The Environmental Planning Unit of the Environmental Monitoring and Governance (EMG) programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) has recently delivered an in-country training workshop to the National Environment Service (NES) of the Cook Islands. The week-long programme was hosted at the NES office in Rarotonga and attended by over 20 officers from the Service. The training was focused on raising the capacity of NES on Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).
SPREP has had a close working relationship with the NES and has delivered several capacity building programmes for the agency, including an EIA training conducted by the SPREP planning team in 2017. This training was a follow-up to the previous training and was led by the Director of the EMG programme, Jope Davetanivalu, the Pacific Network for Environmental Assessment (PNEA) Technical Officer, Ivan Diarra, and the EMG Programme Assistant, Faasipa Tinai.
The objectives of the training workshop were to provide capacity building on reporting requirements under relevant MEA’s and strengthen participants’ understanding and application of the EIA and SEA process in the Cook Islands through practical exercises and discussion. The workshop also provided an avenue to discuss NES compliance, monitoring and enforcement system and strengthening EIA compliance and enforcement in the Cook Islands.
During the workshop, important discussions held were on MEA governance and the challenges to reporting and meeting obligations under relevant MEAs ratified by the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands National Focal point to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Elizabeth Munro, provided an overview of some of the challenges and opportunities with regards to meeting obligations under the Convention. The session also had discussions on some of the priorities for the Cook Islands heading to the CBD COP15 in Montreal, Canada later this year.
NES staff were also introduced the SPREP Regional Environmental Impact Assessment Guidelines as a tool for assisting in developing national EIA reviews and linkages to Strategic Environmental Assessment and Mitigation Hierarchy (MH) concepts. Participants learned from a group discussion on applying MH and EIA principles including screening, scoping, strengthening Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement (CME), as well as developing and reviewing Environmental Management Plans (EMP). The SPREP presentations were informative and presented participants with templates and toolkits for how to assess an EIA and mitigation risk for development projects. Breakout practical exercise sessions also enabled participants to use the SPREP Screening checklist and Scoping templates to assess development proposals including Deep Sea Mining (DSM).
During the SEA session, participants were also introduced to the recently developed Regional SEA Guidelines for Pacific Island Countries and Territories and how the tool supports higher environmental planning and decision at national and regional levels. The ensuing discussions touched on how SEA could be effectively applied in the Cook Islands to address issues such as Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment.
SPREP also shared on the support to countries in strengthening EIA processes including the successful work with Vanuatu to develop an online auditing checklist on Kobo Toolbox for the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) as part of the Department’s effort to strengthen its CME regime. To address the many coastal issues facing the Cook Islands, the SPREP team also shared the newly developed Coastal Engineering Guidance Note which can provide further technical assistance with the nature of coastal infrastructural proposal as well as natural coastal events such as the recent king tides which struck parts of the country’s coasts.
A highlight of the workshop was the discussions held on the Cook Island’s E-permitting system for environmental approvals which has streamlined and greatly increased the efficiency of the permitting process in the country. Through the system, development applications can be completed online using the ESD application form on the NES website. This application is then sent to the NES Environmental Compliance Division (ECD) who review and provide their recommendations to the EIA administrating bodies in the Cook Island’s which includes the Island Environment Authority (IEA), the Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA) and the National Environment Council (NEC), who make the final judgement.
During the workshop, there was an opportunity to review NES current EIA tools and processes and provide recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Some of the workshop outcomes was the review of NES ESD form with the addition of 20 new questions as well as the need to review and develop the Cook Island EIA guidelines.
The last day of the workshop was a field trip to several proposed and ongoing infrastructure projects around Rarotonga including the Sheraton Hotel and the proposed Nikao Coastal Protection and New Community Swimming pool. These field trips assisted participants to apply some of the knowledge and skills attained during the workshop and improve their ability to identify and assess the environmental and social risks surrounding the proposals.
The SPREP Director of EMG programme, Jope Davetanivalu said, “I’m very pleased with the outcome of the capacity training as it has raised the knowledge of the participants in understanding their role in the EIA process and to help them improve on their environment planning.”
The training was well received and lauded by NES staff who voiced their appreciation for the workshop opportunity. This sentiment was also shared by NES Director, Mr Halatoa Fua, who expressed his thanks to the SPREP team for the successful mission saying, “May I firstly take this opportunity to thank Jope, Ivan, Faasipa and SPREP for conducting this outstanding training for the NES team in the Cook Islands.”
“It was an effective and value-adding programme that will help shape NES’s environmental compliance regime”
SPREP support and assistance on MEAs, EIA and SEA capacity building is supported through the European Union initiated capacity building project phase 3 titled, "Capacity Building related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Countries", implemented by UN Environment executed by SPREP.
For more information, contact Jope Davetanivalu, Director of Environmental Monitoring and Governance Programme, [email protected], Ivan Diarra, Pacific Network for Environmental Assessment (PNEA) Officer, [email protected] and Faasipa Tinai, EMG Programme assistant, [email protected].
To learn more about the ACPMEA 3 project, please visit http://www.sprep.org/Projects/acp-meas-project