Fiji warns it faces ‘devastating’ climate change threat

Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister Inia Seruiratu speaks during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on June 11, 2019. (Photo by WANG ZHAO / POOL / AFP)

Fiji faces its biggest threat from “devastating climate change” rather than geopolitical tensions, the country’s defence minister warned Sunday at a high-level security summit.

This weekend’s Shangri-La Dialogue, which brings together defence ministers from Asia and around the world, has been dominated by the United States and China sparring over Taiwan.

It also comes as Beijing jostles with Western powers for influence over Pacific island nations.

But Fijian Defence Minister Inia Seruiratu sought instead to focus attention on the threat posed by climate change to his Pacific country, which is regularly hit by cyclones.

“Machine guns, fighter jets, ships… are not our primary security concern,” he told hundreds of delegates at the event in Singapore.

“The single greatest threat to our very existence is… human-induced, devastating climate change. It threatens our very hopes and dreams of prosperity.

“Waves are crashing at our doorsteps, winds are battering our homes, we are being assaulted by this enemy from many angles.”

He said security was “broader than many of us have traditionally defined it”, urging other countries to support Fiji’s efforts to combat climate change.

Last September, Fiji passed a sweeping climate change act which declared a climate emergency while setting out the legal framework for the nation’s response.

Other low-lying Pacific island nations also face threats from climate change. These range from cyclones that are becoming more regular and powerful, to rising seas.

Ahead of last year’s key climate talks in Glasgow, Pacific states warned they were bearing the brunt of global warming and urged wealthy, industrialised nations to do more.

Fiji was among 10 Pacific nations that last month rebuffed China’s push for a wide-ranging security pact amid worries the proposal was designed to pull them into Beijing’s orbit.

The failure of the plan, which would have directly challenged the influence of the United States and its allies in the strategically vital region, amounted to a high-profile political setback for Beijing.