The Honourable Prime Minister of Tonga;
Honourable Ministers of Pacific Nations;
The Hon. Minister of Climate Change, Australia;
The Hon. Minister of Climate Change, New Zealand;
Your Excellency, the COP 28 Director General and Special Representative, The United Nations Director of Transparency;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
On behalf of the Government of Fiji, I would like to thank the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and regional partners, for supporting and helping Fiji co-host this high-Level dialogue on climate change.
I acknowledge and thank the incoming COP 28 Director General and Special Representative, Ambassador Majid Al Suwaidi for taking the time to engage with our region. Welcome to the Big Blue Continent. You have a challenging task ahead and Fiji is here to support you.
We gather here for further critical discussion on the climate change issue that represents a real threat to our Islands, our people and their way of life.
All present today are familiar with the phenomenon of global warming unleashed by greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting destructive impact on the environment.
The grim reality for us in the Pacific includes devastation from mighty storms, rising sea levels, deadly pollution; encroachment into village areas, degradation of land and damage to reefs.
One crucial figure concentrates the minds of regional leaders – 1.5°C.
That’s the target for limiting global warming and maintaining it at a sustainable level. If we can reach 1.5, then our prospects for protecting everything that is precious to us in our Island environment should be within reach.
But doubts arise about the world’s ability, or even willingness, to go there. So for us it’s a question of constantly pushing for 1.5 in every way we can. Critical to this is cutting back those greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane.
That in itself means grappling with the reality of fossil fuels based on carbon organisms, and how important they are in the economic sense.
Another uncomfortable reality is that producing and burning these fuels creates air pollution that harms health and generates toxic emissions that drive climate change. From the electricity that lights homes to the cars people drive to work, modern life was built on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.
Here in the Pacific we are motivated by the desire to adopt alternatives. It is a matter of survival.
We understand that for many countries this is not easy. But we must still rely on them to help us, not only by moving away from fossil fuels, but also by doing more to cut emissions.
All this is urgent.
Lack of action is reflective of another crisis – a moral one.
As always we remind the rest of the world that the conditions that led to global warming were not created by the islanders of the Pacific, and yet we bear the brunt of the hazard.
We acknowledge as well that the impact of environmental changes is spreading widely. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that every region is highly vulnerable.
It says there is a “rapidly closing window of opportunity” to achieve a secure future for all those affected.
The science, in our view, leaves no room for debate. The large economies should move as quickly as possible towards phasing out fossil fuels, embracing clean energy and bringing down those emissions levels. Alternatives include solar, “green” hydrogen and bio fuels made from plants and algae; hydro energy and wind power. This last natural resource served our ancestors very well on their ocean journeys. We in Fiji are looking at how we can reintroduce it.
We place on record again our concern about the need for more investment funds to assist in protecting our food systems, agricultural productivity and water supplies.
We need support as well to build infrastructure to withstand the intensifying effects of rising sea levels, extreme weather and the shifting dynamics of the ocean.
I go further and call for a special fund dedicated to assisting our Island nations. It would enable us to act swiftly to adjust to and protect against the creeping climate menace. Early warning systems must be set up along with evacuation plans and community adaptation training.
This crisis relentlessly eats away at our shores and coastal areas. Six Fijian villages have already been relocated. Forty-two are earmarked to be removed in the next five to ten years.
COP28 in November in the Unites Arab Emirates is the next opportunity for a global stock-take on the problems I’ve outlined. Surely this must be the moment for the world to take the corrective action that is so urgently needed? Surely we can expect this COP to be different?
I welcome fairly recent comments by the incoming COP President, Sultan Al Jaber.
“We must be brutally honest,” he said, “about the gaps that need to be filled, the root causes and how we got to this place… today.”
Mr Al Jaber called on countries to update the plans and targets agreed at the landmark summit in 2015 that created the Paris Agreement. He also stressed the need to keep global heating below 1.5°C, saying it was the summit’s “North Star”.
(I have something in common with him. I used the phase “North Star” in a speech last week!)
I make the point that in many ways we have to be more self-reliant. We can’t blame others for problems that we have caused ourselves.
