PM DISCUSSES REGIONAL ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION, INTEGRATION
‘WITH OUR OTHER PACIFIC NEIGHBOURS, WE ARE APPREHENSIVE ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE’
‘We can help each other and that is what Fiji is doing. We sent dozens and soldiers, nurses and other relief works to neighbouring Vanuatu last year when it was devastated by a similar event – Tropical Cyclone Pam’
The following is a transcript of the Prime Minister’s contribution on climate change and Pacer Plus at the 72nd session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in Bangkok. It is a response to two questions: I have two questions: n The first question related to the devastating effects of Tropical Cyclone Winston on your people and economy. What are the major impacts and lessons that your country and the Pacific as a region can take from Winston, particularly in terms of how regional cooperation could help build the resilience of Pacific islands against climateinduced natural disasters, such as tropical cyclones? n The second question relates to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus which Fiji together with other Pacific Forum Island Countries are negotiating with Australia and New Zealand. What are the ‘pluses’ Fiji would like to see out of a PACER?
Madam Executive Secretary, we are already working closely together as a region to confront the issue of climate change. Before the World Climate Summit in Paris last November, the members of the Pacific Islands Development Forum – not only nations but representatives of civil society and the private sector in the region - gathered in the Fijian capital, Suva, and came up with a joint position to take to Paris. We called it the Suva Declaration. And in it, we asked the global community to embrace cuts in carbon emissions to cap global warming at one-point-five degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. One by one we all made impassioned speeches in Paris. Three of our number – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – face being submerged altogether by the rising sea levels on current projections. Because they are low-lying coral atolls, whereas Fiji is among the Pacific nations that enjoy the relative protection of being mainly volcanic mountainous islands. Although we have still had to relocate three coastal villages so far and dozens more are earmarked to be relocated in the next few years.
This is a matter of survival for Pacific Islanders. We didn’t cause the global warming that has produced this crisis in the first place. Our carbon footprints are negligible – in Fiji’s case 0.004 per cent of total global emissions. We haven’t enjoyed the wealth that the industrialised nations have gained from the factories that belch out carbon. Yet we are the ones to bear the brunt of this crisis. Through no fault of our own, we are the ones who are most vulnerable to the rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by climate change. So that’s what we went to Paris pleading for – a one-point-five per cent cap on carbon emissions over pre-industrial levels. And instead we got a two per cent cap from the global community as a whole.
Yes, it’s a positive step but it’s only a first step. And the collective message from the Pacific is that it’s not nearly enough. Because the scientists say we are still going to go under in places like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands and all of us are going to lose large tracts of arable coastal land. Worse, we are all vulnerable to the extreme weather events like cyclones that the scientists say are going to become more frequent and more intense. And we don’t need the scientists to tell us that in Fiji because it’s already happening.
As many of you know, the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere slammed into Fiji just over three months ago on February 20, 2016. It had winds of more than 300 kilometres an hour.
And it left a trail of terrible destruction over a large part of the country. 44 of our people were killed and many more were injured. Around 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, along with 229 of our schools and many public buildings and other infrastructure. The damage bill has been estimated by the World Bank at US$1 (F$2.12bn)
So Madam Executive Secretary, Fiji doesn’t need any lectures about climate change. We are already feeling the full brunt of its effects. And with our other Pacific neighbours, we are apprehensive about the effects of climate change. We can help each other and that is what Fiji is doing. We sent dozens and soldiers, nurses and other relief works to neighbouring Vanuatu last year when it was devastated by a similar event – Tropical Cyclone Pam. And we have offered to give a permanent home to the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu – our nearest neighbours – in a worst case scenario if their nations are submerged altogether by the rising seas.
We’ve already facilitated the purchase by Kiribati of a large amount of land on our second biggest island, Vanua Levu, to ensure its food security even before anyone has to move. But there’s nothing we can do to prevent these cyclones from occurring.
We know we don’t have the power to force a more radical approach to global warming on the global community. What we can do is keep reminding the world of its moral obligation to those global citizens who are bearing the brunt of the excesses of the industralised era.
