First, I want to say how wonderful it is to be with you all in-person. The pandemic was a devastating blow that kept us apart and set us back years in sustainable development. Island economies had the toughest go of any others.
But even though Fiji’s economy was among the worst hit by the pandemic, I’m proud to say that it did not and we will not exploit nature, including our ocean, for any short-term gain. We certainly aren’t adding to humanity’s problems by waging senseless conflict. Instead, as we finally make our recovery, we are using this moment to reset course to the better, bluer, and greener future that our people want and that our children deserve.
Like Palau and all other Pacific nations, the ocean is Fiji’s single most important resource, and its untapped potential is our single greatest opportunity of this century. Tourism, which mostly relies on healthy reefs and marine ecosystems, is our largest economic sector. Our shipping lanes connect our over 110 populated islands. And our fisheries sector is our third largest export earner and among our top sources of employment.
This morning, I announced Fiji’s ambition for a sustainable ocean economy that will deliver blue jobs and industries that our people can count on. That journey will make us more secure and, most importantly, keep faith with our future generations.
Sustaining an ocean economy starts by protecting it. Worsening cyclones don’t only level homes, they can destroy entire reef structures. Rising seas don’t just threaten communities and salinate farmland, they destroy coastal fishing grounds. And carbon emissions don’t just warm the world; they acidify the ocean, bleach our reefs, and drive away vital fish stocks.
Pre-COVID Fiji was taking these challenges head-on –– developing innovative financing solutions that were driving blue and green investment. We doubled our domestic revenues between 2008 and 2019 and those resources were helping turn the ocean-climate nexus from a textbook term into the basis of our entire economy.
While we also secured support from our development partners ––only a tiny fraction went towards the ocean –– something like three percent. And that’s no surprise given the ocean is the least funded of all the SDGs.
We can do much better. And we call on development partners to directly fund sustainable ocean projects and support the many innovative ways that Fiji is unlocking ocean-based finance, including our upcoming blue bond issuance.
The funds we raise will go in support of the four key areas of ocean action: sustainable fisheries, sustainable waste management, green shipping and marine conservation. And we hope our blue bond is a model that can serve the entire Pacific –– because we will need regional bonds and regional financing facilities if we stand any chance at creating a truly Blue Pacific.
As part of sustainable fisheries, sustainable aqua-culture is the future of Fiji’s food and nutrition security. We intend to create 100,000 new jobs in the fisheries sector by 2050, including in emerging areas like seaweed farming and pearl production.
Sustainable tourism can help Fiji create greater and more enduring value for our people and the environment. Due to skyrocketing costs of imported food, many hotel chains relied on local food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. We want that trend to stay. And as a nation committed to net-zero emissions, our Tourism Industry has to lead the charge. Our Tourism Industry partners understand this –– healthy reefs, forests, and ocean are Fiji’s tourism jewels, and every measure to protect them is an investment in the long-term vitality of our tourism sector.
Aside from offering enormous environmental benefits, a greener shipping sector costs us less long-term.
Look at the price of fuel today due to the senseless Russian war. Investing in alternative fuels, fuel efficiency measures and clean technologies buffers us from such shocks. A number of promising innovative low-carbon and fuel-saving options are being tested in Fiji and in the region that could be further developed and scaled up. Fiji signed the Clydebank Declaration at COP-26 and welcomes the Green Shipping Challenge by the USA and Norway to put the sector on a credible pathway to decarbonization by 2050.
With the exception of off-shore wind, ocean-based energy has made slow progress towards commercial viability, but great potential remains for tidal, wave, and salinity gradients and Fiji’s waters are open to these opportunities. We want to pilot these technologies, and scale them up region-wide when possible.
To respond to worsening ocean disasters and intensifying flows of pollution we need a smarter ocean. As the adage goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
And Fiji sees great potential in a network of unmanned ocean systems and sensors –– powered by ocean-based energy –– that allow us to act faster during crises and make better choices.
Of course, anything we put in the ocean must be exhaustively well considered and have a clear path in place for being taken out. We can’t ever risk adding to the strain our ocean ecosystems are already under. That is why Fiji has banned deep seabed mining in this decade. We simply cannot destroy what we do not understand. Instead, we must keep our eyes set on our greatest opportunity: A protected, sustainable, and resilient ocean.
Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank you very much.