In 1972, the world came together in Stockholm for the UN Conference on Human Environment recognising that there was a need for “common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment”. We recognised that “Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life. Most of nature’s contributions to people are not fully replaceable, and some are irreplaceable”. The conference resulted in the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment. This was the start of the global environment agenda and journey.
This conference has special significance to us at SPREP since it planted the global seed that grew into a regional seedling that became the tree we now call the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The Stockholm Conference established the UN Environment Programme in June 1972. In 1974 UNEP funded a regional coral reef programme within the Pacific Community (SPC), the seedling left SPC in Noumea in 1992 and was transplanted to the fertile soil of Apia where in 1993 through an agreement signed by our Members, we became the Pacific’s regional intergovernmental environment organisation.
The establishment of SPREP set our regional environmental vision and sent a clear signal to the global community of the deep commitment of Pacific Island Governments and Administrations for better management of the environment within the context of sustainable development. We at the Secretariat continue to work with our members and partners to realise this vision.
Stockholm can also be seen as the genesis of global processes that 20 years later established sustainable development. The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, Rio+10 in 2002 in Johannesburg, Rio+20 in Rio again in 2012 – 2022 is also Rio+30. Stockholm also gave rise to the SIDS conferences and plans culminating in the SAMOA Pathway. Stockholm birthed the Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification and Land Degradation. Out of Stockholm also came the MDGs and now the SDGs. Stockholm was really a major milestone in global history.
50 years since the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, despite the commitments made and the subsequent actions that followed, the planet continues to be severely affected as a result of anthropogenic activities. Several reports prepared by global specialist groups provide a bleak outlook into the future ahead.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) predicts that the “unsustainable production and consumption patterns and trends and inequality, when combined with the increase in the use of resources that are driven by population growth, put at risk the healthy planet needed to attain sustainable development.” It continues by arguing that “these trends are leading to a deterioration in planetary health at unprecedented rates, with increasingly serious consequences, in particular, for poorer people and regions”.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report 6 further emphasises that if actions are not undertaken to meet the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, catastrophic impacts to the environment as a whole would be encountered, from biodiversity and ecosystem loss and extinction, climate-related risks to health, and livelihood.
SPREP’s 2020 Report on the State of Environment and Conservation in the Pacific states that “the highly unique and diverse ecosystems and species of the Pacific islands are imperiled by invasive species, climate change, land-use change, and pollution. These threats to Pacific species and the ecosystem services they provide are also threats to the health, security, and resilience of Pacific communities”.
As we prepare for the return to Stockholm on 2 June 2022 to commemorate 50 years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, we are called to act with a sense of urgency and commitment. We have a sickly planet that needs proper care in the interests of current and future generations.
The UN General Assembly has declared 2021 – 2030 the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration and in doing so reaffirmed all the commitments made since Stockholm 1972. It highlights the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and waste and pollution. We in the Pacific are at the front line and already severely affected by all three crises. Because of this we have been one of the strongest advocates for the environment at the global level.
At the Climate COP 26 in Glasgow although severely limited in our participation by COVID-19 related travel restrictions, the Pacific through our Political Champions and support from the UK as President and host, managed to keep the 1.5-degree target alive albeit on life support. We are already working hard to coordinate and strategise engagement at COP 27 in Egypt although communications with the Presidency is harder given their limited representation in the Pacific. We need to continue to be the conscience of the world for Climate Change and to maintain our Special Case as Small Island Developing States.
The Pacific strongly mobilised leading up to UN Environment Assembly 5.2. We have done a lot nationally and regionally to address the issue of marine litter and plastics but recognising that the bulk of this is manufactured and comes to us from outside the region we needed to address this cooperatively at the global level. Pacific countries worked through the Alliance of Small Island States with other SIDS regions to advocate for global action. UNEA-5.2 became a historic moment as delegates agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with the mandate to forge an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution by the end of 2024.
Tomorrow, we host a Regional Scoping Workshop for the UN Oceans Conference to be held in Lisbon in June. We bring together our Members, regional organisations and our representatives in New York to discuss how we engage at UNOC with a strong, unified and amplified Pacific Voice. The Pacific has always led on Oceans issues – we were the first countries to become parties to UNCLOS, supplied the first Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority and in more recent years co-hosted the first UN Oceans Conference in 2017 resulting in one of our ambassadors being appointed UN Special Envoy on Oceans, who is helping to lead the world towards UNOC 2022. We have championed the nexus between Climate Change and Oceans and the adoption of the UNFCCC Oceans Pathway despite strong opposition.
The Pacific has always been about regional cooperation through dialogue or talanoa and partnerships such as through the SAMOA Pathway. Our Leaders have decided that we will restate this through our Blue Pacific Continent Narrative. We are currently formulating the Pacific’s 2050 Strategy that includes the review of our regional architecture to make it fit for purpose. There are 6 thematic pillars and three of them look to address the commitments from and since Stockholm - Pillar 2 – Resources and Economic Development; Pillar 3 – Climate Change; and Pillar 4 - Ocean and Environment.
SPREP is mandated to take a leading role in these three pillars. We have grown from that transplanted seedling resulting from Stockholm into a 150 strong organisation with headquarters in Samoa and offices in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands. On our campus we host the Pacific Climate Change Centre, UNEP, WMO, JICA Waste Programme, the University of Newcastle, the Secretariats for the Noumea and Waigani Conventions, the Regional Centre for the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, the IMO’s Regional Marine Environment Protection Programme, the Secretariat of the Pacific Meteorological Council, and the Secretariats of the Pacific Nature Conservation Roundtable and Clean Pacific Roundtable.
It is fitting that we come together to commemorate Stockholm and to learn from the journey since 1972, but it is even more important that we now rededicate ourselves to the task. We at SPREP are committed to working with you all in realising our global environment vision first articulated at Stockholm 50 years ago, particularly for present and future generations of our Blue Pacific Continent.