Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m privileged to open this tenth annual Sustainable Innovation Forum and launch two days of discussions on how public-private sector cooperation can chart our way towards a zero-carbon economy.
The scale of the climate emergency demands a complex and coordinated global effort for the sake of a simple objective: Net-zero emissions by 2050.
The science tells us that rising emissions over the past decade have given us a ten-year window to dramatically slash emissions if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century.
There are two versions of this story I can tell you. One is a story of doom and gloom where I try and recount every way the climate emergency is unleashing devastation on the world economy, from seaside villages in Fiji, to farming communities across Zimbabwe, to the streets of Miami, Florida, to the shores of Bangladesh.
I can tell you how climate change is forcing the migration of Inuit fishermen in the artic and farmers from Sudan to Honduras. I can tell you that the rising seas are threatening the very existence of our low-lying neighbours in the Pacific. And I can decry the moral failure of the developed countries whose reckless actions have driven us into this crisis. But you have all heard and read that story, probably too many times.
This morning, I’m going to tell a different story. A story about the transformative, uplifting power of human innovation. A story about the steady progress that has occurred over the past ten years. A story about what is possible when we unite a grand coalition of governments, civil society, citizens, and the private sector in the campaign to build a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world.
In the last ten years alone, supportive public policies and breakthroughs in certain technologies have seen the costs of renewable energy generation plunge by roughly 80%. In many markets, renewables such as wind and solar are cheaper to install than their fossil fuel competitors and more cost-efficient to operate.
The profit-making potential of these technologies is spurring utilities and investors from Spain to Chile to drive the transition to zero-emission energy sectors.
Entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa have pioneered pay-as-you-go solar systems, bringing affordable renewable power to villages far away from the centralised grids – a model being scaled up around the world. Fiji has adapted this model through our recently launched Rural Electrification Fund, which is exploring how to provide off-grid solar energy to 11 communities in our outer islands.
These revolutions in renewable energy technology are making climate inaction from any government inexcusable. Fiji is proud to be among the nations, states, and cities that have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. We’re walking the talk, using this net-zero target as the foundation for our enhanced NDC and enshrining it into a new national law on climate change. This Climate Change Bill gives us the legal tools we need to place climate action and ambition at the centre of our national life. When it is passed by our Parliament, every decision by government and the private sector will have to consider the resulting climate impacts.
Although Fiji cannot solve the climate challenge by ourselves, we are prepared to do our part in informing the global conversation about what policies best enlist the innovation and capital of the private sector.
The clock is ticking until the Paris Agreement enters into force next year. The goalposts of the Agreement have not shifted an inch – limiting warming to the 1.5-degree target is the only target that ensures climate impacts can be managed by the Agreement’s goals on adaptation.
The 1.5-degree target will require a rapid and fundamental shift in our economies over the coming decade. At its core, that shift will require a realignment of market incentives to properly price the environmental costs of our actions. What’s currently missing are clear, quantified climate risks that inform government and investor decision-making, along with new measures of resilience that capture the generational benefits of preserving our forests, watersheds and coral reefs.
The net-zero shift also demands a withdrawal of global fossil fuel subsidies and expanded support for technological development that can help electrify emissions-intensive sectors, such as transportation.
But this shift cannot be driven by governments alone. My experience as a leader has taught me that any serious problem-solving effort demands the full might of private sector resources and ingenuity. Following the adaptation of the Paris Agreement, the International Finance Corporation took a good look at countries’ existing commitments and identified at least 23 trillion US dollars in private sector investment opportunities, but only if governments implemented policies in pursuit of their NDC targets. And the gains will be even higher if we collectively raise ambition.
The obvious first steps in capturing those opportunities are clear, predictable signals to our private sector partners that a net-zero economy is the future.
If a fog of ambiguity remains over our collective climate action plans, companies cannot unleash the full investment and innovation needed to put more affordable net-zero alternatives on the table. Nations can cut through that haze and bring sustainably-minded companies certainty by agreeing on robust, environmentally sound rules for the cooperation mechanism under Article Six of the Paris Agreement.
But, we all know, that even in our best-case mitigation scenario, climate impacts will grow more severe in the near-term. We must urgently adapt our world to that reality. The same fundamentals that must re-make markets in the mitigation space apply equally to adaptation. We must accurately price the long-term returns of adaptive investments and upend the narrow focus of climate financing to value the social, environmental, and economic benefits of building adaptive infrastructure and cultivating resilient ecosystems.
If we do so, it is estimated that a global investment of US 1.8 trillion dollars could generate 7.1 trillion dollars’ worth of net economic benefits.
Last Friday, half a million people took to the streets here in Madrid to call for ambitious action on climate change, joining the millions of people who took part in the global climate strike this past September.
Every year, I know we’ll see greater numbers of global citizens committed to this cause. In their passion I see tremendous promise. At the end of the day, it is the individual decisions of ordinary people which will determine our success in this campaign.
They will use the power of their votes to reward leaders committed to climate action. They will use the power of their purchases to support companies employing climate-sensible strategies. It is the duty of leaders like myself to engrain sustainability in the hearts and minds of all people. It is our duty to support markets that serve businesses who do right by our planet and the coming generations.
If we do so, I hold great faith that our grand coalition will be remembered as the decade-defining global effort that cracked the climate solutions which currently evade us. I expect our roads will be filled with long-range electric vehicles, our forests and watersheds will enjoy steadfast and responsible management, and sustainably-minded consumer demands will place responsibly made, recyclable goods on the shelves of our shops. I believe in this future, because I believe human ingenuity, courage and resilience to be the most transformative forces on the planet.
It may have been the unchecked rise of global industry that drove us into this crisis, but, equally so, the private sector can drive the solutions that un-do the damage done and spare our planet and our people greater suffering.
Thank you to the business leaders in this room, in Fiji, and around the world who are helping us a write a new narrative for the climate struggle; one that history remembers as a remarkable story of how human innovation solved the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.