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Ladies and gentlemen

Bula vinaka and greetings to you all.

 I am honored to represent my country the Republic of the Fiji Islands to this distinguished 44th General Assembly of the Asian Pacific Parliamentary Union.

With the invitation, I have been asked to provide a Statement regarding climate change and disaster risks affecting Fiji, and the relevant coping mechanisms that we have put in place.

Fiji is a small island developing state in the Pacific region but it is one of the major development players (I mean by Pacific standard), which consists of 22 Island Countries and Territories. With a population of close to a million, it is the second most populated country behind Papua New Guinea, with Australia and New Zealand not included.

Fiji is highly vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards, both phenomena are great threats to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the people.

Natural hazards prevalent in Fiji are: tropical cyclones, storms and storm-surge, flooding, drought, fire, landslide, and tsunamis to name some. Human-caused and technological disasters have had their fair share. For the past 25 years, disasters in Fiji costs the country more than a billion Fiji dollars (> US$700million) which have significant repercussion on our socio-economic developmental efforts, and for many times stalled and even pushed back our national growth. The figure so far on record is the highest for the Pacific region. The repeated nature of negative disaster impacts in the country has changed our thinking and modus operandi where efforts to consider and recognise disasters and climate change as elements of change to the country.

Fiji is a signatory to international climate change agreements and conventions, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol, United Nations Combat Desertification (UNCD) and United Nations Conventions on Biological Diversity (UNCBD).

Fiji is a leader on the international stage in the UNFCCC negotiations and served as a Chair of the Group of 77 + China, and also as the elected Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation. The country’s commitments at the international level have prompted national and sub-national policies and initiatives to address climate change.

The National Climate Change Policy for Fiji is linked to the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change 2006 – 2015 (PIFACC) which is a regional framework that provides guidance for sectors to ensure that current expected impacts of climate change are considered in the planning and implementation of programmes and projects.

In parallel, Fiji also implements the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005 – 2015) or HFA, an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction that raises the importance of multi-stakeholder approach; a strong call on States and international and regional organisations including financial institutions to integrate disaster reduction considerations into sustainable development policies and planning. The HFA is the international blueprint that laid the foundation for the development of the Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management Framework for Action or RFA in 2005, also adopted by Pacific Island countries. 

 With the UNFCCC and HFA adapted to regional instruments, Fiji is assertive when it comes to both climate change and disaster risk management.

Fiji’s disaster management machinery is guided by a Natural Disaster Management Act and the accompanying National Disaster Management Plan. Both these instruments were developed in the nineties during the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR); where countries according to the decade instrument were encouraged to develop or strengthen their institutional arrangements in disaster management. The Pacific region was not an exception to this international call. The turn of the century brought new insights and direction where the UNFCCC and the HFA became prominent instruments for climate change and disaster risk reduction in the Pacific and also Fiji.

The Pacific region has also taken the lead globally by developing an integrated framework for climate change and disaster risk management called the Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific (SRDP). The SRDP is framed within the context of resilient development. Whilst this process has gone through many reviews and inputs, it will succeed the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change and the Regional Framework for Action on disaster risk management. This instrument is forward looking, adaptive and resilient oriented towards the post-2015 Agenda.

For Fiji, a National Platform for disaster risk management and climate change will be held in August 2014 where for the first time we will try to harmonise the two programmes and find a mutual ground to maximize their processes to benefit our country. We understand that both programmes are cross-cutting to all sectors and therefore they cannot be left or treated in isolation. Current practices though have these programmes in separate institutions and ministries where climate change is located with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade whilst disaster risk management is housed under the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management. The latter has a formal administrative structure under the Natural Disaster Management Act that covers disaster risk at national, sub-national and community levels, is also conducive to cover emergency response, rehabilitation and recovery.

Recognising the positive process that has been observed and implemented over the past years, it will not be too long for Fiji to integrate and merge disaster risk management and climate change under an umbrella agency that will house both. With this in mind, the Fiji government has endorsed the refurbishment of one of its heritage buildings to house the disaster risk management institution. Relevant space has also been provided to cater for the climate change programme. The Fiji government has re-prioritised climate change and disaster risk management as very important processes for economic and social development.

A case in point and example, is a disaster risk mitigation and climate change adaptation project, co-shared between government and the community where a whole village community called Vunidogoloa, from the northern division was relocated to higher grounds to reduce climate impacts that caused coastal erosions and flooding. The full relocation of this community with the cost of around US$600,000 is a classic case of a government in action to protect its people. I may not be wrong to mention that the Vunidogoloa relocation case of a whole community maybe a world first combining both climate change and disaster risk processes. The relocation also considers implementation of livelihoods program to support the community like farming. More communities are identified to go through similar processes of relocation from susceptible and highly vulnerable areas.

Fiji was struck by tropical cyclone Evans in 2012 and together with flooding left a damage and loss costs of more than US$100million. Despite these high cost, there was no lives lost. Our response machinery had been effective and decisive. However, rehabilitation cost for housing repair and replacement to affected residences have gone beyond US$10million.  

In 2013, Fiji took the lead in the Pacific region by establishing an inaugural Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF) that embraces all countries in the region focused on green and blue growth. In June this year, it convened the 2nd PIDF. Fiji has refurbished a government building to be the purpose-built center to house the PIDF. There is no looking back as collectively with Pacific countries and interested international players and partners tackles operational issues on sustainable development that affects each country including climate change and disaster risk management.

Within the PIDF process, Fiji took another step forward by developing a Green Growth Framework (GGF) to guide its progress under the overarching government policy on ‘Peoples Charter for Change Peace and Progress’ (PCCPP). The Green Growth Framework is a transformative tool which reframes conventional growth model and reassess future investments on natural resource utilization for economic growth. In doing so, the green growth tools foster economic growth, help achieve disaster and climate change resilience, protect the environment for sustainable development by forging strong partnerships at all levels of society.

The tools for green growth places environmental concerns on an equal footing with economic and social concerns, and element which has not augur well in our growth path of the last few decades. In this respect green growth transforms the country from fossil fuel dependence to a low-carbon economic process by transcending quantitative growth to qualitative growth. Renewable energy like solar, wind and hydro have relevant policies in place that encouraged implementation at national and sub-national levels.

Taking into consideration Fiji’s small size and vulnerability to climate change, human-caused disasters and natural hazards, together with the pace of socio-economic development requires a more holistic approach in adaptation and mitigation strategies. The greatest challenge is the identification of risk and mitigation and adaptation strategies that needs to be applied to reduce and minimise current and future risks. The smallness and dispersion of islands will challenge food security and sustainable ground water management. However, livelihood programs are promoted to reduce poverty.

In conclusion, Fiji has gone a long way in terms of disaster risk and climate change; the future can be challenged and we look forward to a robust developing economy where socio-economic growth is minimally affected and a community resilient to climate change and disaster risk.

With all these processes, walking the talk must be practical. Once all our climate change and disaster risk machineries synchronise and are in place, people focus on socio-economic development will grow and the economy provides a sustainable platform for the country. As a developing nation, we cannot achieve this on our own and we welcome assistance and partnerships from donors, friends and developed nations goodwill. We will chart our course with any help to transform our nation to be resilient and sustainable for both climate and disaster risk for the benefit of our people.

I thank you Chair for giving Fiji this opportunity.