Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The Permanent Secretary and Staff of the Ministry of Forestry;
Distinguished Guests;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen. Bula Vinaka and Good Morning.

This International Day of Forests is a good time for us to both celebrate and take stock. We can celebrate the vital contributions forests make to our everyday living and we can take some pride in what we are doing in Fiji to conserve and sustainably manage this important natural resource. The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests is “Forests and Sustainable Production and Consumption,” and it asks us to take a very serious look at the way we value forests—not just as a source of raw materials, but as a means of absorbing carbon and helping to sustain life on this planet.

Certainly, forests have been harvested and used to build homes and make many products we have come to depend on. Our forests have brought in foreign exchange, spurred industrial development, created jobs and helped develop our rural infrastructure.

Fiji has established plantations of pine and mahogany as part of Government’s long-term strategy to support timber trade while also protecting and conserving the remaining natural forests. The Fiji Pine Group of Companies lead the sector and currently contribute more than 80% to Fiji’s log production and exports of wood products.

The Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited and the Mahogany sector are making a strong contribution to the economy and showing great potential. In the past year alone, mahogany log production grew by 75% and exports of mahogany products grew by 60%.

The role of natural forests is changing significantly, too, and we are seeing clearly how forests can generate revenue and create jobs and small businesses when we do not exploit them for timber. Natural forests attract eco-tourism, which creates the potential for a wide range of products and services that directly benefit rural and forest-dwelling communities. Fiji may be best known for its beautiful ocean, but more and more domestic travellers and foreign visitors are showing an interest in enjoying our forests.

In the past, forests were valued only in terms of the products they yielded. That’s how forestry shows up when a country’s gross domestic product is calculated—by how much timber is produced, how much pulp for paper, how many wood chips. In the process, the world has under-valued the role of forests as a carbon sink. That is changing.

With climate change upon us, we know that we must finally recognize the total economic value of forests.

We are embracing this concept firmly in Fiji. In one important example, Fiji has entered into a carbon trade agreement with the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The 5-year Agreement is aimed at addressing the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation through the sustainable management of the natural forests.

The Emissions Reduction Programme is supported by the Ministry of Forestry as part of our national climate action agenda –– which, of course, is led by the Ministry of Economy’s Climate Change Division. Let me remind everyone: our mission is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 2.5 million tons by 2024 and achieve net-zero emission by 2050.

That effort is guided by our world-leading Climate Change Act which sets out the governance and institutional arraignments to establish a carbon market for Fiji.

It is urgent and vital that we know exactly how much forest we have and what it consists of—a kind of forest census, if you will. The Ministry of Forestry is currently conducting one—the National Forest Inventory—and expects to complete it before the end of the year. The inventory will provide a more realistic and updated account of the status of Fiji’s forest resource and also quantify the level of forest carbon stock available. That improves our bargaining position with regards to the carbon trade agreement and any future carbon trade agreements we might wish to make.

As most Fijians should know, in 2019 the Ministry of Forestry began a nationwide tree-planting programme as part of the 30 Million Trees in 15 Years campaign. That is a lot of trees. It is an ambitious programme worthy of an ambitious country. And we are an ambitious people. We set high standards for ourselves in fighting climate change, just as we set high standards for ourselves in developing our economy and contributing to making the world a better place.

When I think about the huge undertaking that this campaign truly is, I cannot help but think about the former Minister for Forestry, the late Honourable Osea Naiqamu, and pay tribute to him for his unwavering commitment and dedication to ensuring the success of this campaign. To-date, more than 8 million trees have been planted—a total of 9,357 hectares.

This supports the Emissions Reduction Programme by establishing sinks for absorbing greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also important for securing Fiji’s future log supply. This is one more way we disprove the myth that economic growth and environmental responsibility are at odds with each other. They are not; they can go hand in hand if we are smart enough and if we care enough.

The Emissions Reduction Programme is of vital importance to the future outlook of the Forest Sector and Government’s plans. It will establish a system for monitoring, reporting and verifying the level of emissions based on how well Fiji is managing its land and forest resources at any given time.

And in time, we will surely be able to quantify the economic value of forests as a carbon sink—that value that has been overlooked for years as we calculated Gross Domestic Product by the resources we used and excluded the resources we saved.

The theme “Sustainable Production and Consumption” for the International Day of Forests reminds us that the Timber Industry also has an important role to play in the Emissions Reduction Programme.

I want to commend the Timber Industry, which has been a significant contributor to the national economy, especially at the height of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now I believe is a good time for the Timber Industry to realign itself somewhat and make more meaningful and concerted effort towards the goal of “sustainable production”. I am, therefore, calling on the Timber Industry to play a larger role in reaching our national target of 30 million trees, and to do so by fostering partnership arrangements with forest owners and forest-dwelling communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government is under no illusion that it can unilaterally achieve these goals and objectives. It is up to all of us to think seriously about our relationship to our forests—whether we use them or abuse them, sustain them or degrade them, nurture them or exploit them.

We can have a healthy relationship with our forests, a relationship that supports our economy, ensures a good quality of life, protects us from the effects of climate change, and ensures that Fiji remains the beautiful country it has always been.

Vinaka Vakalevu, and I wish you all a blessed International Day of Forests.

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