Innocent Pacific islanders and the citizens of small and vulnerable nations the world over. So our message now is this: if you won’t embrace our more radical cap on global warming, at least give us the means to adapt to the frightening new era that you have created. Gives us the means to build our resilience so that we can strengthen our homes and our infrastructure. Give us or lend us the money we need to build that resilience. We don’t have the resources. You do. And you can help us by making it easier to access the finance we need to pay for it all.
Even having suffered a terrible event like Winston, Fiji is still disadvantaged when it comes to accessing certain avenues of finance because we have been designated a middle income nation. This has to change. Because the task we face is immense and it is simply not fair to punish us for our success. Every Pacific islander knows that a cyclone of the force of Winston that scores a direct hit on any of our nations, affecting the entire country and not just a part of it, could devastate our economies overnight. All the advances we have made, all the strides in development that have been taken to improve the lives of our people, could be wiped out in one event. Pray God it doesn’t happen but that’s the situation we are facing.
And I appeal to you all to take this message back to your governments and your friends and families.
That the issue of climate finance to build resilience in the affected countries is just as pressing as the historic agreement that was reached in Paris last November.
And even more so. Because the Paris target isn’t good enough and we need a more concerted global response to confront the greatest challenge to our age. Not only to lower the temperature cap further but protect the economies of vulnerable nations.
Madam Executive Secretary, we in the Pacific are doing our bit. The average Fijian generates five times less carbon than the average global citizen. But we are still committed to reducing our own emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 by increasing our use of alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar.
I am proud that Fiji was the first nation in the world to have approved the ratification of the Paris Agreement and to lodge the ratification instruments. I am also proud to offer Fiji as the base for a centre for climate change research and resilience building, not only for the Pacific Small Island Developing States but other SIDS nations and vulnerable states the world over. We are taking this proposal to various regional and global forums and are currently talking to UNESCAP to collaborate with the Fijian Government on this initiative. So Madam Executive Secretary. We are standing together as Pacific islanders. We are offering each other support and in Fiji’s case, a permanent home to some of our affected neighbours. But we now look to the world to help us future proof our economies and need the support of the global community to do so. Otherwise we have little or no hope of meeting some of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals that are at the core of our global development agenda.
Fiji is sponsoring a resolution at this Commission to build the resilience of all affected nations. Through development finance, technology transfer and targeted capacity building for women, young people and marginalised communities - the most vulnerable of our people. And I ask you all for your support.
Fiji – PACER Plus
The second question relates to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus which Fiji together with other Pacific Forum Island Countries are negotiating with Australia and New Zealand.
What are the ‘pluses’ Fiji would like to see out of PACER?)
Madam Executive Secretary and Fellow Panelists, this leads me to the issue of the Pacific Agreement for Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus with Australia and New Zealand. You ask a direct question: What are the pluses Fiji would like to see out of PACER? Let me give you a direct answer: There simply aren’t enough pluses in it for Fiji yet for us to want to sign it. And let me tell you why. Australia and New Zealand are developed countries whose economies dominate the region, including access to our own market. We are developing countries and relatively vulnerable, not only to such things as climate change and natural disasters but because of a range of economic and social disadvantages. Trade is supposed to help our economies grow. And we want PACER Plus to have more ‘pluses’ in terms of its developmental aspects than is currently on offer. Fiji clearly sees the need for PACER Plus or any other trade agreement for that matter to be a development agreement. This essentially means:
securing long-term improved market access for goods, services and labour;
preserving domestic policy space, especially the right to regulate for development purposes; and
ensuring continued commitment to development cooperation from our traditional development partners who will be parties to the PACER Plus agreement. As such, we want a PACER Plus that provides binding commitments on labour mobility and development cooperation, together with market access. In its current form - despite it being an integral part of the PACER Plus Agreement - this is not legally binding.
In addition, although labour mobility has been discussed and provided for in the negotiations, it was relegated to an arrangement which is outside the Agreement and is not legally binding. Labour mobility is one of the most tangible areas in which regional integration has brought benefits to Pacific Islanders. The Regional Seasonal Employers scheme – in which Fijians have begun to access short term employment opportunities in Australian and New Zealand - has shown promise. But this also needs to be expanded under a long lasting mechanism that provides security and assures sustainable benefits for the Pacific islands.