Column by Mr Kosi Latu, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
“This World Environment Day I’m going to be upfront. It’s pretty simple really. We look after our environment, and our environment looks after us. When we don’t care for our environment, then that’s when it gets “messy” for us, and it has.
I don’t need to highlight where it has gotten messy as it’s in our face often, we know the impacts of climate change, we know the impacts of marine pollution – in fact, all poorly managed pollution and waste, we know already the many ways it has gotten “messy”.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, we are losing over 4.7 million hectares of forests on an annual basis. That is an area larger than Denmark, its one football pitch destroyed every three seconds. We’ve also lost over half of the world’s wetlands in the last century.
What about us in the Pacific? According to our State of Environment and Conservation in the Pacific Islands: 2020 Regional Report our Pacific species are under pressure for survival in the face of competition with invasive species, climate change, and habitat change. Half of the 200 migratory species in the Pacific are in decline.
Ecosystem Restoration is the theme of the 2021 World Environment Day. While these words may seem technical, they aren’t really. It says we must restore the systems that we live in, and make up, our environment.
It’s in your hands, and it’s through your choices, that you can be a part of the solution in helping to restore our ecosystems. We must do more. Be it small or large, the role you play in helping to restore our ecosystems can make a difference. The stronger our environment, the more resilient we are.
It is our environment that protects us, clothes us, provides us with safe drinking water, feeds us, and has provided generations of our Pacific people with the tools and foundation for our cultural traditions. While our environment has helped shape who we are as Pacific people, it has also kept us alive.
So, what is the state of our environment in the Pacific now?
If you haven’t yet, visit our State of Environment and Conservation in the Pacific Islands: 2020 Regional Report online. Our team at SPREP have done a great job and putting this report together with partners and preparing the information in this so we can all access and understand it.
Some of the key facts that are shared with us are that 17% of the known key biodiversity areas in the Pacific islands’ region lie inside the boundaries of protected areas, eight of the 14 Pacific island countries protect all sharks and rays, and countries in our Pacific region spend less than 2% of their budget on protecting our environment.
We’re hopeful that the more you know, the more that you will do for our environment. Visit this site as it’s a great one to help you know our Pacific environment better.
So, let’s now talk about what we can all do. It’s within our hands for us to help restore our ecosystems, we can make the right choices for ecosystem regeneration. Sometimes we know what the right thing is to do, but it may just take us out of our comfort zone a bit, or be a little inconvenient, but it's all for a really good cause.
It’s doable to say no to single-use plastics, we just need to be prepared by having a reusable bag on us always or a reusable drink bottle to maintain that convenience. At least 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, this minor action can contribute to lowering this number.
Compost your food waste, recycle where you can or purchase less, be mindful of your surroundings.
Plant a tree whenever you can, and care for it – it’s our trees that capture our carbon dioxide to give us oxygen, the sustenance of our life.
It also helps when you consider the impact upon our environment in all aspects of decision making where possible. This is where long-term vision plays a crucial role. We can’t turn back time, it’s a good piece of advice – we should all look beyond today or tomorrow to the next 10 years and consider the impact of decisions being made, upon our environment and our people. We all need to consciously adjust our thinking to consider our environment when making choices and decisions.
Before I end, I want to highlight that while we do need to do more for our environment, there are success stories in our Pacific region. We just need to create more of them together, I know that we can do it.
This World Environment Day let’s challenge each other and be bold in our environmental choices. Start with one good environment action and do it every day for a month, and then add another one on top of that.
We can do this, together.”
Photo: D. McFadzien