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2018 World Oceans Day Symposium and Launch of the Pacific Ocean Portal

June 8, 2016       Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Ocean  Commissioner, Dame Meg Taylor;
Your Excellency the Australian High Commissioner, Mr John Feakes;
The Deputy Director of the Pacific Community, Dr Audrey Aumua;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaamu-Alaykum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia ’e mauri and a very good morning to you all.

Fiji’s leadership on the preservation of the world’s oceans is one of the most important tasks our nation has ever undertaken. And, along with spearheading the simultaneous fight against climate change and our contribution to UN peacekeeping, is global leadership that every Fijian can be proud of. Every Fijian can celebrate.

Today we commemorate World Oceans Day determined more than ever, with our Pacific neighbours, to persuade the nations of the world to take much more decisive action to save our oceans. And I am delighted to be able to again highlight that struggle at this World Oceans Day Symposium.  And to officially launch a very important tool to help meet the challenge we all face - the Pacific Ocean Portal.

I want to start by paying tribute to all of you in this room for your own personal commitment to the fight to preserve our oceans and for more ambitious action on climate change.  And on behalf of every Fijian, to say vinaka vakalevu for that commitment and the terrific work you are doing to advance our collective cause.

I know many of you have been directly involved in our global campaign for action on oceans, whether it was the United Nations World Oceans Conference in New York a year ago or the Oceans Pathway launched at COP23 that we will continue to co-chair with Sweden until 2020.  And many of the same people have also been spearheading our fight for climate action across a broad front through Fiji’s Presidency of COP23, including the Talanoa Dialogue that is a cornerstone of that effort. This is evidence in itself of the inextricable link between climate change and the health of our oceans. It is a simultaneous battle on two fronts. And whether you are part of Fiji’s national effort or our collective Pacific effort, you are all foot soldiers and standard bearers in this struggle.

So Friends, World Oceans Day is not only an opportunity to highlight the importance of the struggle to protect and preserve our oceans.  It is also a celebration of the millions of men, women and children around the world who have committed themselves to making a difference in this struggle.  As you all know, it is a struggle for our very survival. For our people now and for future generations to come. For all we hold dear.  For the continuity of our island life and the right to live as our forebears did, surrounded by a healthy ocean and free from the more extreme effects of climate change. These extreme effects, of course, include the cyclones of unprecedented fury that are killing our loved ones and destroying our homes, schools and infrastructure.

 As our Prime Minister and COP23 President Honourable Bainimarama has continually stressed, we are all in the same canoe in facing the climate threat - all 7.5 billion people on earth. But we in the Pacific are certainly among the most vulnerable and now, more than ever, we need to stick together in this fight.

Next month, Pacific leaders will gather in Suva for the Climate Action Pacific Partnership Event and a Pacific Talanoa Dialogue as a prelude to the Talanoa Dialogue Fiji will preside over with Poland at COP24 in December.  It is all about raising ambition in the climate struggle. Raising ambition in our NDCs – our Nationally Determined Contributions - to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are the root cause of climate change. And as Fiji’s Head of State, I appeal to the leaders of all Pacific nations to join us in Suva so that we can set an example for the whole world of building a consensus for more ambition.  The Pacific is leading the way with these talanoas, a Pacific concept of decision-making that is inclusive, blame-free and produces concrete action.  And we need strong, united Pacific voices to help make the Talanoa Dialogue the global success it desperately needs to be.

Friends, we must keep taking the message to the world that the current NDCs arising from the Paris Agreement are woefully inadequate. They do not have a hope of meeting the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the industrial age. On the contrary, they will produce warming of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century. And that would spell catastrophe for the whole planet and especially climate vulnerable nations like our own and others in the Pacific region.

I know that I am speaking to a room full of experts so I do not need to lay out the challenge in great detail.  But for the benefit of the wider audience, every Pacific Islander needs to understand that without drastic action, all of our coral reefs could be extinct in the lifetimes of those being born today. Dead by the end of the century. With all that would mean greater challenges to our way of life and our ability to feed ourselves and maintain our livelihoods.

I repeat: climate change and the health of our oceans are interlinked. And the time for action on both is rapidly running out. Even in the past week, we have seen dramatic evidence of that – news that the destruction of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is happening at a far greater rate than first thought. Plus the heartbreaking story from Thailand of the pilot whale that died after eating 80 plastic bags that it mistook for food. Friends, how can we do this to our world? How can we abuse the precious surroundings we inherited and merely hold in trust for future generations? The time for action is now. We must clean up our act, whether it is more decisive climate action or to tackle the pollution and over fishing that is slowly killing our oceans.

So let us all focus on what we can do ourselves to confront this challenge head on:

    Let us take more action on plastics, to build on the Government’s initiative to put a price on the use of plastic bags by doing more. Do not use plastic bags, plastic straws or non-degradable plastic bottles and containers. Take your own woven or hessian bag to the shops and carry your food and drink in reusable containers. And do not pollute our rivers, stream and beaches with plastic and other litter.

Let us ensure that the fish we buy has been caught in a sustainable manner. The Government has formalised a ban on the fishing and sale of Donu and Kawakawa from June to September each year. Respect that ban so we can protect these species.

Let us support community initiatives to conserve and preserve our marine areas, such as the 250 traditional tabu sites protected by  the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas Network (FLMMA).

Let us teach our young people to respect the ocean and its resources so that they will still be there for their children to enjoy.

And let us continually emphasise the benefits of pursuing a blue economy – of the sustainable use of our marine resources - hand in hand with the green economy on land that is also at the core of Fiji’s development strategy and national plan.

Every Fijian and other Pacific islander can be part of this effort, from the very young to the very old.  So on this World Oceans Day 2018, let us rededicate ourselves to the task of conservation and preservation and of ambitious climate action. Let us make a difference.

Friends, I want to acknowledge the special contribution of the Pacific Community and of Australia in bringing us together today, along with all those other partners who have made this symposium possible.

I want to especially acknowledge the Australian-funded Climate and Oceans Support Programme in the Pacific, which is ensuring that climate, ocean and sea level data is accessible to Pacific governments to enable them to build our resilience and confront the challenge we face.

One of the key tools developed through that programme has been the Pacific Ocean Portal, designed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in collaboration with the Pacific National Meteorological services and other ocean stakeholders. This portal is giving us a better knowledge of the ocean around us and how changes in ocean conditions can affect us.  And as those conditions in the Pacific become more challenging, we now have access to better technology, improved forecasting and real-time data to enable us to make smart, evidence based decisions.

Friends, Dr Aumua has already explained how this Portal will improve our knowledge of the ocean around us and it is a great advance for which we are all grateful.

So vinaka vakalevu and thank you to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and all those who have made this possible.

And also vinaka vakalevu and thank you to all those who have worked so hard to ensure that World Ocean Day in Fiji is a success.

I now have the great pleasure to formally launch the Pacific Ocean Portal. And to also ask you to give yourselves a big round of applause for being ocean and climate warriors at the forefront of our great global campaign for more ambitious action.

Vinaka vakalevu, Bahut dhanyavaad, Sukria, Xie Xie, Faiek’sea, Thank you.