Welcome to the Virtual Island Summit 2020. As we say in Fiji, “bula vinaka”.
I’d like to extend my gratitude – and the gratitude of island peoples across the world – for this landmark event. Thanks to the Summit’s organizers, to each of our speakers, and to the many thousands of participants joining us.
As islanders, by our very nature, we feel some degree of isolation from the outside world. This geographic separation has its benefits; in Fiji, like in many of the islands represented here today, our pristine coastlines provide tourism revenue that is a major driver of our economy.
But today, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, never have islands felt so far removed from the outside world. While many of us shut our borders to prevent the virus’s spread, our economies have been left reeling. The collapse of tourism industries and global supply chain disruptions means that islanders – from the Pacific to the Caribbean and beyond – have experienced outsized suffering.
This new crisis is an unfortunate turn of fate for the very nations that were already on the front lines of combatting another: Climate change. For years, islanders have been sounding the alarm bells on rising sea levels and strengthening storms. We have experienced their wrath first hand, watching the land that was entrusted to us by our ancestors and their ancestors before them be swallowed the seas.
Without dramatic changes to the way the world’s largest carbon producers operate, the situation only looks to get worse from here. A shocking new report shows that a remarkable 28 trillion tonnes of ice melted from Earth’s surface between 1994 and 2017. To put that very big number into perspective, that’s 3.6 million kilograms of ice for every single person on Earth. The rising seas that have followed are proving particularly devastating for island nations like ours. Critical infrastructure, and entire communities, in Fiji have been relocated to higher ground as a result.
Now, as we face these dual crises – climate change and contagion – island nations must stand together with a more united voice than ever before. So during this year’s Virtual Island Summit, I hope that each of you take the time to listen, to learn, and – most importantly – to be driven to action.
Be inspired by the stories of innovation that will be shared, and take the initiative to implement real and meaningful change at home. Be the voices that urge leaders around the world to pursue an inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 – one that puts our planet on the path to net-zero global emissions.
In Fiji, we see ourselves as an incubator for innovation. That is what all islands have the potential to be – incubators for the big blue and green ideas humanity needs; ideas that can be scaled up across the world. Yes, our people may be at the frontlines of great emergencies, like climate change. But we can also be at the cutting edge of sustainable development. Because we are strong. We are creative. We are resilient. And in the face of any challenge, no matter how great, we can adapt and innovate. We can lead by doing, and we can be the change our world so badly needs.
Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, and may we make the most of the Virtual Island Summit 2020.