Hon. Laisenia Qarase
Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs

at the 
World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
03 September 2002 

Your Excellency President Mbeki

May I begin by conveying sincere thanks and appreciation to your government and people for their warm welcome and hospitality.

This great country of South Africa gave us Nelson Mandela, a towering icon of our age, who has inspired millions of people across the world. His outstanding contribution in drawing the different communities of South Africa together sends a powerful message to us that while we may be citizens of our different countries, we are all children of the same mother Earth. We will do homage to his legacy if, in this Conference, we can find the courage and the will to come together in unity and make the right decisions to safeguard our collective future here on planet Earth.

Mr President, anyone coming to this conference cannot fail but be struck by the stark image of human suffering, especially here in Southern Africa.

I see a picture of a weary mother, in an impoverished village, ravished by drought and famine. Her baby is starving and will die soon. We must all speak for that mother and child and the millions who share their fate. A farmer in a nearby country tries desperately to scratch a living from the exhausted soil. He cannot support his family. He is in despair. We have to speak for that poor farmer and the suffering multitudes like him.

In the lonely atolls of my own marine continent in the Pacific, and islands of the Caribbean, people struggle to raise their families. They yearn for the simple things - a decent home, clean, piped water, a school with desks and enough books. We must share their yearning.

We come here in the name of sustainable development, a fashionable phrase, with a comforting almost reassuring ring to it. But it is really about the salvation of the Earth. It is about stopping humankind from grossly abusing and destroying Earth's resources.

For the affluent North, sustainable development at its most basic, means finding a less destructive way of maintaining and increasing the greatest accumulation of wealth in history.

For the South, it is different. It is more likely to mean giving a man a chance to own two good shirts and a digging fork and the money to buy a kilogram of rice. It is about listening to the cry of the distressed masses: help us to sustain ourselves and then we can sustain our countries and the world.

If they are left in misery, then we betray them, and this Conference becomes a cruel farce.

Thanks to Rio, there is greater awareness now of the environment and why it must be protected.
At the recent Summits in Fiji of the 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and of the 16 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, their Leaders issued declarations on the environment, referring to it as our common and sacred heritage.

Today when we view the condition of the world, we observe a wounded and bleeding planet. The degradation, the poisoning and the pollution continue. Natural resources and wildlife are still butchered, plundered and devastated. People starve and live in crushing poverty. HIV/AIDS and other lethal ailments, take a frightening toll. Wars, killings and violence add to the misery and destruction.

We should ask ourselves today whether our civilizations have turned into monsters bent on laying waste to, and devouring, that which gives them life?

We should ask for forgiveness for desecrating the gifts handed to us by God for safekeeping and sustenance. We are all guilty.

But here in Johannesburg, we have another opportunity to atone, and turn disaster into hope. Already media reports are suggesting this Summit will be a failure! Will it? Will we stand condemned yet again, or will we find the resolve, the strength of Mandela, to bring order and restoration from the havoc we have visited on the planet.

You will remember amazing images of Earth sent back to us by the astronauts. As they circled in space, they gazed, transfixed with wonder and awe, at this globe revolving in the Universe, in all its beauty. From where they travelled, the ravages wrought by the human race were not visible. Earth was a planet of splendour and wholeness, there among the stars. We, too, must try to see the completeness of the earth, its totality, and dedicate ourselves to renewing it. Then we can live in harmony with its beauty and natural riches.

It may be that all is not lost. Some rays of light shine still. For the nations of the ACP and the Pacific, our international vision is gathering around one word - partnerships. Partnerships between nations must cant' us through. We do not mean empty associations of mere convenience, lip service and expediency. We seek partnerships in their fuller sense, with genuine commitments to what is best for this world, led by ideals of sharing and justice and compassion.

We see some of this in the recent initiative by the Leaders of the Group of Eight countries for a new partnership for Africa's development and to provide debt relief assistance to the heavily indebted poor countries. These measures are to be applauded and welcomed.

The ACP and the Pacific Island Forum States give credit to the European Union. We are in a real partnership with the EU to attack poverty, redistribute wealth and promote development, which will not destroy the future. The EU's commitment to our countries is genuine. Right now the ACP states are moving into negotiations with the EU for new Economic Partnership Agreements within the framework of the Cotonou accord. The aim is to build on the arrangements for aid, trade and investment, which began with the Lome Convention in 1975.
In the Pacific, we have a good partnership with our two wealthy neighbours, Australia and New Zealand. They, too, are prepared to share to correct inequalities and make common cause with poorer states. Increasingly, other larger nations such as Japan and China are assisting the region.

We pay tribute to those countries that have signified their intention to protect the environment by adopting and ratifying the Kyoto Convention. To those who have yet to do so, we ask: Will you display the courage, generosity and largeness of spirit the world needs from you? Will you join fully in forming a powerful partnership to rescue Earth?

Mr President, I bring to this Conference a message from our communities of the Pacific Islands. We are among the smallest countries on planet earth, but we are proud of our heritage as the people of the mighty Pacific Ocean. We are few in number, but we are united in our determination to protect it. We are custodians of the Pacific, not only for our people and region, but also for all the countries and peoples represented at this Conference.

Unhappily, our Pacific Ocean is being threatened from many quarters. Radioactive materials are being trans shipped across the Pacific against our wishes. We are seriously concerned about this because many generations of our people are still suffering from the after effects of nuclear weapons testing in our region. As island peoples dependent on marine resources for our livelihood, we are concerned about the indiscriminate commercial exploitation of our Ocean's rich tuna resources by distant water fishing fleets. For our countries that are low-lying coral atolls, the warming of the atmosphere and the consequence of a sea level rise, pose a direct and serious threat to their very survival.

I, therefore, make an earnest plea to everyone in this global Conference. Please join our Pacific Island Countries in partnership to protect our Ocean, to keep it safe and healthy for us, and for all our countries and peoples, for generations to come.

I also issue a call to this mighty assembly of leaders. Let us take an oath of allegiance to our planet Earth. Let us conserve it and give it respect and love.

Let us go forth from this Conference with a fresh vision of the future - a partnership for humanity, a partnership to create a new world where poverty is defeated, peace reigns and new hope blooms.

May Almighty God inspire us to protect our planet earth.