Fiji’s climate leadership: ‘We are all in the same canoe’

Prime minister Frank Bainimarama urged leaders in New York to look beyond narrow self-interest as he outlined plans for COP23 climate talks presidency

Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama (Photo: COP PARIS)

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Fiji’s prime minister made an appeal for climate cooperation at the UN general assembly on Wednesday, as he outlined plans for the next round of climate talks in November.

Citing devastation wreaked by hurricanes Irma and Maria, Frank Bainimarama urged leaders to consider the economic toll of ignoring global warming.

Bainimarama said: “If we view this as some sort of negotiation in which each country tries to preserve its narrow national interests, we will all lose. We will be powerless to protect our own people from the consequences of climate change.”

In a veiled dig at US president Donald Trump, he warned that protecting a national industry or short term economic interests would come at a cost.

Trump has promised to put coal miners back to work and threatened to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, potentially reengaging on terms more favourable to the US.

At the UN general assembly, Trump emphasised his priorities lay at home. “In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign,” he said. “As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”

Comment: Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama’s speech to the UNGA, in full

But Bainimarama, who will preside over COP23 climate negotiations in Bonn, highlighted that the southern US has taken a hit from some of the worst storms on record in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Fiji is recovering from 2016’s Cyclone Winston, which wiped out a third of its economy. Scientists say warming seas give tropical storms extra destructive energy.

“As incoming COP president, I am deeply conscious of the need to lead a global response to the underlying causes of these events,” said Bainimarama.

He set out some details of Fiji’s vision for COP23, the first such event to be led by a Pacific island nation. For logistical reasons, it is being held at UN climate headquarters in Bonn, Germany, but will showcase Pacific cultural traditions.

An ocean-going canoe or “drua” will have pride of place in the main hall, to remind delegates, as Bainimarama put it: “We are all in the same canoe.”

Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan is lined up to lead formal negotiations in the Bula zone, drawing on the Pacific “talenoa” spirit of constructive dialogue.

The Bonn zone will offer space for campaigners, business people and subnational policymakers to connect, convened by “climate champion” Inia Seruiratu.

Bainimarama also expressed gratitude towards California governor Jerry Brown, appointed as special envoy for states and regions. Brown has brought together the “Under 2 coalition”, which covers 39% of the global economy.

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