Drainage problems that lead to flooding must be fixed by us. We are doing more to preserve and enlarge our mangrove forests that provide natural coastal protection. Volunteers regularly clean up shorelines littered with rubbish. The littering has spread widely, converting parts of our landscape into shameful eyesores.
When a group of Japanese volunteers decided to pick up the rubbish that scarred the streets of Lautoka City’s central business district, that, to me, was a national embarrassment. I thank those young people for what they did. But it reflects badly on Fiji that they felt it necessary to act.
A writer in yesterday’s Sunday Times, describing that incident, put it succinctly: “It is bad enough that we do have so much litter lying about in the first place. But when a group of visitors… to our shores… feels compelled to clean up after us then surely the message is loud and clear.”
“If we failed to get their message…. then I’m afraid we’ve lost ourselves in a vacuum of apathy and oblivion bordering on national neglect for what we are both doing and failing to do for our country.”
Recently I issued a public statement on an environmental issue that has generated much criticism in the region and internationally. I’m referring to the plans by Japan to discharge treated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean. The Plant was badly damaged by a tsunami in 2011.
The controversy is on the agenda of the Pacific Islands Forum. I confirmed my support for a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the discharge of the wastewater met international safety standards. I based my views on the science applied by the independent IAEA in its investigations and report. The IAEA is part of the United Nations system. The safety standards mentioned by the IAEA are reviewed annually by the UN General Assembly, based on estimates by the UN Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). The standards also include recommendations from independent, non-government group the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).
My decision to endorse the IAEA findings was taken by me as a Prime Minister’s prerogative. Those who oppose the position I’ve taken are obviously entitled to their viewpoints.
However I urge them to consider the science involved. One of my critics at the weekend appeared to be somehow connecting the wastewater discharge with the cataclysmic power of the nuclear bombs dropped in the Pacific as part of weapons testing.
That, to me, is fear mongering. It’s impossible to compare those nuclear tests, with the careful discharge of treated wastewater from Fukushima over a period of approximately 30 years. The material I have read says a commercial type power reactor simply cannot, under any circumstanced, explode like a nuclear bomb. The fuel is not enriched beyond about 5 percent; a much higher enrichment is needed for explosives.
I’m going to share with you now, for the record, a few expert responses to the Fukushima plans. There are many more available.
The data I have read emphasizes that nuclear power stations do not produce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.
The Society for Radiological Protection has 2000+ members and is the principal independent professional body in its area of expertise. Outside the USA, it’s the largest organization of its kind in the world. It publishes the internationally respected Journal of Radiological Protection.
It asserts that there should be no concern that the wastewater discharge operations could in any way affect human health or the environment.
The IAEA verdict, it says, is highly justifiable.
Professor Jim Smith, of the School of Environment, Geography and Geosciences at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, believes that sewage discharge and ocean plastic pollution has greater ecological impacts than radiation.
Professor Robin Grimes, Steele Chair of Energy Materials, Imperial College London, says the concentration of tritium, the remaining radionuclide in the water to be discharged, is very low and well below levels of any environmental concern.
Professor Gerry Thomas, former Professor of Molecular Pathology, Imperial College London, says the clean up of the water has been closely monitored by relevant authorities inside and outside of Japan.
According to Professor Thomas the IAEA report clearly stated that the release of the stored contaminated water is consistent with the relevant, very conservative, international standards…. Finally the water released would be a drop in the ocean…. in terms of volume and radioactivity.
There was no evidence these extremely low levels of radioisotopes have a detrimental health effect.
Professor Thomas added: “Other substances that we willingly ingest, such as alcohol, fatty and sugary foods, have a relatively large detrimental effect on our health, but are subject to much less stringent regulation and produce much less concern to the population.”
There are constant references to the plans for the wastewater to be “dumped” in the Pacific. That creates the wrong impression. It is to be discharged – into Japan’s own backyard, 7306 kms from Fiji.
Finally I make the point that nuclear energy now provides about 10 percent of the world’s electricity from about 440 power reactors in 32 nations. France gets up to 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy; Ukraine, Slovakia, Belgium and Hungary get about half. Japan used to rely on nuclear power for more than one quarter of its electricity and is expected to return to somewhere near that level.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening to me.
I hope I have provided you with food for thought that will assist in the dialogue to come.
Thank you very much.