By Mr Kosi Latu, Director General of SPREP.
We at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), are no different to other organisations, entering into a ‘new normal’ for this period with meetings, workshops and panel discussions being coordinated online with people across different oceans and time zones.
As a global pandemic, COVID-19 has impacted our way of life as we know it, halting travel and large gatherings while highlighting the need for safe hygiene. We at SPREP pay our deepest respects to the many across our planet who have passed due to COVID-19 complications and remember the many family members and friends affected by this virus.
At this time of tragedy there is much uncertainty for us all, and we stand in solidarity with our Pacific islands and our global community as we work to address COVID-19. We are adapting to bring back as much normalcy as possible under these circumstances with the burdening knowledge that this cyclone season has wreaked further havoc upon our Pacific family impacting Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. The level of support we can provide is hampered by the processes in place to halt the growth of COVID-19, yet we persevere to support in ways that we are able to.
At SPREP, our Pacific safety and our role in building our Pacific resilience are major priorities for our staff and our Members. This has meant we continue to work with our Members to increase their resilience albeit remotely and in half day shifts to allow for sanitising of our premises on a regular basis. Many of our staff have returned home, working remotely, to be with family over this time. We are also adapting, seeking innovative ways to continue strengthening our Pacific ability to ‘bounce back’ with you all, while maintaining safety and abiding by the travel bans and physical distancing.
Our communications and outreach team are exploring the plethora of online opportunities for interactive quizzes so we can ensure outreach continues with our school aged students and families in lockdown through Pacific environment quiz sets available online. We aim to launch these in May.
Our ‘new normal’ for this period has seen us coordinate an online forum which brought together over 45 people in April. It was a way to allow us to continue our work and service for our Pacific region by developing a Climate Outlook for different sectors to help our region prepare for what may come. Normally we conduct this in person, with a face-to-face forum and break-out groups.
As we work through this ‘new normal’ with our Members on SPREP’s four programme areas of Environmental Monitoring and Governance, Climate Change Resilience, Island and Ocean Ecosystems and Waste Management Pollution Control, we know that we are not alone. In a world of lockdowns, isolation and physical distancing, the only human company many can experience outside our bubbles, is online. The Secretariat is surveying all Members’ capacities for connectivity to find ways to enhance our communication and support under these very challenging circumstances
SPREP participated in the Alliance of Small Islands States Placencia Forum which brought together over 300 participants from across our planet to talk on climate ambition in breakout groups under the different themes.
While we work under these alternate conditions during this period, there is thought to what the ‘new normal’ may be as we go forward after COVID-19 or how we can apply lessons learnt over this time to continue a stronger and more resilient environment for all times.
As human activity around the world has paused to slow and control the spread of COVID-19, it is clear that nature is benefitting from this time of lessened human impact. With roads clear of traffic, factories closed and air travel at a standstill - global greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution is much reduced and species are thriving. With less traffic on roads, there are reports from across the world, of animals roaming freely along highways and roads.
As we prepare to come out of the restrictions that COVID-19 has forced on us, we must plan to sustain these gains and ensure that we do not lose sight of the harsh lessons that have been learned.
We can define our new Pacific normal by less carbon intensive and more biodiversity-aware ways of carrying on our business and building the resilience of our communities and the ecosystem services that sustain us.
SPREP stands ready to continue working with our Pacific islands region to help our Members build upon this ‘new normal’ for a resilient Pacific environment and people.