Senior Government Officials and Members of the Fijian Civil Service, Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corp;

Development Partners, Civil Society Organisations, Academic Institutions and Representatives of the Private Sector;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

We, the Fijian people are stewards of the Blue Pacific –– the world’s largest ocean, ecosystem, and carbon sink. Few people on this Earth are entrusted with a bigger and bluer responsibility. For the sake of our people today and all those yet to be born, we must protect our ocean –– and the life it sustains –– so that future Fijians know the same bounty and beauty that we have been blessed with. That is our mission. The enemies set against us are overfishing, pollution, a changing climate, and reckless new practices, like seabed mining.

By 2030, 30 percent of Fiji’s ocean within our Exclusive Economic Zone will be protected; protected from exploitation, protected from degradation, and held in trust for generations to come –– a pledge we call Thirty by Thirty. I am pleased to join you today to launch the National Consultations on the Marine Protected Areas Thirty by Thirty Initiative.

Globally, Sustainable Development Goal 14 – like below water – is the least funded of the SDGs. That is not our approach in Fiji. The ocean is our very life. And we are building a blue economy from the top down –– setting big ocean commitments that guide our development through the decades ahead.

That is why Fiji has put forward some of the most comprehensive ocean and climate commitments on the planet. We officially launched 17 Voluntary Commitments towards the protection and sustainable management of our oceans at the UN Oceans Conference which Fiji co-hosted with Sweden in June 2017; and we walked the talk by embedding the implementation, monitoring and evaluation process of our commitments into law. My Government’s ocean commitments are enshrined in Fiji’s 5-Year and 20-Year National Development Plan in 2017; and most recently factored into Fiji’s National Oceans Policy and historic Climate Change Act in 2021.

At this year’s Ocean Conference, once again, we chose to lead by example because we cannot afford to wait for someone else to work up the courage. In Lisbon, I said that to meet our commitment to sustainably manage our ocean by 2030, with 30% as Marine Protected Areas, Fiji will declare the Lau Seascape a Marine Protected Area by 2024. The Lau Seascape will account for 8 percent of the 30 percent target.

I also said that by 2030, we will ban virtually all single-use plastics and recycle all PET bottles; we will deepen ocean literacy through our national school curriculum, and we will slash carbon emissions of our domestic shipping sector by 40%.

We plan to complete mapping our entire 1.3 million square kilometer EEZ by 2025, which will allow us real-time surveillance of all Fiji waters. By 2030, we aim to produce more than 160,000 metric tonnes of sustainably farmed and harvested ocean product, supporting over 53,000 new jobs on our way to supply half of all blue foods from sustainable fisheries by 2035.

Finally, by 2050, Fiji will be a net-zero society. Our fisher-folk will have access to transport powered by sustainable propulsion – be it wind, electricity, hydrogen, or other hybrid solutions. The Pacific at large will be traversed by green shipping fleets – lowering the energy intensity of global trade. All fishing nets in Fijian waters will be bio-degradable and we intend to create 100,000 new blue economy jobs – more than a tenth of our current population.

That plan is ambitious –– it has to be. There is no Plan B and this is not a pie in the sky dream. It is a plan that we are already putting into action.
We have already identified fifteen potential sites in Fiji’s offshore ocean space that account for 30% of our EEZ. Our conservation partners have provided technical assistance to the various Ministries over the years on the momentous task of marine spatial planning for these 15 potential MPA sites.

We have put together a programme of consultations starting with the Province of Lau from 11 October, with plans to return in November. Following this, more consultations will be held across Fiji in early 2023 to ensure that we are on target to progressively achieve Fiji’s commitment towards the MPA Thirty by Thirty.

This matters for Fiji and it matters for the world. Our marine protected areas will provide other oceanic nations with a proof of concept – demonstrating how protecting 30% and sustainably managing 100% of an ocean area can benefit local livelihoods, increase resilience to climate change, safeguard biodiversity and strengthen the economy.

Last week, I was pleased to meet with President Biden at the White House to convey in no uncertain terms the criticality of the moment. The Pacific Ocean cleans the air we breathe – virtually operating as earth’s single lung now following the widespread destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Secondly, without a doubt, the Pacific will provide the protein needed for much of the world in the future through fish and seafood.

For this to continue it needs to be protected. We need to engineer a highly sustainable, conservation-leaning, and forward-looking blue and green economy – from green shipping to aqua-culture, to carbon trading, and to expanding our marine protected areas. I was encouraged to hear that the United States’ commitment to increasing its contribution to the green climate fund, which will be beneficial to all Small Island States, including Fiji.

The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership Programme is also helping us address some of the most serious challenges faced in the Pacific, including the increasing depletion of fisheries resources, and associated by-catch and habitat impacts; the threats to marine bio-diversity, including negative impacts of climate change and disasters; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues within the sector.

As I have said in the past, the only route to oceans success is through public-private partnerships. I want to personally thank those of you in this room, along with the many committed ocean champs that are not, for working in partnership with the Fijian Government.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with those few words, I now have the honour of officially launching Fiji’s National Consultation on the MPA 30 by 30 Commitment.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

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