Australian scientist new SPC head

By Samisoni Pareti

The new Director General (designate) of the Pacific Community is Australian scientist Dr Stuart Minchin.

Dr Minchin’s appointment was approved at the Pacific Community’s Conference of Ministers meeting in Noumea, New Caledonia today. 

Dr Minchin is currently the Chief of the Environmental Geoscience Division of Geoscience Australia. His official bio states that he manages around 200 staff and that his Division is the centre of Australian government expertise for environmental earth science issues.

While Dr Minchin has previously been responsible for the Environmental Observation and Landscape Science (EOLS) research program at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO) and was Principal Scientist with the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, there are no specific references to Pacific islands experience in Minchin’s LinkedIn profile or available biographical data.

The Pacific Community is the Pacific region’s leading scientific and technical organisation, owned and governed by its 26 members. Most of these members backed Dr Minchin for the position. However it’s understood that in negotiations in the build up to today’s decision, at least some were unhappy that an Australian candidate has been successful in securing the role,  given the divergence between Australia’s position on climate change response, and that of Pacific island states.

SPC’s mission is to: “work for the well-being of Pacific people through the effective and innovative application of science and knowledge, guided by a deep understanding of Pacific Island contexts and cultures.”

This includes work on climate change response. A SPC Results Report published this week leads with a description of the support it provided to members in preparation for, and during the COP 24 Climate Change Conference in Poland.

“We supported our members, organising several side-events to shine a light on Pacific initiatives, speaking on issues such as the Ocean-Climate nexus, joining the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Partnership, and signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Global Green Growth Institute to help set up the Pacific NDC Hub.”

Nationally Determined Contributions are efforts each country agrees to make to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Some Pacific Island leaders have been critical of Australia’s commitments. Opening today’s meeting, Cook Islands PM Henry Puna said: “The failure of the developed world to adapt and adopt stronger mitigation measures, including reducing global carbon emissions, threatens the Blue Pacific’s very existence.”

Just last week, the Australian government gave the Indian mining company Adani, final approval to start work on a  controversial coalmine in Queensland. The Carmichael  mine will open up one of the last untapped coal reserves in the world.

The two current Deputy Director-Generals of the SPC, Cameron Diver who is based in Noumea, and Dr Audrey Aumea, who is based in Suva, Fiji were also in contention for the role.

Dr Minchin will replace Dr Colin Tukuitona, who has been Director General since 2014.

SPC’s members are American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga,Tuvalu, USA, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.

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