By Sefanaia Nawadra

The 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials and associated meeting guided by the theme: “Sustainable, transformative and resilient for a Blue Pacific” is taking place at Taumeasina Island Resort in Samoa this week, from 04-08 September 2023.

It starts on Monday with SPREP’s Partnership Dialogue and concludes with the Ministerial High-Level Talanoa. The SPREP Meeting follows the meetings of the Waigani and Noumea Conventions held last week. The following is an Op-Ed by SPREP’s Director General, Sefanaia Nawadra welcoming all delegates and highlighting why the meetings are important:

At the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), we continuously ask ourselves; why do we do what we do? Especially so this year as we celebrate our 30th Anniversary as an independent regional organisation. It’s to remind ourselves that what we do is a Calling and when we do it properly we are fulfilling that calling and those who have called us to this task. When people understand their ‘why,’ they go the extra mile to make a difference.

As the region’s inter-governmental organisation for environment and sustainable development, we have and will continue to walk that extra mile for the Pacific communities we serve. For 30 years, our work has been guided by our Member given mandate to promote cooperation in the Pacific region and mobilise resources to protect and improve our environment, and to ensure sustainable development for present and future generations. There is a very important proviso to this mandate that states that our work should be within our Pacific cultural context and values.

But why does this matter? How is it relevant today? Two weeks ago, I was in Fiji for the Pacific Meteorological Week, comprising of the Sixth Pacific Meteorological Council Meeting (PMC-6), the First Development Partners and Donors Engagement Meeting and the Third Pacific Ministerial Meeting on Meteorology (PMMM-3). All meetings were guided by the theme, “Sustaining Weather, Climate, Water and Ocean Services for a Resilient Blue Pacific” and aimed to strengthen weather, climate, water, ocean and related development services in the Pacific. This work is critical for the protection of lives from all hazards.

We remembered poignantly the sheer sadness we felt when the news broke of the blazing wildfires that ripped through the Hawaiian island of Maui torching homes and sacred structures, killing more than a hundred innocent people, with many still unaccounted for. During the opening of PMC-6, we observed a moment of silence to pay our respects to all the victims and their loved ones. There were tears, but who wouldn’t cry? One did not need to be Hawaiian to feel their pain; their grief was ours too. In our Pacific countries, we know what that pain feels like. We too have lost far too many people, not necessarily to wildfires like in Maui, but as the result of countless extreme weather events that have devastated our communities. What was different here was the fact that the cyclone does not even need to make landfall or be close for its effects to be devastating for our communities and economies.

Every Pacific country had a story to tell. With cyclones, earthquakes, flooding, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, storm surges, droughts and tsunamis, amongst other calamities, as people of the Pacific, when we speak about being on the front line of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, it is not a theory, it is a very confronting and frightening reality for us, one for which SPREP plays a key role in efforts to cushion the brutal blows dealt to our communities.

This week in Samoa, this effort continues with the 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials. Guided by the theme: “Sustainable, transformative and resilient for a Blue Pacific,” the 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials, includes SPREP’s Partnership Dialogue and the Ministerial High-Level Talanoa at Taumeasina Island Resort, from 04 – 08 September 2023. Our SPREP Meeting follows the meetings of the Waigani and Noumea Conventions held last week.

I take this opportunity to welcome to Samoa all our Members and our Partners from all corners of the world, who have come to actively engage in efforts to increase practical and tangible support for our member countries to better manage and protect their environment. I am pleased to say that SPREP over the years has significantly increased support, thanks to all our donor and development partners, for our Pacific island members to address climate change, manage waste, conserve biodiversity and strengthen environmental monitoring and governance.

I look forward to the conversations and discussions this week because I believe they are very important in our efforts to continue to provide and mobilise assistance to protect and improve our environment. The Partnership Dialogue holds great promise. Our Pacific leaders have always taken the lead on ways that address the triple planetary crisis. In their wisdom, they have put together the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent which represents the ongoing commitment of the region to work together as one. It’s a Strategy that’s not just for Pacific countries, or for CROP agencies, it’s a strategy for everyone who work within these jurisdictions. All of us, including development partners and donors must make sure our work fits into what the 2050 Strategy wants.

On that note, I wish to acknowledge the generous financial assistance of Australia and New Zealand, who continuously provide direct multiyear core budget and programme support for SPREP. I hope that their example will motivate our other metropolitan Members France, United Kingdom and United States to do the same. I acknowledge the annual contribution from the People’s Republic of China to our core funds.

To commemorate our 30th anniversary we host on Monday our first ever Partners Dialogue. Soon after I started as Director General a good friend of SPREP, the EU’s Ambassador Sujiro Seam challenged me in the margins of the signing ceremony of two multi million EU projects to find a way to engage partners who are not SPREP Members in our governance meetings. The large interest and turnout of donors like Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, France and the United Nations along with NGO, Private Sector and Technical Partners means that it was not only Sujiro waiting for this opportunity.

The magnitude of the environmental challenges before us means we need to stand in solidarity and grow meaningful long lasting, and productive partnership and collaborations so we can fight this battle together. The moment of silence in Nadi for the victims of the Maui wildfires was a grim and painful reminder about why we do the work that we do.

Ironically, at the same meeting, a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) was launched. The State of the Climate in the South West Pacific report confirmed yet again that sea level rise continues to be a real threat to the future of low-lying islands while increasing ocean heat and acidification have devastated vital and vulnerable marine ecosystems. A warming ocean can only spell more trouble on the horizon.

Our ‘why’ at SPREP places a demand on us not to be silent about the grim reality before our people and communities. We have the high moral position when it comes to negotiating solutions to the triple planetary crises. The simple truth is that Pacific communities don’t contribute significantly to the causes of the crises but unfortunately, we are among the first countries to suffer.

This is why when we speak, we do so from a position of moral and ethical strength, others listen and hopefully take notice. Our context plays on their conscience, even if they disagree with our voice. Our ‘why’ demands that we continue to be the world’s conscience, continue to utilise every avenue to get our views across. We must maintain this Special Case and Position as SIDS because the world increasingly needs a canary to signal that danger is here. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to be that canary – what we need to ensure is that our Pacific Voice is Amplified so others at the rampart take up the cry to facilitate global action to meet our global crises.

This week in Apia, the 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials and associated meetings, is another opportunity do advance our work to deliver on the conservation and protection of our Blue Pacific environment, for present and future generations.