The Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Antonio Gueterres;
Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Members of the UN Family;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa bula vinaka, and a very good morning to you all.
Let me begin by saying how deeply honoured I am to be the recipient of the 2020 Champion of the Earth Award. I’d like to thank the United Nations for this incredible recognition. But as I stand here today to accept this Award, I do so not for myself, but on behalf of every Fijian, every Pacific Islander, and every person on Earth whose lives have been impacted, uprooted, and even lost to climate change.
Over the past few years – starting with Fiji’s Presidency of COP23 – we have been among the world’s most vocal proponents for climate action. As your Prime Minister, I’ve had the privilege of amplifying your voices through speaking engagements throughout the world.
All across the globe, political leaders, business executives, actors and advocates have heard the story of Pacific Islanders’ struggle for survival.
And millions more ordinary, everyday citizens have had their eyes opened to the immediate, existential threat of a changing climate and rising seas. Because of this, you – my fellow Fijians – have been agents of progress: Real, meaningful progress that just might help save the world as we know it.
And while I’ve been your microphone, I must also recognize the United Nations for giving Fiji the stage that allowed your voices to be heard by so many.
Through COP, and the many other engagements the UN hosts in its annual calendar, Fiji has been granted a platform where we stood on equal footing – or even with greater prominence – than the world’s superpowers. Fiji may be a Small Island State, but because of the UN, we certainly haven’t felt small when it comes to advocating for the future of our planet.
And I thank my friend, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, for his relentless advocacy alongside Fiji and other climate-vulnerable nations to rally the world to the cause of climate action.
It has been a privilege to help shape global dialogue about our climate emergency, and to press countries and corporations alike to make firm and meaningful commitments to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050.
But I want to make it clear: This is not a trophy for something we have already achieved. Five years to the day after the Paris Agreement was signed, our eyes are set firmly on 2050. If this were a 80-minute rugby match, we’re still in the first 12 minutes of the game.
And to be honest, our opponent – climate change – is kicking our butt. So to hang up our kits and celebrate now wouldn’t just be premature, it would be foolish. We must not lose sight of the ultimate goal: Stopping global warming, and saving the planet.
So to all of you here today, I ask that you continue to carry the torch of climate advocacy, and lead the world by example. No action is too small. As you leave today’s celebrations, look around you, and think like a climate champion.
Instead of thinking, “it’s just plastic”, think “this will last in the oceans, or buried in the earth, long after I’m gone.” And instead of thinking “my voice doesn’t matter”, tell yourself “I can be the change the world needs.”
And as you do, know that I – along with the hard-working team at the Ministry of Economy’s Climate Change Division who put in long hours behind the scenes –will continue this fight for our lives with the same passion and vigour as when we began.
I have great confidence in the United Nations system, as we have seen much of its impact firsthand here in Fiji. So as we gather today to celebrate 75 years of the UN – 50 of which Fiji has been a proud member – I look forward to doubling down on our own commitment to multi-lateralism, and to continuing to press other nations to do the same with bold net-zero commitments. Because when it comes to the fate of our planet, there are zero excuses. That applies if you are leading a country, running a company, or engaged through civil society. A carbon neutral future is the only one worth fighting for.
There is no place in the world I would rather be to accept this Award than here in Fiji. In our communities, we see the climate emergency unfolding before our eyes. We see the rising seas and stronger storms. We see the loss of crops and depleting sea life. We know it does not have to be this way. And we will continue to work with the UN to better both Fiji and the world, with our Sustainable Development Goals as our guiding light. And in the days, months, and years ahead, Fiji and the UN will show the world that no enemy – from COVID to climate change – is too large, even for the smallest of nations. And we will continue to show the world that by working together, anything is possible.
Have a good time, everyone, and happy holidays to you all. Thank you, and Vinaka Vakalevu.