Statement by David Sheppard, Director of SPREP on the occassion of World Environment Day
June 5th is Environment Day, when millions of people around the world celebrate the importance of our environment for life on earth.
That message is ringing loud and clear on many different levels. Hollywood is releasing blockbuster movies about environment catastrophes, celebrities have personally taken up the cause of our planet and governments are pouring millions of dollars into preserving our environment.
It's an immense but worthwhile challenge. Unfortunately, it often seems like a losing battle.
Around 360 square km's of forest cover is lost world wide every day. That's the size of 72,000 American football fields!
Scientists advise that one species from our planet is being lost every 38 minutes! When a species becomes extinct, it is lost forever. Prevention is our only option – there is no cure.
In the Pacific our environment is our future.
Our Pacific Ocean is unique and vast, covering 35% of the Earth's surface. It is home to six of the seven known marine turtle species. The Western Pacific has up to 3,000 species found on a single reef. It is home to many different peoples and cultures.
However our unique Pacific environment is seriously threatened by development pressures, causing habitat loss, invasive species and, ever increasingly, the many impacts of climate change.
In the Pacific region, the authoritative IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ suggests that out of 3,769 species assessed, 123 are extinct, while another 1,060 are threatened with extinction.
The Pacific Islands are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the impacts of unsustainable development.
There is a need for action. At all levels, we must "walk the talk".
We call on the international community to support our efforts to adapt to climate change and to ensure sustainable development of our natural resources. Commitments such as those made under the Copenhagen Accord are welcome in the Pacific region but they must be delivered, quickly and decisively.
Pacific governments increasingly recognize that sustainable development must be based on effective management of our Pacific environments - on land and at sea. Programmes should build on traditional approaches, such as the Raui system in the Cook Islands, where access to particular resources or areas is forbidden for given periods to ensure protection of natural resources.
Let's celebrate our Pacific success stories to "walk the talk" on the environment, for example:
- Fiji launched a "Plant a tree" campaign with the goal of planting one million trees. In April this year Fiji exceeded this target and has now planted a total of 1.4 million trees.
- Palau was the home of the regional launch of the 2011 Pacific Year of the Dugong. Palau hosts the smallest, most remote and critically endangered dugong population in the region.
- The Cook Islands have a "Wetlands for Healthy Islands" campaign with an environment week of activities including two days of lagoon education at a coastal site teaching 'whatever you do on the land will impact on the lagoon environment.'
- The rainforest in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia is threatened by an invasive species called the 'false sakau' (piper auritum) introduced in 2000. This false sakau has now been eradicated from 88% of the sites it was growing.
- Kiribati established the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) - the largest marine protected area on Earth - now the world's largest marine World Heritage Site.
- The Micronesia Challenge, a commitment by the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Guam and the Northern Marianas to conserve at least 30% of the near-shore marine resources and 20% of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020.
These are messages I've shared often, calling upon our sense of pride in our Pacific environment to catalyze action to better protect and manage our environments for this and for future generations.
But let's take this down to the local and personal level. Let's all try to "walk the talk".
On this World Environment Day, I challenge you to carry out at least one task regularly this week to impact positively upon our environment.
Why not turn off that light, refill your water bottle instead of buying new bottles of water, start a carpool to get to work, take an empty trash bag on your daily walk after work and collect rubbish as you go, or compost your green waste from meals instead of choosing to bin it for the landfill.
There are many options. If we all decide to do something over this week we can make a difference. And let's keep it up well beyond this week.
These are just a few examples to celebrate this Environment Day in our Pacific. People and partners have united through numerous projects to achieve the vision of a "Pacific environment – sustaining our livelihoods and natural heritage in harmony with our cultures."
Celebrate our Pacific environment and pledge to do something individually that will help.
You can make a difference, please do.