Hon. Maimunah Mohamed Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat;
Hon (Mr.) Murat Kurum, Minister of Environment and Urbanization, Government of Turkey;
Ms. Sheila Patel, Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation and representative of Slum / Shack Dwellers International;
Bernardo Egas Lima Fonseca, Secretary of Environment of Rio de Janeiro;
Dr. Charles Konyango, Director, Urban Development, Government of Kenya;
Representatives from ARUP, ICLEI, SDI, WRI and UN-Habitat representing the co-organizers of this event and the partners of the Building the Climate Resilience of the Urban Poor initiative;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Bula vinaka, buenos dias, and a very good morning to you all –– or “yadra”, as we say back home in Fiji.
I hope you’ve found this side event to be a particularly inspiring one, because –– amidst negotiations centred on long-sighted goal-setting –– building the climate resilience of the urban poor is a way we can make an immediate impact in the countries we represent.
The tangible outcomes of initiatives like this one can already be seen in climate-vulnerable communities around the world, like in the 16 settlements in Fiji that are currently developing resilience plans with UN Habitat, soon to break ground on life-changing climate adaptation projects.
And while it will take an immense amount of work and investment to reach the 600 million climate-vulnerable people around the globe who live in informal settlements, we should be enthusiastic in our embrace of this challenge, and excited by the prospect of rapid adaptation to uplift lives and protect our people the world over.
My friends, from my experience on the ground in Fiji, I cannot overstate the need for this type of bold and meaningful action to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Too often, those living in informal settlements around the world are left doubly-voiceless, deprived by both their lack of resources and their heightened susceptibility to the ravages of a changing climate.
When I visit these communities in Fiji, those living there could ask me, as their Prime Minister, for anything in the world. But they don’t ask for hand-outs. Time and again, at every community I visit, Fijians look me in the eyes and ask for one of two things: a seawall or a cyclone shelter.
On the front lines of climate change, these Fijians see first-hand that adaptation is necessary, and it is necessary now.
That plea for adaptation would be repeated, hundreds of millions of times over, to every leader in the world if they took the time to speak with the urban poor, and to witness the urgency of action. Let the thought of that collective cry for help be the loudest voice in this room, and the booming voice that drives us to act as we move ahead.
But to achieve the type of transformative adaptation necessary to protect the urban poor, our work must extend far beyond the typical infrastructure upgrading projects.
That’s why in Fiji, we created a National Adaptation Plan to map out the many far-reaching ways we can have the greatest impact.
Guided by this plan –– and by working hand-in-hand with UN Habitat –– Fiji is working to reshape the destiny of the urban poor.
We’ve introduced initiatives aimed at formalising 250 informal settlements throughout the country, and have worked to inspire confidence in those living there to invest in their homes by providing free land surveying and financial incentives for new homeownership.
With government-secured land tenure of 99 years, these settlers can start their lives with a renewed sense of certainty, confidence, and direction. But we also recognise that, to truly bring them into the fold of our economic development, they need more than homes. They must have access to essential services like clean water, proper sanitation, better waste water management, and connectivity to infrastructure, electricity, and markets.
And perhaps most importantly, they must be armed with knowledge, and given an active role in uplifting their communities.
With a bottom-up approach that puts them directly at the center of the planning process, we’re given invaluable on-the-ground perspective that is essential to long-lasting adaptation. And by empowering them with this voice, we are building the type of pride, of buy-in, and of ownership that cannot be replicated.
Ladies and gentlemen, the current lack of climate resilience among our urban poor is not a Fijian problem, or a Kenyan problem, or a Brazilian problem. It is a global problem, and it will take global solutions. As a global community, we have a commitment to leaving no citizen behind in our fight against climate change –– and this will be the ultimate test of that commitment. Through partnerships like UN Habitat, we don’t have to go at it alone –– because as I said during Fiji’s COP23 presidency, we are all in the same canoe.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you, and happy holidays, from my family to yours.