Bula Vinaka.

We first asked negotiators to participate in the process of talanoa dialogue during Fiji’s Presidency of COP23, and I’m proud to begin my time in Madrid carrying forward that legacy by opening this High Level Talanoa.

You – the young Pacific climate warriors here today – are among our most valuable champions for the cause of climate action.

My voice carries weight in these forums because I lead a nation as Prime Minister. But you are leaders in your own right as well.  In fact, you can speak to the need for urgent and ambitious action more powerfully than I ever could. Why? Because it is your future ultimately at stake in this campaign. There is no force mightier than your courageous advocacy and justifiable angst in demanding action from the leaders of the world. And nothing gives me greater hope for the future than the new and surging levels of ownership your generation is taking over these issues.

I’m not only proud to stand with each of you in this campaign. I am proud to lead a nation that is backing your demands for action with climate-conscious development; slashing our emissions while building an inclusive and resilient economy.

We are committed to reaching the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree target by achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Next year, we will submit our enhanced nationally determined contribution to the UNFCCC. We are one of a handful of countries with both a Climate Vulnerability Assessment and a National Adaptation Plan.

On the ground in Fiji, we’re pouring resources into projects to implement these plans. We are using solar mini-grids to bring electricity to villages on outer islands and working with Energy Fiji Limited and our donor partners to achieve 100% renewable energy generation by 2030.

We all know that for Fiji, and any Pacific Island country, adapting to climate change is a much more urgent priority than reducing our negligible levels of emissions. Indeed, effective adaptation is inseparable from sustainable economic development.

We are investing in research to identify climate-resilient seeds and teach climate-resilient farming practices. We are rehabilitating our mangroves and coral reefs.

We are working to restore degraded forests and stabilize riverbanks. We’re investing in our ecosystems, providing our people food security and protection against cyclones and floods.

We’re building schools, hospitals, and public infrastructure to withstand tropical cyclones, so our communities are protected as these storms become more frequent and more intense. We’re relocating vulnerable communities and infrastructure to escape rising seas.

Our progress isn’t only about meeting global commitments. It is, quite simply, about making it better to be a Fijian. Our bodies are healthier when we breathe cleaner air; our air is cleaner when our electricity comes from the sun, and other renewable sources, and cars run on more efficient fuel; our communities and ecosystems are safer and more vibrant when we re-plant trees and mangroves and recover our reefs; and our children enjoy greater security in schools built to higher standards.

Yes, these actions are necessary to stave off global climate catastrophe. But, at their core, they create outcomes any responsible leader should strive to achieve for their people today and for generations to come. In Fiji, we are spearheading a new paradigm of prosperity; growing our economy while also ensuring our natural ecosystems can provide Fijians with healthy air, nutritious food, and protection from storms.

Governments that fall short of robust climate action are not only failing the global community and the coming generations. They are denying their own people measureable gains in wellbeing; people they are entrusted to serve and protect. That is the message we’ll be driving home throughout this COP and beyond. It’s a message I humbly ask you also to share.

Friends, all of us calling for ambitious climate action face formidable foes in the fossil fuel advocates and other vested interests who are willing to sacrifice your future for the sake of short-term profits. But nothing scares them more than the passionate voices of youth leaders like yourselves.

I urge all of you to raise your voices in demanding a bright future. Use your voices to build friendships with your counterparts in all countries, as such relationships will underpin the climate coalitions of the future. Use your voices to challenge anyone, including those who might be older and seemingly more powerful, who dismiss your calls for action or pretend your future does not matter. Use your voice to stake your claim.

Demand the future you know is right and know is possible. Above all, go forth boldly in this campaign with the confidence that I will always be proud to stand alongside you.

I look forward to listening and learning from each of you this afternoon.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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