Bula Vinaka from Fiji. 

Today’s conversation centres around global cooperation, and how humanity’s future will be shaped by whether we embrace or abandon our rules-based multi-lateral system in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Through much of this virtual summit, we’ll hear talk of “hope for a sea-change” –– the title of a badly-needed report launched by Her Excellency Mary Robinson, and a refrain that carries powerful meaning today.

Nowhere can a changing sea be felt so profoundly than on a small island developing state like Fiji, where we’ve relocated entire villages due to sea level rise.

And nowhere is a void of multi-lateralism felt so profoundly than in countries like Fiji.

So when we hope for a great sea-change, the secure future of Fiji, and every nation on Earth, is tied directly to the outcome –– and we must rely on more than hope to get us there.

In trying times, hope can be the wind in our sails –– but the vessel that carries us to that “further shore” is the United Nations. It’s the World Health Organisation. The World Trade Organisation. MDBs, NGOs, and all of those seemingly-tired acronyms –– for Fijian families, they are not “merely a frothing of words.”

They have meaning. They have impact. They save lives, and they uplift livelihoods. So in this crisis, we can be driven by hope, but we must use this time to reinforce our global ship –– not actively dismantle it –– if we hope to sail ahead.

COVID-19 befell the world in an era of emerging nationalism and eroding public trust in our multi-lateral system. Months into this pandemic, we are now reckoning with a once-in-a-generation economic fallout ­­–– which history tells us is often a kindling for conflict.

How we respond to this challenge in the coming months will define the pursuit of sustainable development for decades –– including efforts to stave off climate catastrophe for the planet. As leaders, if we forsake solidarity and intentionally look inwards, history will look back on us as failures –– the generation of cowardice that defaulted on a 75-year legacy of global cooperation.

The vacuum of leadership left by some, including the United States, must be filled. We should not dismiss calls for reform –– as institutions surely must evolve through changing times –– but we must strongly condemn cries to abandon ship in the eye of the coronavirus hurricane.

This year was meant to kick-off a decade of action on climate, on oceans preservation and of all the noble aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But if the international community mishandles its response to COVID-19, we risk this being a lost decade –– one of lasting consequence for our planet and humankind.

I tell my people we aren’t alone in taking on COVID-19 and its economic impacts. I tell them that we are not alone in saving our oceans and in working against climate change. We aren’t alone –– no nation is. Together, we can prove that the strength of our multi-lateral system has not waned –– and must not wane –– over the past three quarters of a century. We can prove that global institutions will not buckle under this immense pressure, but be strengthened by it.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. 

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