Bula! Ni Sa Bula! Good afternoon. Thank you, Professor Ahluwalia, for the kind introduction.
I thank the entire team at the University of the South Pacific for inviting me here to speak today.
The people of Fiji, and all twelve nations that form the extraordinary, intergovernmental partnership that makes this University such a success, are America’s steadfast partners and always will be. I am very proud to be here today with my wife Betty.
With campuses in each nation spread over 33 million square kilometers, an area three times the size of Europe, you are truly the crossroads of the Pacific.
I am grateful – and, more importantly, the American people are grateful – to each individual nation for your contributions to the peace, security, and prosperity of this essential region. That is so interconnected to the entire globe.
And we are committed to standing by you, in the preservation of peace, freedom, and security.
As Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said, “Our enduring commitment to this region and our collaborations with our allies and partners will help us achieve a free and open, interconnected, prosperous, resilient, and secure region for all and nations and people.”
Our Navy and Marine Corps Team is proud to play an important role in each of those priorities, which form the pillars of President Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy and our relationship with each of you.
Today I want to focus on resiliency and security, particularly as related to the existential threat of climate change as the President so eloquently stated.
Throughout my years of public service, I have traveled throughout this extraordinary part of the world many times.
The Blue Pacific Continent is indeed extraordinary, beyond measure. I am struck, however, at the scale of the changes over the last two decades.
I am particularly struck and alarmed by just how much the oceans have risen in that time.
I am struck by the many villages forced to retreat to higher ground and the farmland rendered useless by saltwater intrusion.
I am struck by how warming waters have driven valuable fish stocks from your once bountiful waters.
And how ocean - warming and acidification is bleaching and ultimately killing off precious coral reefs.
The continued loss of these natural treasures increasingly threatens the well-being of your ecosystems and your world class status as a tourism destination.
I’m alarmed by cyclones of increasing intensity that regularly strike this region causing much destruction and suffering.
We recognize that the Blue Pacific Continent is on the front lines, face-to-face with the existential threat of climate change.
Just last weekend, Fiji’s Defense Minister proclaimed at the Shangri-La Dialogue: “The single greatest threat to our very existence is climate change. It threatens our very hopes and dreams of prosperity.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. So let me state unequivocally: we are in this together.
We increasingly recognize our shared priorities, particularly when it comes to climate security.
We have heard the scientific community. We know we are in the critical decade for action if we are to head off the most extreme consequences.
Fortunately, we have momentum and a strong foundation to build upon.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team has been working on climate and energy security for a very long time. Now, we are accelerating and broadcasting those efforts.
We have recognized the opportunity to harness the enormous size, scale and reach of the US military into every sector of the American economy to drive sustainable innovation across our society.
The Department of Defense is positioned better than any other U.S. institution to be a leading agent for change. We have the ability to not only reduce our own carbon footprint but to also play a critical leadership role in helping reduce the United States’ carbon footprint as a whole.
I know how important this is to all of you. To each and everyone of you in this room. To your children and grandchildren. You are the first to bear the most extreme consequences of climate change, despite your negligible contribution to global warming.
Doing our part is the right thing to do, the just thing to do. Any drive for economic expansion with little to no regard to limiting emissions does not have your well-being at heart.
We understand that we can only be successful in tackling this crisis of unprecedented proportions if we do work together in good faith.
To that end, I am here today to tell you, we are committed to deepening our partnerships with you, the nations of the Blue Pacific Continent.
As you know better than most, climate impacts are already here and so our efforts must begin with relying on your expertise. We intend to listen and learn.
That spirit of friendship is why I am so happy to be amongst you today to exchange thoughts on how we can work together on our greatest challenges.
The U.S. understands the key role island nations play as strategic partners. That is why we are helping a multilateral effort to build a peer-peer island network whose motto is “Led by Islands for Islands”. I and my fellow senior U.S. government leaders understand that sentiment. That is why the U.S. has announced $9 million in technical and financial support for the Local 2030 Islands Network, a critical initiative launched by the UN General Assembly two years ago.
I am proud that my Office of Naval Research is partnering with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and others on this important initiative. Several of your nations have joined: Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia. For those nations who are not yet part of the network, I encourage you to join us as soon as possible. We don’t have enough time to wait.
At the Department of the Navy, we view the climate crisis much the same way as “damage control efforts” on a stricken ship. It is an “All Hands on Deck” moment and universities have many of those talented hands we need “on deck.” And yes I am talking to everyone of you students right now.
That need is why we have worked with academic institutions throughout the Indo-Pacific through our Asia Pacific Technology and Education Partnership program.
Through this program, we have formed partnerships with universities across the Indo-Pacific to create knowledge exchanges fostering mutual technical and educational opportunities.
I am very proud of such an initiative supported by my Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR is working with the University of Hawaii to empower other Indo-Pacific islands to track and advance progress on local energy and climate efforts to include water and coastal resilience.
