Minister says archipelago in grave situation through no fault of its own as he unveils plan for net zero emissions and village relocation

Fiji  will introduce one of the world’s most ambitious legislative programs to tackle the climate crisis, and has labelled the global community’s decision to set aside the call for global heating to be capped at 1.5C “grossly irresponsible and selfish”.

In a speech to the Fijian parliament on Wednesday morning announcing the upcoming climate change act, Fiji’s attorney general and minister for economy and climate change, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, called global heating “a fight for our lives and our livelihoods”.

Sayed-Khaiyum was speaking ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Tuvalu next week, which will be attended by leaders of Pacific countries including Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama – a former president of COP23, the UN’s influential climate body, and world leader in the climate fight – and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.

The act will include tighter restrictions on the use of plastics, a framework for Fiji to reduce its emissions to net-zero by 2050, the introduction of a carbon credits scheme and the establishment of procedures for the relocation of communities at risk from the adverse effects of the climate crisis.

The attorney general said that at the PIF Fiji would “make the case for more ambition on the part of the island states and our larger neighbours”. Over the years, Bainimarama has regularly criticised Australia for putting its economic interests ahead of environmental concerns and the wellbeing of neighbouring Pacific countries, which are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

In 2015, in a blistering attack, Bainimarama said: “The Australian government, in particular, seems intent on putting its own immediate economic interests first … The ‘lucky country’ determined to stay lucky, at least for the short term, at the expense of its unlucky island neighbours.”

Sayed-Khaiyum outlined the impact the climate crisis was already having around the world, including the Arctic ice melt, record high temperatures, droughts, floods and wildfires.

“And here in the vast Pacific sits our beloved Fiji. Small and increasingly vulnerable as we scan the horizon anxiously year by year for the kind of extreme weather event that three years ago, took the lives of 44 of our loved ones and inflicted damage equal to one third of our GDP,” he said, in reference to Hurricane Winston in 2016.

“[T]hat is the grave situation in which we find ourselves through no fault of our own and why this government puts such a strong emphasis on the climate issue.”

Sayed-Khaiyum also shed light on discussions at UN climate talks in Bonn in May, during which Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations were accused of ignoring a crucial IPCC report that urged action to keep temperatures below 1.5C.

“In Bonn in May, we suffered a significant setback when the nations of the world – under pressure from certain fossil fuel producers – set aside the IPCC scientific report endorsing the call for global warming to be capped at 1.5 degree Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age,” he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum said the decision was “a blow to our hopes” and “grossly irresponsible and selfish”.

The climate change bill, announced by the attorney general on Wednesday, will be introduced to the parliament in the September session, ahead of the UN secretary general’s climate summit.

Fiji was the first, and is one of the only governments in the world, to combine their economy and climate change ministries, said Sayed-Khaiyum, who holds both portfolios. “We understand the relationship between a strong economy and a stable climate,” he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum said he hoped the legislation would pass parliament with “unanimous support” from MPs to send a clear message to the world about Fiji’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and that other nations would emulate the legislation.

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