20 Sep. 2019 (Suva) PIDF Secretary General Mr François Martel delivers keynote address at the NIUPAWA Festival.
Vakanuinui Vinaka, Welcome to you all.
Yesterday and today we are witnessing millions of people who have taken to the streets in protest to the inaction or slow action of their countries on the existential threat posed by climate change.
As of today, more than 5,000 events, mainly student strikes are taking place in 140 countries and its main activist is a teenager from Sweden, Greta Thunberg – at the last Climate Conference in Poland, she said to leaders, “You only speak of green eternal growth because you are too scared of being unpopular”. Later, in Davos, “Young people need more than hope, we want adults, that created this crisis, to panic!”
On the front-lines we find our children and youth. Correctly, students around the world decided to take action in their own hands because adults, who should be responsible to ensure security and safety for this planet for future generations to enjoy, have dismally failed them. So today’s youth and children have gone on strike like so many of them have done on so many Fridays this year on their Friday School Strikes. The difference is that, this time around, they are joined by millions of adults and workers who are also concerned of the plight of this planet and are alarmed that if we do not change direction our civilisation and our very existence as a species are at risk.
Youth are genuinely frustrated that we have been negotiating around the climate for the last 25 years. This year thousands of people will again converge for the annual Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the 25th one this year being held in Santiago, Chile. 25 years of negotiations and what have we really achieved?
We would certainly have achieved more if we didn’t have to overcome obstacles by a number of laggard countries who still do not want to phase out coal power, and the UN Secretary General this week called them out by insisting that these countries should not speak at the UN’s Climate Summit in New York next week. These countries are Australia, Brazil, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the USA.
In the Pacific we must continue to insist that all countries need to do their part. This is a global problem and therefore requires global action. If island countries in the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean are doing their part with their limited resources surely developed nations can and should do much more.
Australia is our neighbour in the Pacific and wants to be known as a friend, but sorry, friends do not act in a way that threatens your very existence. More than their aid we need their climate action. They need to stop opening new coal mines and put in place a plan to phase out their coal mining industry during the next ten years.
The Pacific’s contribution has been crucial in the climate change discourse and negotiations. It was our Pacific Leaders who raised ambition in addressing this climate crises. In 2015, just before the Paris COP21 and the historical Paris Agreement, Pacific Leaders came together on the PIDF platform and in an inclusive process that also included civil society and the private sector, forged the Suva Declaration, which is now one of the most historically important documents for addressing climate change.
The most important element of the declaration was the need to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels. I will remind you that at the time everyone was still talking about limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many thought there was no chance that these small Pacific countries could do much to change that call. But change it they did. The Paris Agreement recognised that we need to do better than limit the temperature to 2 degree rise and we should do our utmost to keep it under 1.5 degrees.
Thanks to that position the Conference of Parties asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to prepare a special report on the science behind this call to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This important report came out last year and drew a picture of what the world would be like when it is 1.5 degrees hotter than it was before industrialisation. And it wasn’t a pretty picture. But the picture is much worse with a 2 degree rise and gets worse and worse from there. We know already how bad things are and we have barely gone over a 1 degree rise. Floods, droughts, storms, cyclones and hurricanes of a severity we’ve never witnessed before. It’s costing us hundreds of deaths, millions of people displaced, and billions in economic losses. What would be the cost at 1.5C? What would it be at 2C? Just a few days ago, our activist Greta, told a bemused American Congress in Washington, “don’t listen to me, listen to the science”. “It is a question of life and death”.
We need to act and we need to act NOW. We have no more time to dilly dally.
At the end of July, Pacific Leaders again came together and produced another landmark declaration called the Nadi Bay Declaration. At this point I would like to also thank Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org who preamble the discussion on the Nadi Bay Declaration at the PIDF Conference with a powerful video message. Through the Nadi Bay Declaration, PIDF Leaders declared a Climate change Crises in the Pacific, the first to be declared as a whole region. Now this Climate Change Crises needs urgent action at the local, national, regional and global level. It is imperative that we all, as individuals, communities and countries do our part, make the right choices, pass on the message and keep the pressure on those countries mostly responsible for creating the problem in the first place.
Therefore, the message and calls in the Nadi Bay Declaration are very clear on what needs to be done. It calls on those governments of high emitting countries that are hindering progress in climate change efforts to heed the climate science and urgently change direction for the benefit of all, including the people in their own countries; for all coal producers to immediately cease any new mining of coal and develop a strategy for a decadal phase-out and closure of all existing coal production and for countries to take immediate measures to relinquish the subsidies to fossil fuel production and use and support a transition to appropriate and affordable clean technologies. It also calls on all developed countries to support climate finance, capacity development and technology transfer for the vulnerable developing countries to transition to renewable energy for electricity generation and transport, and ensure there are sufficient finances to support the Green Climate Fund and for its replenishment. Finally, the Nadi Bay Declaration calls on the UN Secretary General to ensure that next week’s UN Climate Change Summit leads to accelerated ambitions on climate change mitigation and adaptation and encourage all states to urgently take action to address climate change. The declaration asks of him to initiate a thorough review of the obligations of States under International Law with particular reference to the protection of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.
Ladies and gentlemen, humanity is at an important crossroads. We have a choice to do nothing, continue with business as usual and doom the existence of our own species, or take urgent action, change the way we produce energy and manufacture our products and save humanity’s future.
This should not be the choice of a few politicians, this is a choice of all humanity to make and it is becoming increasingly evident, as yesterday and today’s climate strikes demonstrate, that the bulk of the global population wants real and urgent action.
In conclusion, let me recall the words of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, when he gave a message from the Pacific at a meeting of Maori and Pasifika Youth in New Zealand, just a few months ago: “I sense a lot of resistance. Many Governments are still afraid to move forward. They feel the costs of climate action forgetting that the costs of inaction are much bigger than any costs of climate action. Nature does not negotiate.”
I am pleased to see the team at 350.org calling upon the youth of Fiji to be part of this worldwide event campaign – the Suva climate event. Thank you very much for the youth of Fiji to put itself at the frontline for climate action.
Enjoy your event.
I thank you.