Our goal is to advance data science, visualization and decision making for your leaders in areas of clean energy, energy equity, transportation, resilience and greenhouse gas emissions.
Launched in January, this Data Resilience Community of Practice has engaged with NOAA to collect data for climate change action with a focus on two critical areas: sea level rise and coral reef monitoring. Which all of you know is critically important to your ecosystem.
As one who cares deeply about our institutions of higher education, let me just pause and reiterate how grateful I am to be able to share these opportunities with you here today. The University of the South Pacific has enormous talent and intellectual resources that we can learn from as we pursue these efforts.
Take Dr. Elisabeth Holland, Professor of Oceans and Climate Change and one of this University’s many thought leaders.
She is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate -think about that - and eminent climate change researcher and educator. I am grateful for her global leadership on this issue and I hope she is listening to me from afar.
As a senior official responsible for addressing complex issues related to climate, I am especially grateful for her renowned commitment to translating science into the language of policy makers.
I’ve initiated a process to integrate climate security into the Navy’s graduate education programs.
If we are to arrest climate change, we need to make sure we are understanding and acting on the enormous expertise of people like Dr. Holland and her team at the Pacific Center for Environment and Sustainable Development.
Indeed, we seek to expand our work with a diverse set of experts residing across the region. Together we need to raise up and heed the voices of Pacific scholars and researchers on the front lines of climate change. We can learn much from your rich history of indigenous local and regional knowledge.
Similarly, we must further leverage the expertise of non-governmental organizations and I know many of you work at NGOs, and the private sector to build innovative and localized climate mitigation strategies.
For example, the oceans are key to our future and the pioneering ocean-based solutions being developed here to meet the climate challenge are critically important. The U.S. Navy has studied the oceans since our founding in the 18th century. Few institutions have more data on and knowledge of the ocean environment. The possibilities for collaboration to protect the oceans and climate are full of promise. Imagine what all you students can do with all that knowledge and information. I am very excited.
Another important and long-standing regional initiative where we are together addressing climate-related challenges is called Pacific Partnership.
Through our annual Pacific Partnership mission, we have sustained important infrastructure and natural environment resilience while also creating stronger emergency preparedness.
Unfortunately, as we all recognize, the climate crisis is creating extreme weather events necessitating more frequent emergency response to unprecedented destruction and suffering.
That’s why key elements of our Pacific Partnership are training exercises and medical and engineering expert exchanges to empower strong and collaborative regional responses to emergencies. It does take regional solutions – all of these nations working together to find solutions.
While we are always eager to strengthen human capacity and infrastructure resilience through programs like Pacific Partnership, we must still do more.
The U.S. Navy Construction Battalion – better known as the SEABEES – strengthen infrastructure resilience across the region. They have addressed real-time drought issues in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, fixing water distribution maintenance problems and providing residential water purification techniques.
Our SEABEES are also helping partners in the region adapt and build resilience through shoreline and wetlands improvements to handle storm surges aggressively eroding your coastlines as well as building renewable energy micro-grids, best suited for island needs. These microgrids create resiliency should a storm take the central grid offline while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Advanced Technology is a critical component of our work. As large ocean nations with the world’s most expansive exclusive economic zones (EEZs), you best understand how critical it is to monitor and control your waters. We are continuously improving Maritime Domain Awareness capability and capacity so we can help you optimally manage your maritime resources, including the ability to track and respond to illegal fishing and other illicit activity in your territorial waters.
As the climate crisis depletes fish stocks and droughts contribute to greater freshwater water scarcity, it is essential we ensure that others do not unlawfully exploit your sovereign resources. Let me be clear, however: the efforts to date are also not enough.
While the U.S. is committed to helping the nations of the Pacific successfully adapt to the near-term, painful impacts, ultimately winning the fight against this crisis will require more than resilience, it will require meaningful mitigation.
Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions must be a priority. And I am pleased that we have just released a comprehensive plan to address this challenge. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ Climate Action 2030 is indeed a broad, multi-pronged approach.
This strategy, and the commitment it represents, recognizes that there is not a trade-off between addressing climate security and our core mission of combat readiness and integrated deterrence.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Embracing climate-focused technologies and adopting a climate-informed posture strengthens our capability to stand by our partners and allies.
It strengthens our maritime dominance.
It strengthens our people.
It strengthens our partnerships.
And we are already putting words into action.
The U.S. Marine Corps just announced our first Net Zero Energy installation.
That means the installation produces as much – or even more – energy than it consumes. In fact, over the last decade the U.S. Department of the Navy has provided over one gigawatt of energy back to the commercial grid from installations across the country.
And although our Marine Corps Logistics Base in Georgia is the first to achieve “net zero” status it is by no means a “one off”. We have renewable energy at bases all over the world, as well as 18 highly reliable and resilient microgrids.
