SPREP Director General
As this is my first message in 2022, let me welcome all of you back with best wishes. A new year always presents an opportunity to start afresh and after a much-needed break during the Festive Season, we are back and ready to go.
At the outset, however, I want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Kingdom of Tonga following the Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano eruption last weekend. The volcanic eruption and the impact of the ensuing tsunami around the Pacific again highlighted the vulnerability of the Pacific region and our people to natural disasters. For those who have family connections in Tonga, the last couple of days has been one of anxiety as we wait to hear from loved ones since communications with Tonga were cut off by the volcano eruption in the week-end. We are also thinking of the people in Fiji who were affected by Cyclone Cody more than a week ago The Pacific region remains in the cyclone season and we continue to be at the mercy of natural disasters, which is why we must continue to fight for urgent action to respond to increasing adverse impacts of climate change.
Looking at 2022, I know there are a lot of exciting opportunities on the horizon and there is much to be gained. I also know that it would be full of challenges, none more so than the COVID-19 situation which up until now has been unpredictable and unsettling. Across the globe and in the Pacific, the state of COVID-19 remains very fluid; the emergence of omicron presents a new dynamic to the multiple challenges that are already before us, creating a blind spot we cannot ignore. It is against this backdrop that we enter 2022 with a certain degree of trepidation. The fear and uncertainty of what is ahead is only natural especially since we have all witnessed how things have dramatically changed during the past two years as a result of the pandemic.
Still we are here. In uncertain times like today, we need to be resilient; we cannot give up; we are duty bound to adapt, adjust and persevere. In this new year, we must take into account the evolving and ever-changing nature of the pandemic as we look at our priorities. Just about everything we plan to do for 2022 will need to be couched around the COVID-19 situation. Needless to say, building back better in 2022 will have to include COVID considerations.
Our vision “The Pacific environment - sustaining our livelihoods and natural heritage in harmony with our cultures” is what will drive our work. We endeavor to continue to work with our 26 Member countries and territories – along with partners, donors and local communities – to deliver on environmental management and sustainable development in the region in four priority areas: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management, Waste Management and Pollution Control, Climate Change and Environmental Monitoring and Governance.
On the global level, climate change remains our primary and biggest concern. Our mission to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 1.5 Degrees Celsius world will not change. On the back of the Climate Change COP26 in Glasgow, we need to keep the pressure on Developed countries in terms of their Paris Agreement commitments, especially the need to review their emissions to be more ambitions and to align with the 2050 net zero carbon target. Pledges and announcements must now be translated into urgent, bold and tangible action. The small window of opportunity for the global community to shift to the 1.5 degrees pathway is closing very quickly. The global community must not delay anymore. For the Pacific region, we need to see an urgent flow of serious amount of climate finance to Members in terms of adaptation and mitigation to combat the adverse impact of climate change.
The fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) is another key global priority this year. The push to strengthen international efforts to tackle the triple planetary crisis we are facing – climate change, nature loss and pollution – is an important opportunity for the Pacific. The Oceans Agenda and related meetings such as Our Oceans conference, Deep Sea Bed mining, and BBNJ are equally important for 2022. Speaking of which, The Our Oceans Conference hosted by Palau, which was scheduled for February has been postponed further to April but it is unlikely to be the only international meeting postponed with the onset of the new omicron variant.
On a regional scale, the Forum Leaders meeting and other associated meetings scheduled for January and February have been postponed. The Leaders regional agenda in terms of thematic areas includes key priorities such as climate change, oceans and biodiversity, marine plastics and the impact of rising sea level on Pacific Islands. The 2050 Strategy and the Regional Architecture in particular are key regional priorities for SPREP as it is likely to have implications for the regional landscape in terms of regional organisations and their respective mandates. SPREP will also continue to monitor other growing concerns, as well as to support our members, in relation to nuclear legacy issues.
Within SPREP’s Vailima compound, the transition in leadership with the incoming Director General Mr Sefanaia Nawadra is an exciting step. I have been privileged and blessed to have held the role for the past six years but I am ready to pass on the baton to the incoming Director General to continue the great work of SPREP. The new Director General will need the full support of Members and staff to progress the priorities of SPREP in 2022, including the implementation of SPREP’s Independent Corporate Review and Mid-Term review. I wish him all the best.
SPREP’s People Strategy is a key part of the success of this organisation. Central to all of the work we do is the need to ensure that there is a focus on staff – in terms of their wellbeing and wellness. Working remotely will form a key part of SPREPs way of working now and in the future. There will be an increase need for staff to be supported in new ways that we have not envisaged before. SPREP needs to evolve to meet the needs of staff. For this the Secretariat needs the support of Members.
Looking at the future, we need to keep up with the changing times. We have to be innovative and explore new ways of delivering priorities to Members, especially with COVID-19 uncertainties. We have to prioritise digital transformation and virtual platforms to facilitate the delivery of services to Members, effectively and efficiently. In this regard, SPREP must continue to build up its infrastructural capacity to ensure that virtual delivery of Member priorities is effective and efficient. The possibilities are endless.
Despite the COVID-19 situation and the challenges it poses, I am optimistic and I remain hopeful. We have to embrace this new normal and find ways to navigate the challenges before us. This is the only way forward. As we begin our work this year with renewed vigour, it’s important to start with a positive attitude and gratitude – especially for the gift of life. We give thanks and acknowledge the past, appreciate the present and pray for the future. In 2022, let us be inspired by hope and keep the faith that no matter what comes before us, we, together, will overcome all challenges.
From our team here at SPREP, have a blessed 2022!