Jun 17, 2018 Last Updated 6:23 AM, Jun 15, 2018

What transpired at the Noumea meet

Pacific countries and territories met in early September at the 23rd annual SPREP Meeting. This year’s meeting was held in Noumea, generously hosted by the Government of New Caledonia. Delegates noted this as appropriate, given SPREP’s voyage started 20 years ago when it moved from Noumea—as a programme of SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community)—to Samoa to become the Pacific’s newest regional organisation at that time.

This year, SPREP welcomed a new member— the Government of the United Kingdom—which indicated its wish to become an active SPREP member in the Pacific region. Delegates noted many positive results from SPREP’s change management process, which focused on increasing support to Pacific islands countries and territories to address environmental and sustainable development issues.

In fact, SPREP has doubled its direct financial and technical support for its Pacific islands members over the 2009-2011 period, with SPREP’s direct financial support increasing from US$2.4 million in 2010 to US$4.3 million in 2011, while support for SPREP member regional level activities increased from US$7 million in 2010 to US$8.3 million in 2011. The SPREP meeting noted the many challenges facing the management of the Pacific environment, many of which were discussed at the ministerial component of the meeting.

Ministers highlighted four key areas: (i) ocean conservation and management; (ii) renewable energy; (iii) financing for biodiversity and climate change; and (iv) follow-up to the Rio+20 meeting.

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But the solutions are in our hands

The UnitedNationsConference on Sustainable Development, better known as Rio+20, held in June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was the most recent of the 10-yearly Earth Summits dating back to the first held in Stockholm in 1972. Over this time, we have seen the evolution of concepts of environmental management with growing recognition that a well-managed environment is the foundation of all sustainable development. In the Pacific, these concepts are not new— previous generations of islanders knew about the need to live within the limits of the resources of the sea and land if they were to survive. Rio+20 has received a mixed bag of reviews. With over 42,000 participants in the official sessions and side events, the conference naturally held great expectations for change and global commitments.

At the same time, the seasoned global conferencegoers are emphatically touting the many “informal” commitments that have resulted from Rio. I was asked in a radio interview following the Rio Summit whether it is really worth having such large meetings with their immense carbon footprints. Was Rio in fact a waste of time? My answer was that there are benefits for the Pacific but only if we approach such events in a clear and focused way, using it as a platform to achieve our regional goals. So, what has the Pacific gained from Rio+20?

Firstly, the Pacific did approach Rio in a very clear and focused way. We held a series of preparatory meetings, involving communities, civil society, the private sector and governments. These meetings contributed to an overall Pacific position ensuring that Pacific issues were raised clearly and prominently at the Rio Summit.

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But where to from here?

June was a good month for birthdays in Samoa. The main event was the 50th anniversary of independence in Samoa. SPREP joined many others to congratulate the Government and people of Samoa on this wonderful achievement. SPREP also had a birthday for its 20th anniversary of arriving in Samoa in 1992. We celebrated with a morning function, highlighting a speech from the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and an open day for schools at our SPREP campus in Apia.

Many in Samoa saw the vakas or sailing canoes when they sailed into Apia to join the 50th anniversary celebrations. Their crew told us exciting tales of adventure as they sailed across the Pacific. Like the vakas, SPREP has been on a long voyage in the Pacific and we also have many exciting tales of adventure. SPREP’s voyage started 40 years ago in Noumea, New Caledonia, where we were as a small programme within the SPC (the Secretariat of the Pacific Community).

Then, 20 years ago, we voyaged to Samoa to become the region’s newest and smallest regional organisation. The last few years we have been looking to the future—addressing issues such as where is SPREP heading and how do we get there, particularly through the development and implementation of our Strategic Plan—the chart for our future voyage in the Pacific. We have been sharply focused on improving our level of support to our members, the 21 islands countries and territories of the Pacific. I am pleased to say that SPREP has more than doubled its direct financial and technical support to these members over the last three years. We will continue and accelerate these efforts.

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I would like to begin this article by warmly congratulating the Government of Samoa on their 50th anniversary of independence which will be celebrated in June. SPREP would like to place on record its appreciation to the government for their generous hosting of our organisation in Samoa and also for their leadership on environmental issues, including on invasive species—the topic of this article. For those who are fortunate to travel to other countries, you will have filled out a declaration form before you enter the country. Besides the customs declaration of duty free items, you would also have filled out the quarantine form: declaring plant, animal and food items in your possession. This simple act begins the border security measures that Pacific governments have put in place to protect our islands from serious harm. While many of the foreign species introduced into our islands do not cause harm, the few that become problematic or invasive can cause serious damage to our biodiversity, health, food security and trade. Invasive species is both an environmental and an economic issue in our countries. The Giant African Snail is an example of one of the unwanted invasive species that is hungrily eating garden crops in Samoa, Solomon Islands and many other islands in the Pacific. They also carry parasites that harm our health.

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The future of our planet

This month sees the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, also known as ‘Rio+20’ or ‘Earth Summit 2012’ getting underway. Delegates and attending Heads of State are asked to forge a renewed international commitment to sustainable development and poverty eradication. It is an ambitious task, especially when much of the developed world is preoccupied with issues on the home front. Just how substantial the negotiated text and outcomes will be is not clear as we head towards the event. The original Earth Summit of 1992, also held in Rio, was unprecedented in its size and scope. One hundred and seventy two governments participated, including 108 leaders.  

The summit led to the dissemination of the Forest Principles, the Rio Declaration and the adoption of Agenda 21, a wide-ranging blueprint for action to achieve sustainable development worldwide. Two important legallybinding agreements were also opened for signature at this conference: the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which led to the Kyoto Protocol; and the Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force the following year. In the past two decades, these instruments have focused political attention and led to concrete action—but there is still a long way to go if humanity’s unsustainable ecological footprint is to be effectively addressed. Given the

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