And we continue to aggressively transition to renewable energy with a pipeline of projects including a 42 Megawatt installation here in the Pacific at our facilities at Pearl Harbor.
Greater use of renewables means fewer fossil fuels and lower emissions. It is a step forward in the fight against the climate crisis.
But it also makes our bases more resilient in the face of natural disasters and other power disruptions.
It results in crucial cost savings, leaving us more resources to strengthen our fleet and deepen our partnerships.
It allows us to adopt more advanced technology, creating a virtuous cycle of energy efficiency, cost savings, maritime dominance, and climate security.
We can use these same technologies at sea.
For instance, hybrid propulsion systems give our ships greater range between refueling that strengthens our fleet, while also limiting emissions.
Pre-positioned, forward-deployed renewable energy sources dramatically increase the range of unmanned assets that monitor threats at sea. Again, such technologies can replace fossil fuel intensive platforms, limiting our emissions.
Put simply, the technologies built to combat the climate crisis are an asset to the operational capabilities of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team.
Yet none of these technologies or ideas mean anything without conscious, vigorous implementation.
We have a track record of implementing these technologies and we are committed to doing more. And we are committed to sharing these strategies to our Blue Pacific partners and others around the world.
We must ensure this strategy is a success. We must have a clear plan to execute our strategy and meet our emissions reduction commitments.
Climate Action 2030 gives us the path forward. While the strategy sets ambitious targets, like achieving a 65 percent reduction in emissions department-wide by 2030, the core of the document tackles how to reach these targets.
The strategy starts with climate-informed decision making, which is why my team and I are so fortunate to be here in Fiji exchanging ideas with all of you.
Consideration of opportunities for climate mitigation is being integrated into the standard decision-making process for everything that we do.
Our ships, aircraft, vehicles, and installations account for the vast majority of our emissions, so we must also make them more energy efficient. And I know from being here you are doing everything you can to accomplish your goals.
We are investing in everything from hybrid propulsion to energy efficiency in our facilities to electric vehicles.
Wherever possible, we are planning the transition to renewable energy.
As an electrical engineering major at the Naval Academy, I am excited by our use of lithium ion batteries and next generation green technology.
These efforts are a priority for our Navy, especially in the Pacific.
For us, the islands of the Pacific are sacred ground. They are precious. 80 years ago, our Marines and Sailors sacrificed blood and treasure alongside the people of your nations for freedom and peace together. We fought together, from island to island, shoulder to shoulder.
Protecting that sacred ground today means that, once again, we must work together as a team. We must come together to face down an existential threat. As significant as the one we faced 80 years ago.
We share your urgency. All nations must step up and do their part. It is our responsibility to do so, and that includes the United States.
As the Prime Minister of Fiji said, failing decisive action, the “Pacific as we know it is doomed.”
I understand the gravity of his message. Indeed, I empathize with it.
I came to the United States with my family as a refugee from the island nation of Cuba. For my parents, the existential threat was Fidel Castro’s totalitarianism.
Now as a father and new grandfather myself, I think about how much the world has changed in my lifetime, and the world I will leave to my children and grand daughter. I know we have little time to head off the unimaginable hardships, mass dislocation and ultimately existential consequences facing future generations of young people.
I know how painful it is to unexpectedly lose your home and to have to start over again. I also know that life is not about mere survival but also, as the founding fathers of my nation so eloquently expressed, our inalienable, universal right as humans to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
My parents were poor and only wanted a better life for me. They worked hard to give me a chance to thrive and prosper. It wasn’t easy, they struggled and persevered. But unlike parents today, my Mother and Father did not have to raise me in the face of climate hardships yet to manifest. Those head winds are blowing strong now. The storm is gathering. I know we must solve the climate challenge if our children and grandchildren are to have any chance to prosper or even survive.
Climate change challenges have already darkened your doorsteps. Displacement and forced climate migrations could soon be a more prevalent reality for countless citizens across the Blue Pacific Continent.
I want you to know the United States stands with you in confronting and prevailing over that unacceptable outcome. We fight alongside you to protect your people, your land, and your way of life.
It is a collective, global responsibility to ensure climate change does not drive you from your homes. It is also a collective, global responsibility that climate change does not rob you of your way of life and your culture.
At President Biden’s direction, we are ready, willing, and able to take on this fight.
This is the fight of a generation. We understand that you are fighting for your very existence. I hope you understand that you have a partner in us.
In closing, thank you all for your time and attention today, and for your efforts to make your home and our world a better place. I want you to know as I close, I am an optimist. Despite the challenges we face here for together. We will solve this but have to.
May God bless each of you.
I now look forward to your questions.
Vinaka Vaka Levu. (Thank You)
Carlos Del Toro
16 June 2022
15 June 2022
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