Fijian PM's swansong as head of troubled UN climate talks

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Katowice (Poland) (AFP)

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has presided over the UN climate talks since November 2017.

He handed over the baton to Poland this month in the Polish city of Katowice, where negotiators in the 195-nation forum are struggling to bring the landmark Paris climate treaty to life.

AFP spoke to him as the meeting moved toward an uncertain conclusion.

Q. The United States and Saudi Arabia refused to endorse a landmark UN report on what it means to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Is backing the report within this forum a redline issue for Fiji?

A. It is not about drawing a line in the sand but accepting the irrefutable science on human-induced climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report on 1.5C had input from thousands of climate specialists. It is clear and unambiguous.

The science on climate change is settled. To say otherwise is tantamount to arguing that the Earth is flat.

Those who ignore the report and don't accept the science are being craven, irresponsible and selfish.

Q. Climate change is worsening even as humanity keeps pumping ever greater amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. How does that make you feel?

A. Very disappointed. Angry. Frustrated.

We Fijians know what it means to be on the receiving end of extreme weather. In 2016, we were struck by the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, a monster packing 300 km/hour winds. It killed 44 of our people and left thousands homeless.

We live in constant fear of these storms, which could wipe out our nation altogether.

When I come face-to-face with my people after these disasters, I don't know what to tell them about the world's lack of action on climate change.

I see the fear in their eyes, and the sense of hurt they feel that they are suffering from something they had no part at all in causing.

Q. If the UN process fails to deliver, what options remain?

A. All we can do is to keep putting our case in global forums at every opportunity.

It is a moral case as well as a practical one. It is simply not acceptable for some countries to put their interests before the interests of the whole world.

We are a small nation of less than a million people. We can't threaten anyone or force them to bow to our will.

But along with other climate vulnerable nations, we certainly have moral authority in the climate debate and we intend to exercise that authority at every turn.

Q. If you were face-to-face with US President Donald Trump, what would you say?

A. Mr. President, we are all in this together. We are all in the same canoe. So please accept the science and the evidence all around you and join us.

America has always been a force for good in the world and -- with your help -- we can win this one.

This is not a threat but an opportunity. The days of dirty energy are numbered. And you will be serving your industries and workers far better if you embrace a clean energy future because there is no other future.

One day, I'm hoping President Trump will be able to see that.