Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
Secretary-General, it’s wonderful to see you back in our Moana Pavilion following our opening evening to start the week. As always, I’m grateful for the personal fire you bring to climate action, oceans preservation and the global linkage of these two critical campaigns.
You know, as I know, the Commonwealth can play a vital role as a staging ground for the global coalition we must convene to save our seas from further devastation.
The generational abuse of our oceans and the life they sustain has come directly at the expense of the wellbeing of all oceanic people. Our fishers are pulling up empty lines in seas once teeming with fish, families are struggling to pay the rising prices of kai (clams), kawakawa (grouper), nama (sea grapes) and other dietary staples, and our oceanic ecosystems are succumbing to the deadly acidification of our seas.
For us, the climate emergency is an oceans emergency. Our oceans – and the mangroves, seagrass and kelp fields they contain – are removing massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. But the absorption of carbon emissions is coming at a dangerously high price.
If reckless levels of global emissions continue, our oceans will more closely resemble lifeless wastelands than the bustling, beautiful ecosystems my generation has sadly taken for granted. When I hear and see of the suffering of my own people, I have to tell them: Yes, we must act in the face of this crisis, but Fiji cannot act alone.
Our patch of sea is vulnerable to pollution, emissions and even overfishing from far beyond our shores. And we must use our voice in international forums to engrain the importance of healthy oceans in the hearts and minds of every politician, every CEO, and every person on the planet.
The 53 nations that compose our organisation come in all sizes, vastly ranging both geographically and economically. Our rich diversity makes us a microcosm of the wider world. By coming together and forging oceans cooperation, we show it is possible for the entire community of nations to do the same.
From our role as co-chair of the First UN Conference on Oceans, to the launch of the Ocean pathway at COP23, to our unrelenting effort – on behalf of all PSIDS – to engrain oceans in the processes of the UNFCCC, Fiji is in this campaign to get tangible results.
It is why we stepped forward to champion the Ocean and Climate Change Action Group as part of the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter, and it is why I believe we should convene a special preparatory meeting at the next UN General Assembly to review our progress and ensure we’re united and properly aligned in advocating for oceans health.
But Fiji isn’t going to the world wagging our fingers and demanding to be saved. We’re acting to save ourselves – as best we can – and set an example the world can follow.
From 1 January next year, single-use plastics will be banned in Fiji, with a ban on Styrofoam following a year later.
This week, I will lead a soft-launch of a new coalition of countries committed to 100 per cent integrated management of our EEZs with up to 30 per cent declared Marine Protected Areas by 2030.
In line with the aspirations of our Blue Charter, I urge our fellow Commonwealth nations to join Fiji in Lisbon next June at the second UN Oceans Conference to commit to large-scale EEZ protection. And we cannot forget the 60 per cent of our oceans outside of national boundaries. By strengthening EEZ protection, we protect the high seas from much of humanity’s abuses.
I know I’m among many friends of our oceans this evening and I’m likely preaching to the choir for many of you. The allies we must enlist in this campaign lie beyond the walls of this pavilion, out there in the wider world.
I’m not only talking to leaders of governments and businesses; I’m talking about the ordinary people going about their lives, who are breathing air supplied by our oceans and eating food provided by our seas. At the end of the day, it is their individual actions and decisions that will make or break this campaign. It will come down to what they choose to buy, how they dispose of their waste, who they choose as their leaders, and how powerfully they use their voices to support this cause.
As an organisation with so many small island states among its ranks, the Commonwealth of Nations must be the example our world so badly needs in filling the ocean-climate gap with ambition, cooperation and actions backed by science. The 2.4 billion people our nations represent –and the many billions more in generations to come –demand it.
Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.