Your Excellency The Secretary General of the Commonwealth,
The Honourable British Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth,
My distinguished fellow speakers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all,

I have come to London in the immediate aftermath of two cyclones that struck Fiji within a space of a fortnight causing loss of life and significant economic damage.

Cyclones Josie and Keni came just over two years after we were struck by Cyclone Winston, the biggest cyclone ever to have made landfall in the southern hemisphere.

In that event, 44 of our people were killed, thousands were made homeless and the economic consequences were dire – damage equal to one third of our GDP.

26 months later, we are again mourning the loss of at least eight of our loved ones and are again counting the cost of the physical consequences of climate change.

The increasingly regular appearance of these storms undermines our ability to develop as an economy and as a society. Imagine what it is like for my people in the affected areas. Just as you begin surveying the damage to your home, your possessions, your business and, in some cases, come to terms with the loss of family members and friends, another cyclone bears down on you.

Imagine what it is like for my government having to replace vital infrastructure that has already been replaced after previous events. This is the reality in Fiji and a great many vulnerable Small Island Developing States. Yet we count ourselves lucky because it could have been much worse.

As some of our Caribbean friends have recently experienced, a direct hit from one of these events can wipe out entire economies and set back development for decades.

Our great fear in Fiji is that we too experience such a direct hit. And we know now that we have to get all of our vital infrastructure ready for such a possibility. This means we need to build houses, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, ports, electricity and water utilities all to a much higher standard. To build our resilience to extreme climate change.

Friends, I have to tell you that I travelled to London reluctantly because so many of my people are suffering and in need. And I naturally wanted to continue to be out there with them in the affected areas. But I also know that unless we tackle the root cause of these events, nothing I can do at home can prevent them from suffering all over again.

So in this year in which I have the privilege of being the President of COP23, I am here to urge those leaders who represent 2.4 billion of the 7.5 billion people on earth to join me in using all of our power as political leaders to tackle this crisis head on. To raise our ambition for climate action for the sake of our own generation and the generations to come.

This, of course, includes drawing down our greenhouse gas emissions through such initiatives as the Queen’s Canopy to encourage tree planting in the Commonwealth countries. I want to place on record my appreciation to Her Majesty the Queen, to Britain and to Frank Field MP for this initiative and we look forward to hearing more from Mr Field later in the program.

Friends, all of us have made commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And we rightly expect those commitments to be honoured. We also know that we could and should do more than we are currently obliged to do. And gatherings like this can provide us with the opportunity to both raise ambition and also prosper by finding opportunities in the change we must make.

I have spoken of the frightening new reality that confronts vulnerable nations such as my own. And yet in my year in the role of COP President, I have learned of so many ways in which we could transform this frightening new reality into an era of opportunity.

Friends, we must not be defeated by the scale of the challenge we face. We must make the hard decisions to enable the solutions that we know are out there to flourish more rapidly – the accelerating action that brings us together today.

We will all share examples while we are here in London of what political leaders, effective governments and innovative enterprise can do. In vital sectors of the economy, technological change, sustainable strategies for business and increased consumer awareness can combine to rapidly shift away from dependency on fossil fuels and the other causes of climate change. But political will is an essential component of that shift. It takes courage, imagination and determination. But we can and must do it.

Friends, as you all know, I have been pressing for the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement – limiting the increase in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. This will likely require at least net zero emissions of carbon pollution by 2050. The method chosen to reach that objective is Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. This gives scope to governments of all types to choose what will work best in their particular circumstances.

But friends, it has to be said that the present offerings are woefully inadequate – nowhere near what is required. In fact, on what we have seen to date, we are effectively committing ourselves to a world in which the average global temperature is at least three degrees higher by century’s end. I repeat: three degrees, not 1.5.

The consequences of this would be truly catastrophic, not just for those nations that are vulnerable now but the entire world. There would be untold human suffering, the loss of entire species of animals, plants and marine life, including our coral reefs. Along with inevitable conflict between nations and people as they fight over scarce resources.

Friends, that’s where we are headed if we don’t do more. Be in no doubt that climate change is not merely an environmental and economic issue. It is a peace and security issue. And in a world that is already insecure, climate change amplifies that insecurity.

It means we have no choice but to increase ambition through our NDCs, to share best practice, to be honest with each other about what has worked and not worked and to build our confidence that together, we can make the transformation that is necessary.

We had an example on Friday of the International Maritime Organisation agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050, while pursuing full decarbonisation. It is a breakthrough that has been a long time coming but is a welcome step in the right direction. And it is just one example of the kind of decisions that must be taken by institutions across the world.

In addition to action on shipping, our shared ocean is a crucial space for action from coastal settlements to coral reefs to blue carbon. Fiji is determined to continue to drive action in linking ocean health and climate change. In Bonn, we launched an UNFCCC Ocean Pathway Partnership co-chaired with Sweden. With our Commonwealth friends, we will seek to champion an Action Group on Oceans and Climate Change to boost that work.

Every day there are decisions that can be made by political leaders to increase our capacity to solve this problem effectively. We must have both the courage to act and the humility to listen. The innovations in technology, business and government could come from any part of the world, from anywhere within the Commonwealth. And we must open our minds to the possibility that a genuine dialogue that goes beyond governments and their established negotiating positions could provide us with some of the answers. And offer positive encouragement to governments to submit more effective plans of action.

That’s what the next phase of COP is all about – the Talanoa Dialogue, which is a Pacific contribution to this vital global process. Bringing our tradition of story telling and consensus building for the greater good to a negotiation process that needs to involve a wider range of actors, both state and non-state, business and civil society.

The Talanoa Dialogue was embraced by the global community at COP23 as the best way to raise ambition and action. Fiji will continue to be a force in the global climate negotiations after our presidency ends in December because we have carriage with Poland - as President of COP24 - of the Talanoa Dialogue. And I have come to CHOGM urging you all to embrace this Dialogue and spearhead the fight for more ambitious climate action.

I repeat: this is not just about government action. We want the best ideas to be heard and the best problem solvers in the room, even a virtual room in the form of an on-line contribution for the first time through a portal at the UNFCCC website. Wherever you are in the world, you can submit your ideas, including your expectations of what governments should do to limit emissions.

But governments at every level – national, state and cities – must put forward proposals that confront the reality of climate change. We can no longer afford prevarication, diversion or delay. These proposals will involve tough choices and an urgent requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as humanly possible. It can be done. It must be done. And I ask the nations of the Commonwealth to take the lead.

Friends, the Commonwealth is a unique collective of nations with strong connections and a great deal of trust. Together we can and must tell the world of the reality of our challenges. Together we can inspire accelerating climate action. Together we can build greater resilience. Our future security and prosperity depends on it. And for our common wealth, there is no greater common challenge.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.