Heads of State and fellow leaders of the Pacific Island countries;
Heads of delegations;
Representatives of international and pacific organisations;
Ladies and gentlemen.
Allow me to begin by expressing my gratitude to Honourable Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare for his able chairmanship of this Forum and for the commitment he has shown this organisation’s mission from its inception: Vinaka vakalevu.
Since its establishment six years ago, the PIDF has grown from an idea to become the representative body of Pacific Island developing nations. By showing the powerful potential of inclusivity, we’ve forever disrupted the status quo of Pacific diplomacy, shaking our region out of political stasis that had persisted for decades.
The PIDF remains a bold experiment, but it is proving itself a success. By sitting governments, the private sector and civil society at the same table, we’ve more fully acknowledged and more forcefully articulated the priorities that matter most to our people. But our progress – while hard-won – pales in comparison to the work left undone. Our region remains on the frontlines of humanity’s greatest challenges and many of our membership remain besieged by climatic threats of existential proportions.
This morning, we concluded our 2019 PIDF Leader’s Summit, where Fiji graciously accepted the chairmanship for the year ahead. As Chair, Fiji will continue to build a legacy for the PIDF that is worthy of its founding ambitions. We will continue to carry Pacific interests and perspectives to the highest regional and international stages. And we will place a renewed focus on making this organisation a relevant force in the lives of every citizen it is intended to represent.
I’d like to thank the PIDF Secretary-General Francois Martel and his team for their support over the past four years in strengthening this forum. As your term approaches its end this October, we look forward to building on the progress you’ve made within this organisation.
I’m pleased to announce that Mr Solo Mara will take up the reigns as the PIDF’s next Secretary-General in three months’ time. Mr Mara will leverage his diplomatic experience, in Fiji and in capitals around the world, to enact a new mandate to restructure the PIDF and review its charter to maintain its effectiveness in an evolving political landscape.
Mr Mara will be charged with stripping away the more bureaucratic systems within this organisation to streamline operations and foster an institutional culture that better leverages this forum’s greatest competitive advantages. Namely, our commitment to inclusivity through our partnerships with civil society and the private sector.
That programme of institutional reform aligns well with this Meetings’ theme of “South-South Cooperation for a Resilient Pacific”, as our progress in building Pacific resilience is tied directly to the strength of our partnerships, whether at the grassroots or at the highest echelons of global leadership.
There is a huge amount of white space in the Pacific that is currently being missed by other regional players, which the PIDF must step in to fill. Issues such as the empowerment of women, young people and those living with disabilities; the management of waterways; building up our regional tourism market; and combatting flows of drugs and illicit materials through Pacific waters. These are the challenges our citizens are demanding that we – as their leaders – address.
At the moment, I’m concerned that Pacific Island countries are suffering from an insistence on implementing one-size-fits-all development approaches. We’re not doing a good enough of job of listening and learning from each other’s experiences. And we’re certainly not doing a good job at actually putting forward innovative solutions ourselves. The PIDF needs to become a space where it’s safe to put forward ambitious plans of action. A space where we can openly share experiences – good and bad – on implementing those bold ideas. Where possible, we must report on trackable metrics that assess the impact of those various solutions. At the moment, it too often seems as if we’re all trying to bend the world’s experiences to our own realities on the ground. But we must recognise: We are not the rest of the world. We need to do a better job of leveraging our own ingenuity and our own experiences in formulating uniquely Pacific policy solutions. That – my friends – is what real leadership entails. That is what this Forum must facilitate and empower its membership to achieve.
Putting more new ideas on the table means transforming the PIDF into a more intellectual community. A space that attracts the best and brightest Pacific minds to think at a high-level about how innovative solutions can be practically implemented across the region. The PIDF must emerge as a thought-leader in Pacific development. It should be the go-to resource for any development organisation seeking a wealth of real experiences and well-considered ideas tailored to Pacific development aspirations.
Of course, across all areas of our development, we must consider the realities of climate change. When it comes to our campaign for climate action, our partnerships must reach to every corner of the world and extend through every level of society. Because we are not alone in facing extreme climate vulnerabilities. Our interests are the interests of every nation on earth. And there are leaders, businesses and ordinary people the world over who stand ready to support us and turn our call to action into real outcomes that spare future suffering on a global scale.
While acknowledging the negligible levels of our own contributions to global warming, we’ve chosen to lead not only through advocacy, but through our actions. Fiji and the Marshall Islands have already announced our intention to revise our own Nationally Determined Contributions, and I urge this institution’s membership to urgently do the same and to demand the same from the more developed economies. Including, and most especially, our larger neighbours in the Pacific.
As we look ahead to the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu in two weeks’ time, we should not accept anything less than concrete commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions in line with the most ambitious aspirations of the Paris Agreement. We cannot allow climate commitments to be watered down at a meeting hosted in a nation whose very existence is threatened by the rising waters lapping at its shores. And that passionate commitment must carry through across the rest of our sustainable development agenda; including our fight to preserve the beauty and bounty of our oceans and seas, and the regional effort to create greener networks of maritime transportation.
Friends, our agenda to imbue this organisation with renewed purpose could not come at a more critical time. The challenges ahead for Pacific Island nations remain formidable. But this organisation is no stranger to adversity. We’ve faced opposition from the moment of our establishment, and we’re proven our grit in pushing through even the fiercest of headwinds.
Through the PIDF, Pacific Island countries have been empowered to seize control of our own destinies. How we meet that responsibility will define the coming decades of our development. As I accept back this gavel and re-assume the PIDF chairmanship, I do so with great optimism. But I also do so knowing that this remains a young organisation. Our greatest ambitions remain unfulfilled and we are still left with a great deal of room to grow, mature and find our surest footing.
Our influence, our voice and our prestige all hinge on our ability to step into new arenas and take hold of new opportunities. I stand ready to oversee that next chapter, as I stand ready to speak in one voice alongside every nation represented by this organisation in the defence of our interests and for the sake of our futures.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.