By Pita Ligaiula in Lisbon, Portugal

Fiji’s Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum has announced big commitments at the UN Oceans conference currently underway in Portugal.

Addressing the plenary at the opening of the UN Ocean conference Monday, Frank Bainimarama said Fiji has the will to put resources behind the most far-reaching transformation in its history.

“We have already banned deep seabed mining and by 2030, 100% of our waters will be sustainably managed, with 30% designated as marine protected areas.

“Today we go further. By 2024, the Lau Seascape –– an area of ocean that represents eight percent of Fiji’s ocean –– will become a Marine Protected Area.

“We’ve already banned single-use plastic bags. By 2030, we will ban virtually all single-use plastics and recycle all PET bottles; ocean literacy will be a mandatory component of our education system, and we’ll slash carbon emissions in our shipping sector by 40%. After fully mapping our entire 1.3 million square kilometer EEZ by 2025, we will achieve total real-time surveillance of Fiji’s waters. And by 2030 we will produce more than 160,000 metric tonnes of sustainably farmed and harvested ocean product, supporting over 53,000 new jobs on our way to supply half of all blue foods from sustainable fisheries by 2035,” Bainimarama announced at the conference.

He explained by 2050, Fiji will be a net-zero society.

“Our fisherfolks will have universal access to electric outboard motors. The Pacific will be home to a green shipping fleet. All fishing nets in Fijian waters must be bio-degradable. And we intend to create 100,000 new jobs –– more than a tenth of our current population –– in a sustainable fisheries sector.

“These protections can’t wait. These investments can’t wait, nor can the jobs they create. And Fiji won’t wait for the world to plug the gap in global ocean finance. We will launch the first tranche of a blue bond by this August to blue our economy and take on external threats like overfishing and acidification. That’s the world’s burden that Fiji will be borrowing to bear. But no matter how ambitious or how big and blue Fiji’s commitment may be, our single effort isn’t enough. That is why I am here: To call on our partners for their support and on the world to follow our lead,” Bainimarama stressed.

He also called on World leaders to scale up ocean finance.

“We face two possible futures. One in which our ocean becomes our greatest opportunity, and the other in which it is degraded beyond recognition. If we don’t both act for the former, the latter is inevitable.

The ocean is the planet’s healthiest set of lungs yet the least funded of all SDGs –– we cannot leave Lisbon without scaling up ocean finance,” Bainimarama told delegates at the conference.

Bainimarama said ocean’s warming has made the Pacific witnesses to a staggering decline in marine life.

“Fisheries are our region’s most precious resource; we supply more than half of the world’s tuna alone.

“And our nations will be following COP-15 closely to ensure that all life, including that below water, is protected in this critical year for biodiversity. We also hope to see an ambitious, legally-binding Treaty of the High Seas next month.

“To stem the tidal wave of unregulated pollution crashing at our shores, we too look forward to the upcoming negotiations for a global treaty of plastics,” said the Forum Chair.

Bainimarama also told the conference the Pacific totally condemn any threat of ocean dumps of nuclear waste.

Last year Japan announced that wastewater from the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, destroyed in March 2011 following the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami, would be dropped into the Pacific Ocean in 2023.

“This would be both catastrophic and horribly traumatic for the Pacific people who still suffer from the nuclear testing inflicted on our region.

“We also reaffirm our PIF Leaders call for a dedicated ocean work programme in the UNFCCC built on the Glasgow decision and urge a dedicated agenda at COP-27 for Parties to review the summary report of the Bonn dialogue. We need a healthy climate and ocean like we need food to eat and air to breathe,” said Bainimarama.

Bainimarama also said climate-driven sea level rise could erase the future of Pacific lowest-lying members.

“Among other measures vital to our security, the adoption of a 2050 Strategy for our Blue Pacific Continent will reaffirm our States’ collective declaration that even if our land is lost to the rising seas, our rights over our maritime zones and resources will not be.

As the co-chair of the first Ocean Conference, Bainimarama Monday pass the mantle of leadership to co-hosts, Portugal and Kenya.