Permanent Secretaries
Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Consul-Generals and Trade Commissioners
Honorary Consuls

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

We come together today at one of the most crucial moments in the history of Fiji’s relations with the rest of the world.

We are two months out from cohosting the UN Oceans Summit in New York, where we will confront the threat of pollution and overfishing to our way of life. And we are seven months out from presiding over COP-23 – the ongoing UN climate negotiations in Bonn on which our future also depends.

Time is running out for both. Preparations for the Oceans Summit appear to be well advanced. But we are hurrying across a broad front to meet a number of deadlines in relation to COP that must be met and require a lot more coordination.

In the first week of July – exactly three months away – the leaders of the Pacific nations, regional NGOs and the private sector will gather in this very room to prepare our regional response to the COP negotiations.

In the second week of October - six months from now – regional leaders will be back in Fiji and be joined by several global leaders for an all- important Pre-COP gathering in Denarau.

And then a month later comes COP itself in Bonn, where I will preside over the global negotiations on behalf of the whole world as President and the Attorney General and Minister responsible for Climate Change will lead the Fijian delegation.

I repeat – Suva in the first week in July. Nadi in the second week of October. And Bonn over two weeks in November. Three dates that I want etched in your minds this morning. As well as the Oceans Summit before that in New York in June.

Because this is by far the most important foreign policy commitment that we have ever undertaken. Not only on behalf of Fiji but the entire Pacific and every single climate-vulnerable nation in the world. So we have a mammoth task ahead of us.

Someone described COP to me as the diplomatic equivalent of the Olympics. Like any athlete, we must prepare for it. Which is why I will be undergoing a period of intense training starting this month on the technicalities of the negotiations. And mastering the COP Rulebook that it is my task to advance as President.

We will have to be at our intellectual and physical peak – both as individuals and as a nation. It is the biggest job the world has ever given us to do. It is a marathon and it is all uphill. Because we are taking on the presidency at a time when the multilateral consensus that we reached in Paris two year’s ago for radical cuts in carbon emissions is being challenged.

Ladies and gentlemen, one would have thought this COP would be reasonably routine - advancing the rulebook and preparing for the next stage of climate action through the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018. But we now find ourselves in the driver’s seat at perhaps the most critical COP of all. Bringing governments, civil society and the private sector together to defend the Paris Agreement and ensure that our hard-won gains aren’t eroded.

While the stakes for the whole world have never been greater, the stakes for the Pacific are even higher because we are among the most vulnerable to climate change. And our fate now hangs in the balance. The fate of our people and our island life. The fate of our nation and that of our neighbours. The fate of all we hold dear as Fijians and Pacific islanders.

The importance of this mission cannot be overstated. We are already extremely vulnerable at the current global temperature of one degree above that of the industrial age. We’re told that it may already be too late to save our reefs and we may already have to endure a drastic impact on our agriculture. But we desperately need the Paris Agreement to be fully implemented to save us from much worse. We desperately need the cap on global warming that it provides for to be embraced by every nation. Under two degrees and closer to 1.5 degrees. Because if we can’t get agreement on this, we are doomed. And much of the world is doomed.

The failure of the Paris Agreement would plunge Fiji and other vulnerable nations into a nightmare scenario. More extreme weather events, ever rising seas and a constant threat to our agriculture and food security.

We must use the COP presidency to do what we can to persuade the world to step back from the abyss. We must carry out the job that we have been given to the very best of our ability, mustering the best people we can.

Like a rugby coach on the eve of a crucial championship, I am going to be frank with you all. We need to come together as a team more now than ever before. Team Fiji. Working as one to pull off the greatest foreign policy challenge we have ever faced. To fulfill the trust that the world has placed in us. And bring honour to ourselves and to our beloved Fiji.

Every permanent secretary and every minister received a letter from me recently outlining their responsibilities. So you will need to adhere to them and convey them to your staff. The clock is ticking and I want everyone completely focused on what we have to do to make the Oceans Summit and COP 23 a success.

