Response to Attorney General's Ministerial Statement - Fiji National Ocean Policy
Response by NFP President Hon. Pio Tikoduadua
Delivered - Thursday 11th February 2021
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I thank the Minister for his statement. Mr Speaker, by now it is normal for us to feel suspicious whenever the Minister starts passionately postulating about new initiatives, particularly for this issue, that one would think the Minister for Fisheries would tell Parliament about. I am in fact reminded of the same gusto that we heard on the Environmental and Climate Levy (ECAL) and then the plastic bag levy -- the ECAL funds turned about to be an additional source of funds for government's infrastructure development, and the plastic bag debacle spiralled into a mess with the 50 microns debate. I am sure Hon Minister Reddy remembers this vividly. Similarly, the same excitement over the Green Bonds that has long fizzled out, and Parliament has had no update about it in a long time. We know that the oceans policy is a year overdue. This really points to the complete disorganisation of this Government. Yesterday the Minister told Parliament about a new carbon agreement that has been signed with the World Bank. It appears that all the initiatives relating to carbon trading are being rolled out in an ad-hoc and haphazard manner. An agreement was signed with the World Bank. Where is our law that should set out the scientific and technical parameters of that agreement, and be the basis of what is bought and sold? So far the nation has seen TWO drafts of the Climate Change Bill -- and public consultations seem to be happening in a bubble. We know what that usually means. They will take the Bill only to those friendly to their ideas. Bring the Bill to the House and let it go through the proper and thorough parliamentary committee process! On the oceans policy, we are all aware that a healthy ocean is integral to the lives and livelihoods of our people. But how healthy are our coral reefs? How are we managing ocean pollution and overfishing domestically and internationally? How effectively are we monitoring the dumping of toxic substances and runoff that are carried from the waterways into the ocean?? Are we protecting our deep-sea hydrothermal vents adequately?? The second climate change bill has dropped all references to a 10-year moratorium on deep sea mining that was in the previous version of the Bill!! Some years ago, NFP had asked the Minister for Fisheries for an over-arching study of the state of Fiji's oceans? Those kinds of indicators can help us understand where the challenges are, and where national resources should be directed. If we don't get that kind of assessment, this is what will continue to happen -- the Govt will get distracted by the latest fads that are only linked to money. Our oceans are heating up. We see that already in the rise in coral bleaching and the steadily increasing assault of extreme weather events here in Fiji. But if we tinker about with economic interests like carbon trading, without addressing the fundamental issue of global warming, all these initiatives will come to naught. We will spend it all on disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts, and rebuilding infrastructure, while the essential obligations of education, healthcare and employment are wilfully ignored. We are aware that the main interest of the Ministry is for blue carbon trading possibilities -- specifically on mangroves, seagrasses and saltwater marshes. In fact the Minister himself said it yesterday:
"The market opportunity, Mr. Speaker, Sir, is great. Carbon markets are continuing to experience steady growth, despite the global economic contraction caused by COVID-19."
However Mr Speaker, we will need alot more convincing on the sincerity of intentions about oceans protection, and I am sure, so too will traditional fishing ground owners. I thank you.