Madam Speaker of the Congress, Nancy Pelosi,
Hon. Members of the US Senate,
Hon. Members of the House of Representatives:
My fellow Pacific Island leaders,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
As we say in Fiji: Bula Vinaka!
I thank you for hosting the Blue Pacific at Capitol Hill this morning. The weight of the moment is not lost on us. This is the largest gathering of leaders from our vast region in the American capital ever. We are here for the first US and Pacific Summit to be held at the White House. This is the first time all of you, or most of you, have heard from a Fijian leader. But that is not the moment that I want to dwell on.
As elected leaders of the USA, we in the Pacific look to you for solidarity and inspiration in tackling some of the gravest challenges the world faces now. We live in a world where great power rivalries are fracturing global consensus; that is shocked –– but never numbed –– by the evil war on Ukraine; where inequality between nations and within nations is tearing at the social fabric; and where all of our prosperity and progress is threatened by the climate crisis. Our future. Your future. All at-risk. Our thoughts are with families across Florida in Hurricane Ian’s path as they respond, rebuild, and learn to cope with the trauma that climate catastrophes can cause.
We see that same threat today in the wildfires in the Western USA. We see it in Fiji. One storm, Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, wiped out a third of the value of GDP in 36 hours. And as we speak, we are moving low-lying communities to higher ground and building miles of seas walls to protect against the rising seas. And Fiji has passed a Climate Change law we hope can serve as a model to all nations.
I know that isn’t an easy ask. We sometimes scratch our heads in Fiji when we look across the Pacific and see that climate change is a controversial political issue in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, we understand politics. We have it, too. I have an opposition that fought tooth and nail against every measure we took to get Fiji through the covid pandemic—and the fact that they were proven wrong time and again has not made one bit of difference. Perhaps you are familiar with that too.
Seriously, I do believe that you who fight for climate action in this country are up against the most adamant denialists anywhere in the world.
There is no science-based disagreement that can be made against the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. We are grateful for the priority President Biden has given to the fight against climate change, and we are frankly thrilled to have American leadership once again in this fight. We need the United States to lead—to lead politically and to lead by example. Congratulations on the Inflation Reduction Act which I understand to be the largest piece of climate legislation America has ever passed. More can happen. You have the resources, you have the expertise, and you have the global convening power to make a difference.
You are also the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, so you have a special responsibility. Now, I understand that you are also the largest holder of the technology, the knowledge and the engineering skills we need to get us through this crisis. So, you hold hope for the rest of us.
As you carry forward your effort to build consensus or, lacking consensus, simply the effort to do what must be done by majority, I want you to know that we are watching and that you have a friend in the South Pacific. We use all the influence we can wield, and we will proudly work beside you to save this Earth.
Speaker Pelosi, through you I offer my sincere thanks to the representatives and senators who have helped to keep a focus on the Blue Pacific alive in both these houses. We truly appreciate their efforts and value their solidarity with us while balancing other pressing priorities.
I have a final thought to share. Some of Pacific Island’s countries are barely 30 years old. Fiji’s new democracy is only eight years old. We have a lot to learn from you and your institutions. I would like to encourage far greater and more systematic interaction between parliaments in the Pacific and these two chambers. Who knows, you may learn a thing or two from us as well.
On behalf of the leaders of the Pacific Island Forum Countries, thank you for meeting with us this morning.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.