My Fellow Members of the Ocean Panel;
Honourable Ministers and Assistant Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’d like to thank all of those tuning from around the world for this Launch, as well as all those here in-person this morning. This gathering is only possible due to Fiji’s status as a COVID-contained country. It’s been some 230 days since our country has been totally free of any local cases of COVID-19, a feat that can be traced directly back to the hard work, the discipline, and the foresight of our healthcare heroes and members of our Disciplined Forces. In Fiji, we followed the science on how to contain this pandemic, and because of this, we have so far been largely spared from its deadly toll.
Indeed, we’re meeting this morning in the midst of a crisis the world has never seen. The loss of life is almost surreal, with the scale of these losses almost beyond human comprehension. Entire industries are being crippled, jobs are being lost, families are suffering.
And perhaps most frighteningly, the world is seemingly becoming numb to this crisis, precisely when it needs to be addressed most. In many developed nations, many people are more focused on Christmas shopping than containing the growing catastrophe at their doorsteps.
In the fog of this pandemic, you may not have guessed it – but I’m actually not talking about COVID-19, but about the existential crisis facing our oceans and the life they contain.
Many of the same great consequences that have come to light during the pandemic are consequences of a changed climate, and specifically, to an ocean under siege. Loss of life, destruction of livelihoods, and economic devastation are shared scars of our health and oceans crises.
But in many ways – and as hard as it is to see this now – the global oceanic emergency we face is even worse than COVID-19. Because while pandemics of this scale or larger have come and gone, usually about once every century, climate change and the degradation of the ocean is causing damage that cannot be undone.
Communities lost to the seas; species being wiped out forever; coral reefs facing a mass extinction. Our oceans simply cannot be cured with a shot in the arm; the seas that we pass to our children and grandchildren are at risk of damage beyond repair.
That is why I joined 13 of my fellow Leaders from all corners of the globe to launch the Ocean Panel’s new ocean action agenda, starting right here in Suva.
Our collective leadership is borne from a shared commitment to the 100 per cent sustainable management of our ocean – a commitment that I hope will grow after gaining momentum from this panel, and the many others taking place around the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In this room, and joining us virtually, are some of the country’s, the region’s, and even the world’s most well-versed experts in the health of our ocean, and what it will take to save them. And as the Ocean Panel kicks off a series of these discussions around the globe, you have the privilege of starting things off on the right foot.
And Fiji – through each of you – has a unique perspective to lend to the global Ocean Panel. Around the world, from PIF to COP to the UN General Assembly and on any other stage we can seize, we have echoed a Pacific plea for the fate of our planet: the climate emergency is an oceanic emergency. Widespread recognition of the ocean-climate nexus – I believe – is the most powerful aim of our ocean action agenda.
My friends, in Fiji, we see first-hand every day how ocean eco-systems are buckling under the strain of a warming world, pollution, overfishing and other reckless abuse from humankind. In the face of these new and worsening threats, Fiji’s National Ocean Policy will serve as our compass towards sustainable oceans management – both here at home through action, and abroad, through an aggressive advocacy campaign.
So as the world looks to rebuild COVID-19’s rubble, we must not turn a blind eye to our climate, but instead, focus on healing humanity and our oceans at the same time. By building back better, and building back bluer, we are giving the ocean a fighting chance – and in doing so, it can fight for the health of our planet for generations to come.
Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu, and God bless.