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Forum Chair Addresses APEC 2021 Ministerial From COP26

Hon. Josaia V. Bainimarama, 
Fiji Prime Minister, Minister for i-Taukei Affairs, Sugar Industry, Foreign Affairs and Forestry
(delivered virtually)

Chair, Ministers,
Ni sa Bula vinaka and warm Pacific greetings to Ministers from across the Asia-Pacific region.

I join you this morning from Glasgow, where my fellow Pacific leaders in attendance and I are pressing for stronger climate ambition, aggressive climate action and vastly increased climate finance to ensure the future of all of humanity.

I am privileged to represent the voice of our Pacific family today, and I thank the Honourable Mahuta, for the opportunity to address this August body today as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

I would like to share Pacific perspectives on the issues confronting us all, especially as we work together in our recovery from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 and in the face of the climate change crisis.

The Pacific Islands Forum comprises 18 nations, acting collectively and in solidarity as one Blue Pacific Continent.

Together, we represent 40 million people and are stewards of over 40 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.

We are the custodians of the world’s largest, most peaceful and abundant ocean, its many islands and its rich diversity of cultures.

This is a role we take seriously, and it is with this in mind that we have undertaken to develop the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which will drive our region’s strategic interests and development priorities over the longer term.

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Of course, the ocean is not just the water that surrounds us all. It is at the heart of our cultures and economies.Our past, present and future development is based on the rights and entitlements guaranteed in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Recognising this, Pacific Island Forum Leaders issued this year the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise. The Declaration is a landmark instrument that makes clear that we will not allow our legal entitlements to be lost or challenged due to sea-level rise.

The health of the Pacific is the responsibility of every nation because protecting the health of the Pacific is in every nation’s interest. So we seek the collaboration of others in our efforts to safeguard the health of our ocean, including our collective fisheries resources.

As I address you today, our Blue Pacific Continent is faced with an extraordinary three-pronged crisis:

the devastating effects of climate change and natural disasters,
the impact of COVID-19, and
the fragile economic health of the region.

While COVID-19 presents an immediate crisis, climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the Pacific and its peoples for the long term.

It is in this light that we have and will continue to advocate that COVID-19 recovery investments must be climate-smart and in line with a low-emissions development pathway.

Honourable Ministers, the threat of climate change and related sea-level rise is always before us. It consumes our thinking and our planning.

It already imperils the livelihoods and wellbeing of our peoples and undermines our ability to build a peaceful, secure and sustainable future for our region. Pacific Island nations cannot do what is necessary to adapt and become truly resilient to the ravages of climate change alone.

Whether we are from economies that are developed, emerging, or developing, we are all vulnerable to climate change, and we will all suffer from the forces it unleashes.

Maintaining resilient nations with sustainable and environmentally friendly economies requires all of us to make ambitious pledges—and to keep the promises we make.

The stakes could not be higher for world leaders in Glasgow for this 26th meeting of the Global UN Conference to combat climate change.

We cannot overstate the urgency of taking the actions necessary to make net-zero emissions achievable by us all. And yet a number of nations present here—including some of the largest emitters of carbon and some of the nations most able to provide funds need to increase climate finance—seem not to be seized with the seriousness of what we are facing.

Worldleaders, like Pacific leaders, must not only affirmthat climate change is the single greatest threat facingall humanity. That should be the easy part. They must also act with great urgency to keep the 1.5-degree temperature goal of the Paris Agreement within reach.

All countries must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and finalise the Rulebook for the Paris Agreement.

Developed countries must deliver on the finance commitment of 100 billion US dollars that they pledged under the Paris Agreement, and establish a new climate finance goal for post 2025, with dedicated finance for loss and damage.

And for our Blue Pacific Continent, COP26 must deliver the effective integration of oceans into the UNFCCC.

It is vital that we preserve our natural and marine environment and build inter-generational resilience to future crises.

Forum leaders have established the Pacific Resilience Facility to address the funding gaps at the community level.

After climate change, the second great challenge the Pacific faces is COVID-19. Every one of our members has been hit by the devastating economic consequences.

For many of us, border closures mean the tourism sector is effectively shuttered, which has been a massive blow to the GDP of tourism-dependant economies in the region.

Like APEC economies, then, the Pacific’s overwhelming priority has been getting our people vaccinated so that we can return to some form of normality.

In these times, bilateral, multilateral and regional cooperation has never been more critical.

For example, through COVAX, the world has worked to distribute vaccines across the Pacific.

In the Pacific Islands Forum, we have worked together as leaders and ministers to respond to this moment of crisis, including the establishment of a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 to facilitate the movement of essential medical supplies and personnel.

As we look to reopen, we are exploring a regional approach to harmonisation of vaccine certification.

Like many APEC economies, the Pacific islands’ national budget balances have fallen seriously into the red, with the apparent increase of debt levels across the region.
We are grateful to those nations and multilateral institutions that have provided support, including direct budget support and concessional financing arrangements to weather this storm.

Small island states are compelled to absorb high levels of debt to maintain basic services for their populations. We look forward to working closely with APEC economies to not only manage the risks associated with new high levels of debt, but also re-think how debt should be assessed.

Continuing to share lessons learned between APEC and the Forum will be invaluable for economic recovery of our broader Asia-Pacific region.

The strength of regionalism is key to the collective action required to tackle the challenges of today. No nation can really go it alone, no matter how large or powerful.
But for us, regional solidarity and cooperation is a kind of lifeblood. Regionalism gives us all the advantages of scale, and it helps us forge a strength we don’t have alone.

Thank you, Chair and Ministers. As I re-join the urgent discussions here in Glasgow, I leave you my hope that your conversations today drive further collective action for the recovery, growth and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

© Scoop Media

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