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Your Excellency, the British High Commissioner to Fiji,
The Head Teacher of Tailevu North College,
The Manager and Members of the School Committee,
Teachers and students,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

Today, we can finally put the disruption of Tropical Cyclone Winston behind us at the Tailevu North College. And I’m delighted to be with you all, and especially our students, as we officially sign off on the work that has been done as part of the government’s cyclone rehabilitation program. The major upgrading of five buildings that lost roofs and walls, and fixing the damage to 23 other buildings at an all-up cost of just over $850,000.

The memories of what happened in February 2016 will always be with us. But now that this work has been completed, I hope that our students can finally put the trauma of what happened behind them, concentrate on their studies and be able to say – “we truly were stronger than Winston”.

Friends, today I am joined by a distinguished visitor to the College, the British High Commissioner to Fiji, Melanie Hopkins. Britain has always been a great friend to Fiji and please put her hands together to welcome her and the other members of her delegation.

Many of you will be wondering why she is here. Well, in a few minutes, she’ll be making an important announcement about assisting Fiji to address the root cause of events like Cyclone Winston. And that is our global campaign to get the world to take decisive action on climate change.

I also want to again thank the High Commissioner on behalf of every Fijian for Britain’s assistance in the wake of Cyclone Winston. Among other things, this included a substantial private donation to the relief effort by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. And it is wonderful to know that the Queen continues to take an interest in the welfare of the Fijian people 64 years after she first visited us in 1953.

The High Commissioner will be addressing us shortly. But first I want to explain some important aspects of the cyclone rehabilitation program in our schools, not only here in Tailevu North but all the affected areas. These are not just simple rebuilds or simple fixes in the case of your own school. As part of our determination to “build back better”, all of this work has been done to a much higher standard.

There was no point in simply doing what we’ve always done in the past and let me tell you why: Unfortunately, we know that because of climate change, we are going to be hit by stronger and more frequent cyclones. And that means doing everything we can to make these structures more resilient. Not to be simply blown away or damaged again by the next cyclone but be strong enough to survive repeated events.

That’s why these rebuilds - in many cases – have been taking longer than usual. Right from the start, I issued the instruction that there be no short cuts. The rehabilitation work had to be done to the highest possible standard within our resources. From the design of the reconstruction to the materials used and the quality of workmanship. That is what has happened. And I’m sure you will all want to join me in acknowledging the work that has been done here in Tailevu North by everyone associated with the project. Vinaka Vakalevu.

But friends, it isn’t enough to merely make ourselves more resilient here in Fiji. We need to address the root cause of the extreme weather events like Winston, the rising sea levels and the changes to agriculture, caused by climate change.

I am not prepared as your Prime Minister to sit here in Fiji and expect the rest of the world to deal with this challenge – the greatest humanity has ever faced. We need to do some of the heavy lifting ourselves. And so that is why I have taken up the challenge myself to lead the world in the negotiations to get decisive action on climate change as the incoming president of COP23.

Friends, you all witnessed the fury of Tropical Cyclone Winston yourselves. We all know people who lost their lives or who were injured. Many of you lost your homes or part of your homes. Well unfortunately the scientists tell us to prepare for the same again or even worse. Along with droughts, rising seas and the threat to our crops, the very survival of our nation is at stake. Our way of life. All that we hold dear.

We Fijians have always answered the call to help meet a global challenge, whether in World War Two, Malaya or our ongoing peacekeeping missions in troubled parts of the world. And we are answering the call to help meet this one. To persuade the industrial nations to drastically reduce the carbon emissions that are causing our planet to heat up.

So I appeal to you all to support me in the role of COP President. I need your prayers and good wishes if we are to make a success of this mission. Because if we can, we can bring honour to Fiji and we can truly make a difference. A small nation punching above its weight and leading the global community along the path to decisive action. Action to save our planet.

I cannot do it without you. And I cannot do it without the support of our friends in the world – those nations that support decisive action like Britain. Fortunately we have those friends. And I’d now like to invite one of them to speak to you. Would you please welcome the British High Commissioner, Melanie Hopkins.

Vinaka vakalevu, High Commissioner, for your supportive comments and your nation’s contribution to our presidency. Please convey to the British Government and the British people the sincere thanks of every Fijian.

Students, the school holidays are upon us and I can imagine how eager you are for us to finish up and set you free. But I want to close by saying this: The greatest thrill I get as Prime Minister as I travel the country re-opening schools or inspecting the repairs that have been done, is coming face to face with our young people. To see their smiles, hear their laughs and feel the optimism and hope they have about our future.

As you begin your holidays, I want to tell you that we face a great challenge getting the world to act on climate change but we are determined – I am determined - to meet this challenge. The world has no choice but to embrace decisive action. We are going to build resilience in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific so that we can improve our chances of surviving events like Winston. And we are also working together as a nation - one people - to build a better Fiji. One of opportunity and prosperity worthy of you all.

Vinaka vakalevu to everyone who put this program together at such short notice. I wish all of our students and teachers the happiest of times away from the classroom. Enjoy your break and then come back and work as hard as you can for the rest of the year. Because if you do, you are building a solid future for yourselves and building a solid future for our beloved Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you


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