Total cooperation and constant contact are essential between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the COP 23 Secretariat that has been established in the Ministry of Economy on Level 9 of Suvavou House.
The Executive Director of that Secretariat is John Connor. Bula John and welcome to Fiji and we all look forward to your leadership and working with you.

John is the former head of the Australian Climate Institute. John built that Institute into an organisation that was respected by governments and the business community for its tough but evidence-based approach to climate policy. He has now brought those skills to Fiji. And it is to him that you will report on every aspect of COP and through him to the Minister Responsible for Climate Change – the AG – and me as COP president.

I also ask every single head of mission and every Fijian diplomat to make the Oceans Summit and COP your top priority – again working through the channels that I have established. In the case of COP, John Connor and his team.

Broadly speaking, we are running a two-tiered approach to COP. With the assistance of our climate consultants at Baker McKenzie - acknowledged experts who also assisted with COP 22 in Marrakesh – we are working on the technical details of what needs to be done. Something that involves both me as President and Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan as Fiji’s COP negotiator.

At the same time, we are building a grand coalition across the world of governments, civil society and the private sector to uphold the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Something that involves both me as incoming President and our Climate Champion, Minister Inia Seruiratu.

In parallel with this, we are building a grand coalition in the Pacific of governments, civil society and the private sector to form a collective Pacific Islands position to take to Bonn. And I wish to announce this morning that I have appointed Amena Yauvoli - someone who is well known to most of you and will join us, as a special representative, on secondment from the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Amena will work through the directions of John, out of the COP Secretariat to assemble this very special Pacific grouping, including current and former Pacific leaders. Because we want our Pacific brothers and sisters to stand shoulder to shoulder with us every inch of the way. In Suva in July, in Nadi in October and in Bonn in November as we put our case to the world that as the region bearing the brunt of climate change, the Pacific must be heard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask every one of you here today to support the great team we have assembled – and are still assembling - to chalk up a win in Bonn for Fiji and the world. Some of the team members are known to you. Other players are non-Fijians because they bring skills to the team that we don’t have but we need. Treat them as one of us. Respect their leadership and expertise.

I always say that we need to hire the best people we can find, irrespective of where they come from, and this applies most of all to COP 23. Because I repeat: this is the biggest thing we have ever done and time is getting away from us. And I want team players by my side as President, not turf warriors or empire builders. So that together, we can do the best we can for ourselves and the billions of other vulnerable people around the world.

In this spirit of teamwork, I want to say how delighted I am that for the first time, we have brought together the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, as co-sponsors of this event.

Aside from Oceans and COP, the health of our economy and the effort to take the Fijian-Made brand of quality goods and services to the world are our overriding national imperatives. Our catch cry must be to work together. Because our export drive is the surest way to continue our record period of economic growth. And extend the prosperity that we are now witnessing to every Fijian.

I want our exporters to be given utmost attention by those who represent Fiji’s interests around the world. Just as I want these two key ministries to forge a much closer relationship on a daily basis than is currently the case.

Our Trade Commissioners, our Ambassadors and High Commissioners must work closely to maximise our export effort. Our Ambassadors and High Commissioners are our chief diplomatic representatives in the countries to which they are assigned. But like our Trade Commissioners, they must put trade at the top of their list of priorities also. Again, teamwork is the key and understanding and appreciating the different skill sets of each other is critical.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to close by saying that for all our many challenges, we are privileged to be living in an age when the collective Fijian voice has never been stronger. Privileged to be living in an age when it has never been more respected.

The coming months are going to be tough as we shoulder the responsibilities that the world has entrusted to us. But with your assistance and commitment, I am convinced as incoming COP President that we are going to do it and we are going to do it well.

Good luck with your deliberations in the coming days and I leave you with one final message as your captain. Stay united over the coming months and keep your eye on the ball. And if you do that, we will all bring credit on our nation and stand taller than ever before in the eyes of the world.

I now have the great pleasure to declare the 2017 Heads of Missions meeting open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.