Director General’s column for SPREP Day 2024

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    Opinion by Sefanaia Nawadra, SPREP DG.

    Every year on 16 June, we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty which officially established the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) as an independent intergovernmental organisation, also known as the SPREP Treaty.

    This year marks 31 years since the Treaty was signed. As we celebrate another SPREP Day, I want to take this time to reflect on our journey over the past years, and the many achievements and milestones along the way. That said, I also want to acknowledge that we have had to overcome many challenges, we have had to weather many storms.

    Still, we are here, resilient and resolute to continue to serve our Pacific communities to the best of our God-given abilities.

    The decision to establish SPREP was made in 1980, as a joint initiative of the South Pacific Forum (now the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) and the South Pacific Commission (now the Pacific Community), with funding from the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

    This past year, we have seen some major milestones for the Secretariat and for the Pacific.

    In September 2023, the United Nations officially adopted the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Treaty, more commonly referred to as the High Seas Treaty, after 15 years of negotiations. We proudly watched as the Federated States of Micronesia became the first Pacific island country to sign the Treaty in the margins of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, followed by Fiji, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

    We continue to work with our Member countries to protect our Pacific Ocean, which is home to many of the world’s marine species and supports our unique Pacific island ecosystems, with its diverse coral reefs, the deepest oceanic trenches, and the healthiest, and in some cases, largest remaining populations of many globally rare and threatened marine species. We applaud the leadership of our Pacific island countries who have signed on to this Treaty, and their commitment as custodians of the world’s largest ocean, and our most precious resource.

    We have also continued our support for our Pacific Members as they navigate through the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution process. The fourth session of the INC was held in Ottawa, Canada in April, and it has brought us one step closer to a plastics treaty. Our Pacific Island Members welcomed the decision for intersessional work, recognising the importance of the opportunity to engage in the process. Representatives from the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu have been able to attend the INC sessions through funding support form the Government of Australia and the United Nations and supported by the technical advisers within the Waste Management and Pollution Control Programme of the Secretariat.

    In 2023, the 31st SPREP Meeting of Officials was the first face-to-face meeting with the full Membership since COVID-19 impacted all of us. I am pleased to say it was a resounding success. Our Membership, which consists of 21 Pacific island countries and 5 Metropolitan countries, expressed their continued confidence in the Secretariat as the regional intergovernmental organisation charged with protecting, conserving, and ensuring a resilient Pacific environment, and reaffirmed their ongoing support. The same sentiment was echoed by Partners, as the Secretariat convened the first ever Partners Dialogue in the lead-up to the Officials Meeting. The dialogue was attended by partners, donors, and SPREP Members in an effort to strengthen collaboration, coordination, and networking. We received positive feedback from partners and Members alike, and we will be including the Partners Dialogue as an official part of the SPREP Meeting week moving forward.

    The Secretariat is growing – with a staff of more than 150 people and boasting a project portfolio of more than 90 projects worth more than USD$160 million, and with offices in Fiji, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

    As we work collectively to address the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, we continue to strengthen the integration within SPREP and across our technical programmes of Climate Change Resilience, Environmental Monitoring and Governance, Island and Ocean Ecosystems, and Waste Management and Pollution Control. This will happen in many ways, including our support through an integrated approach across the various Multilateral Environmental Agreements. We cannot fix one without the other and our united journey will further enhance as we strive to support cohesive working with our fellow Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) agencies to better serve our region. There are strong opportunities to work in partnership across key areas such as climate change and health, environment and trade amongst many others and the interlinkages through our regional mechanisms like the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable, the Clean Pacific Roundtable, the Pacific Island Roundtable for Nature Conservation will play a key role in advancing this.

    As we navigate the challenges we face when it comes to securing a resilient Pacific, we also work together with our Members and partners to implement solutions. The Weather Ready Pacific was necessary with our Pacific Islands highly vulnerable to extreme weather, hydrological and ocean events. Since being endorsed by our Pacific Islands Leaders in 2021, this is now in the inception phase. This programmatic approach to engage our partners and donors has since seen resounding support.

    The Government of Australia committed AUD$30 million (US419.85 million) in 2023 to help advance the Weather Ready Pacific. This was followed by the Government of New Zealand committing NZD$20 million (US$12.27 million) this year, and the United Kingdom Met Office also committing GBP 300,000(US$381,000) in technical support. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency have committed to building the Regional Training and Instrument Centre to upskill our Pacific Islands Met Office staff. We thank you all for supporting this Pacific-led solution for Pacific Island resilience and we look forward to more partners joining in support as we sail forward on this journey.

    As we look to the future, SPREP recognises the need to keep up with the rapidly advancing digital world. Plans are in place for SPREP’s administration and finance systems to transition to digitised systems to ensure that the ‘engine room’ that keeps the Secretariat running is able to perform as effectively and efficiently as possible so that we can continue to serve and support our Members to the best of our abilities.

    We are also nearing the completion of recruitment and setting up or our newly established Strategic Planning, Partnerships, and Resource Mobilisation Department, which will cement SPREP’s role as the lead Pacific environment agency for our Pacific Members.

    SPREP is now the partnership of choice for many when it comes to addressing many of the environmental challenges before us today, and this will strengthen our strategical positioning for the best outcome for our resilient Pacific. We look forward to this new department becoming fully operational and its invaluable contribution to the work of the Secretariat.

    We have come a long way, but we have a longer way to go still. As we celebrate SPREP Day this year, I want to thank all our Pacific member countries, our partners and donors. We would not be here today without your support. We look forward to this continued partnership on our collective journey towards a resilient Pacific environment.

    I would also like to thank my staff, our people that work behind the scenes to achieve a resilient Pacific for us all. Happy SPREP Day.