Tiny Fiji looks for global impact at Bonn climate talks
SUVA, Fiji -- Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama brings a sobering message as he presides over UN
climate talks in Bonn this week — climate change is real, it’s already having disastrous impacts on
his people and only urgent action can address the problem.
Germany is hosting the talks and asked Bainimarama to act as president to highlight how the
issue is affecting Pacific island nations on the frontline of global warming.
As incoming president of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP23), Bainimarama
has criss-crossed the world in recent months voicing islanders’ fears.
“Rising seas, extreme weather events or changes to agriculture... threaten our way of life,
and in some cases our very existence,” he said.
“We who are most vulnerable must be heard.”
Scientists warn some low-lying island nations risk being swamped entirely as sea levels rise.
Droughts and flooding have become commonplace across the region as the weather swings from one
extreme to the other.
Farmland and sources of drinking water have been rendered useless by seawater and even
graveyards have been lost to rising tides in the Marshall Islands.
Bainimarama said Fiji, an island nation of about one million people, was left reeling when
Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston hit like a wrecking ball in February last year.
Packing gusts of 325 kilometres (202 miles) per hour, it was the strongest cyclone to ever
make landfall in the South Pacific.
Its trail of destruction left 44 people dead, destroying 40,000 homes and wiping out a third
of Fiji’s economy.
Such super-cyclones used to be a once-in-a-decade occurrence, but only a year before Cyclone
Pam slammed into neighboring Vanuatu, killing at least 11 people.
Bainimarama said Fiji now had to live with the threat that such tempests could flare up “out
of nowhere, at any time”.
“We are facing a situation in which a single event scoring a direct hit on Fiji could wipe out
years of development and set us back for decades,” he said.
He said the experiences of Fijians and people around the world meant there was no longer room
to question the scientific consensus on global warming.
“This says that man-made climate change is not a hoax, it is frighteningly real,” he said.
“The evidence is global — whether it is the loss of the Arctic ice floes within four decades,
the loss of cities like Miami in five decades, or in the Pacific, the loss of three entire nations
over a similar period — Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.”
Bainimarama said his top priority at the Bonn meeting was “to build a grand coalition of
governments, civil society and the private sector” to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Under the deal struck in the French capital in 2015, more than 190 countries agreed to limit
global warming to “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial
Bainimarama’s comments come just days after the UN’s environment chief warned there is a
“catastrophic” gap between national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the actions needed
to meet that target.
“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation
where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,”
said Eric Solheim.