Global inaction on climate change proves the last straw for Fiji

By Tomasi Tuitoga and Sabrina Habu

The Government of Fiji is putting the world on notice that it intends to lead the way when it comes to legislating in the fight against climate change. In a wide ranging new piece of legislation called the 'Climate Change Bill 2019' to be introduced before Parliament, everything from carbon emissions, over exploitation of marine environments and single use plastic straws are being targeted. Rightfully so, this new development is welcomed with Fiji’s presidency role for the COP23.

The purpose of new legislation is twofold. First and foremost, it is a Bill intended to protect the long term security of those Fijian citizens facing dislocation as a result of the impacts of climate change. However, it is also a bold piece of legislation, designed to show the world that Fiji is willing to maintain its position as arguably the world's most important and well coordinated climate activist. This has been widely reflected through the assistance rendered by Fiji to the Kiribati Government allocating acres of land in the island of Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island) as a relocation measure for the people of Kiribati. Even a cursory review of the provisions of the Bill makes it clear that the country is making an ambitious commitment to take the actions and make the sacrifices that many other global powers are not in order to uphold the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's call for global warming to be capped at 1.5 degree Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age.

The Bill - unveiled earlier this year prior to a series of key climate meetings of world leaders including the UN Climate Action Summit in New York and the 50th Pacific Islands Forum - sets out a list of bold targets Fiji views as essential in order to combat an unfolding "climate emergency".

A snapshot of some of the key targets and provisions of the Bill include:

  • the implementation of rolling 5 year carbon budgets with the goal of the country achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050;

  • a 10 year moratorium on seabed mining in Fijian waters;

  • hefty fines of up to $750,000 for breaches of the legislation, including for businesses providing or making available plastic bags beyond 1 January 2020 and similar fines for businesses using Styrofoam, single-use plastic containers, plastic straws, cups or utensils after 1 January 2021;

  • encouraging public and private investment in renewable energy and efficient cogeneration technologies, energy efficient infrastructure and zero-waste infrastructure and processes through the introduction of government grants and new regulations;

  • increased financial reporting requirements for companies and managed investment funds in respect of climate change reduction initiatives; and

  • new decision making powers for government Ministers to deal with Fijian citizens that have been, or are in the process of being, permanently displaced due to climate change.

The Bill has been released for both private and public consultation before it is presented to Parliament later this year where it is expected to be passed with strong support. The current target is to pass the Bill as an Act of Parliament before the COP25 meeting in Chile to be held in December 2019. Given the state will be bound by the Bill once passed, this current consultation process will be vital to identifying any potential improvements in relation to the drafting and application of the Bill.

The Fiji Government has been at the forefront of the fight against Climate Change with proactive measures such as ‘plastic bags ban’ in supermarkets.

Those interested in making recommendations in relation to the draft Bill are encouraged to provide their submissions to the Government of Fiji as soon as possible.

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