top of page
  • Writer's pictureAFG - Fiji

Speech at Human Rights & Climate Change Conference, Nadi

Tuesday 6th August, 2019.

Delivered by Mr. Lavetanalagi, Coordinator of AFG-Fiji.

The Pacific Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - Ms. Chitralekha Massey.

Distinguished Delegates.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good Morning and Bula Vinaka to you all.

I am deeply honored to stand here and speak on behalf of young people - in all our diversity, representing rich and vibrant cultures, from different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, beliefs and languages across this vast Pacific Ocean.

As we are gathered here today for this three day human rights and climate change conference, please allow me to share two grim events that took place within the last seven days.

The first, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute[1] that after months of record high temperatures, scientists say that Greenland's ice sheet experienced its biggest melt of the summer on Thursday last week, losing 11 billion tons of surface ice to the ocean - which is equivalent to 4.4 million Olympic swimming pools. Greenland's ice sheet is the second biggest in the world and this season's ice melt has already contributed around half a millimeter to global sea levels. This is catastrophic for the Pacific low lying atoll nations.

The second, according to the Global Footprint Network[2] was that the 29th of July, 2019 marked World Overshoot Day - the day that humanity uses up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for the entire year, a day that has crept up by two months over the past 20 years, with 2019’s date being the earliest since the world began to overshoot in the 1970s, coinciding with the publication from the so called Club of Rome, titled: “Limits to Growth” in 1972, where eminent scientists issued the first stern warning on the exponential economic and population growth to a finite supply of resources.

This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate. The carbon footprint from burning fossil fuels is the fastest growing component of the global ecological footprint, accounting for 60% of the total. The cost of ecological “overspending” has led to increased deforestation, soil erosion, collapse of fisheries, biodiversity loss and carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere.

These environmental changes do not arise in isolation but combine with existing social and political conditions can disrupt societies and nations. They harm people directly or degrade the social, political, economic, agricultural, ecological or infrastructural systems that support us.

What does this mean for my generation and those after ours?

That this irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, and that we should expect disruptions to global water and food security, reduced economic security and weakened livelihoods, worsened human and animal health, and risks to the global supply chain on which we depend. Political instability, heightened tensions over dwindling limited resources, leading to increased armed conflict and complex humanitarian crises. Migration and internal displacement will probably increase both within and between nations, with sociopolitical and resource implications already becoming clear.

The climate crisis will not wait for the comfort of our politicians and leaders. The consequences of a burning planet are coming, and in some cases are here and are already being felt by our people, and the situation we leave our children will be proportionate to the courage (or lack thereof) we show now.

Having shared the grim realities of ecological change and the climate crisis we face today - allow me move on to Human Rights.

71 years ago - the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that rose from the ashes of a war torn world - a document that now becomes ever more relevant in the face of this looming existential threat - the climate crisis that threatens people and planet. In 2015, states adopted the Paris Agreement - which despite having flaws, were 25 years in the making and remain effectively the only multilateral mechanism to avoid cataclysmic changes to our planet. By including the reference to human rights in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, its parties committed to align climate action with existing human rights obligations, strengthening the synergies between the Agreement’s implementation and the fulfillment of these obligations.

Governments as duty bearers must ensure that the rights and freedoms of its citizens are respected and promoted - including the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBTQI, children, persons with disabilities and vulnerable communities. Development and climate action must not infringe the basic human rights principles that States have agreed to, for e.g. that any development MUST not violate a child’s right to health, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the current climate crisis threatens exactly that - when children will not be able to access adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water as a result of prolonged droughts, seawater salination into arable farmlands, agricultural damage due to natural phenomena such as Tropical Cyclones and the list continues.

Companies that continue with promoting, exploring and extracting of fossil fuels [a major contributor to this climate crisis] should be henceforth be deemed to be committing a crime against humanity and those politicians and bankers backing them should be deemed to be accomplices! Why are we still looking for oil and gas when we have renewable sources of energy as alternatives, and why are our political leaders helping them? Their acts today - will continue to violate our human rights and more adversely that of the future generation.

One of the works that young people have been working in is around Action for Climate Empowerment. ACE is a term adopted by the UNFCCC, referring to Article 6 of the Convention’s original text in 1992, and to Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, focusing on key areas of: education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information [international cooperation].

Recognizing these, young people – through the UNFCCC Youth Constituency, have pushed for the implementation of ACE – under the Paris Work Programme – a decision that was recommended by the Subsidiary Body for Implementation for consideration & adopted at COP24 last year.

ACE provides a platform for young people to become engaged and learn of the synergies between human rights and climate change and why it is important for human rights to be embedded into the climate change discourse. For the Alliance for Future Generations - in our third edition of the Fiji-Youth Climate Ambassador Programme, that will be launched next week during International Youth Day - we have integrated human rights as one of the core components of the 6 month long program, because we recognize the current climate breakdown is a human rights issue.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen - young people constitute a tremendous & essential asset worth investing in. It is only by engaging and working with us that we will be able to achieve peace, security, justice, climate resilience & sustainable development for all. Governments must realize our potential as young people and must support our capacity building through ways of – promoting and enhancing the inclusion of climate change together with human rights in school curricular at all levels, across all disciplines – to build understanding and resilience of young people. Countries should enhance cross sectoral coordination amongst all ministries dealing with climate change and ministries dealing with education and having policy instruments and measures that will improve coherence and ensure an integrated approach – that considers, each country have identified priorities.

We are willing to work alongside all of you to save our future.

Let me conclude by saying that climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in this 21st century, that we are on a suicide course, and we need to act courageously, urgently and boldly, and that human rights should underpin the actions we take. Otherwise - we will be judged by a jury that is yet to be born for our failure.

Vinaka Vakalevu.




[2] Greenland's ice sheet just lost 11 billion tons of ice -- in one day:

bottom of page