The island state of Fiji is hosting the presidency of the next United Nations climate conference. Inia Seruiratu, Minister of Agriculture, explains why the exit of the United States from the Paris Agreement also has positive aspects, why he is focusing on climate change adaptation, and why Fiji will not be joining the climate risk insurance.
Interview: Benjamin von Brackel.
Mr. Seruiratu, Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. What is now changing in your planning for the Climate Conference COP 23 this November?
Inia Seruiratu: Of course, we are deeply disappointed by the short-term decision of the Trump administration to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal of U.S. leadership is regrettable, and it is now clear just how important COP 23 will be in terms of a global effort to maintain and improve the Agreement. However, Trump's decision has no direct impact upon our preparations. The rest of the world is standing firmly behind the Agreement.
Although our Prime Minister did all he could to try to persuade President Trump to stay in the Agreement, we knew that this exit was always a possibility. We knew from the outset that we could not rely on the leadership and support of the U.S. This is why nothing has changed for us.
Can anything positive come out of this decision?
In fact, the global response to the U.S. President's announcement was incredibly encouraging. Trump has sent a shock wave through the system, which – as it looks at present – has doubled the determination of all parties involved in climate protection around the world. Nations and states, such as China, the EU, France, Canada, India and Mexico are all moving forward. And even within the U.S., governors and mayors have allied themselves with the private sector, civil society, and ordinary citizens to maintain the momentum. As the UN's "Climate Champion", I am happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
What is the most important issue that you want to promote in Bonn in November?
We want to preserve and develop the Paris Agreement. We want to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable nations to climate change. And we want to forge a broad coalition between governments, civil society, science and the private sector to speed up climate protection.
And what is the most important issue for you personally?
For me as the Minister for Agriculture and the Sea, adapting to climate change is extremely important. One of my most important tasks is to help communities help themselves better against rising sea levels and natural catastrophes that are becoming increasingly violent as a result of climate change. At the climate summit, we have to develop models, which interest the private sector in investing in climate change.
Why is adaptation so important for Fiji?
Last year, Fiji was hit by the cyclone "Winston" - the strongest cyclone that landed in the southern hemisphere. It cost 44 lives and thousands of families lost their homes. One third of our gross domestic product was also erased from the books. This is why it is so urgent to promote climate adaptation in the negotiations.
What needs to change so that Fiji gets better access to the Green Climate Fund or the Adjustment Fund?
So far, it is very difficult to access the money, and it only works with partners such as the Asian Development Bank. Fiji has just received an accreditation for its development bank at the Green Climate Fund to gain more direct access to the fund. What we require above all else, is support to design good projects, as well as technological studies to underpin.
Many villages in the Fiji Islands want to relocate, but the government does not give them a green light. What is the problem? Are there not enough funds for resettlement?
The government is not waiting. We are working on the most urgent cases. Undoubtedly, we will need support to meet the growing need for these resettlements; but that does not stop us from doing something ourselves. However, it should also be acknowledged that relocations are always the only way out, because of the social and cultural disruption that exists in the municipalities. The government is currently working on a guide to ensure that each resettlement is also sustainable.
Why is Fiji not joining the G7 countries' climate insurance, the so-called InsuResilience?
There are three or four initiatives where we were asked if we wanted to be part of it. We are currently investigating which one works best for us in the Pacific. In the case of InsuResilience, however, one must clearly say that it is not really insurance. This means that it is not possible for the countries to insure themselves against climate damage by becoming a member.
Minister of Agriculture Inia Seruiratu is the "Climate Champion" of the state of Fiji for the UN climate summit in Bonn in November 2017.
[The interview first appeared in German in “Movum – Briefe zur Transformation. Klimafrieden” and was translated by William Hull, adelphi.]