives that must inform our green recovery from this pandemic. I encourage our key partners and donors to review this revised draft bill and the vision and structures it creates.

It is this government’s firm belief that by embedding our commitments to the Paris Agreement in national law, we will have greater ability to accelerate sustainable, greener and economically viable solutions. In so doing, and through robust partnerships, we also have the opportunity to lead by example.
Ladies and Gentleman, as we approach the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement on December 12th, it is critical that our message to the world be backed by action on our domestic commitments. There is no stronger way to do so than through law. While the structure of this bill is indeed modelled on the Paris Agreement, its substance and priorities are unique to Fiji’s needs and circumstances.
We cannot unilaterally control global climate change, but we can influence the perception of it and the global response to it. As a vulnerable island nation, we must continue to champion and demonstrate legitimate and evidence-based action drawing on our intimate understanding of the risks we face.  On the eve of the anniversary of the Paris Agreement, we must encourage the world’s major economies to reflect on the trajectory of the last five years as well as the trends that have defined the last four decades. While many recognise climate change as a true crisis that the entire world must confront, few have put in place or enforced the laws required to translate ambition into action.
While COVID-19 may ultimately be slowed by a vaccine, the climate emergency requires a much more complex therapy. We must invite and design transformative change if we are to emerge whole and healthy from a protracted state of change that will continue to test our social, environmental, and economic resilience.

Both COVID-19 and climate change have required us to rethink the way we live, plan, spend, govern and interact. We cannot wait for behaviour and preferences to change, or for projects and plans to emerge to build our resilience to unprecedented risks.  Recent climate science suggests that major tipping points for our environment and several ecosystems may not be far off. Change that may seem incremental globally could be devastating very quickly for some. COVID-19 has taught us similar lessons and shown us the value of foresight and pre-emptive action.  From the global financial crisis to Cyclone Winston, we have continued to weather disruption, loss, economic shifts and change. But we need more than even the firmest intentions to meet the increasing challenges we face. We cannot wait and rely upon global negotiations and frameworks alone to guide us to safety. Through sovereign law, we have the power to create a framework to guide and rationalise our response to these crises. We are now at a stage where doing so is appropriate and suited to the way our response to the climate emergency needs to develop and accelerate. Enacting legislation designed to reshape the way government agencies, businesses, and communities collaborate and interact to better foresee and manage risks is not only a sensible way to mature our response to climate change; it is now imperative given the new and existing threats we face.

The link to the new draft legislation can be found on the Fijian Government Facebook Page or on our webpage

Over the next month, we look forward to fruitful discussion, and I encourage everyone to join this national conversation.
Thank you