PACIFIC ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

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SOUTH PACIFIC REGIONAL ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME (SPREP) Apia, Samoa

PRESS RELEASE September 21, 1998

GIVEN BOOST AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL

The Pacific has decided to highlight the importance of environmental issues at the international level by telling its environmental agency to seek observer status at the United Nations.

At this week's biennial meeting of the 22 Pacific island countries and territories and four developed countries -- Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States -- which are members of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the countries agreed to endorse a recommendation that SPREP should seek observer status at the UN.

The Chairman of SPREP, Ned Howard, said SPREP's members felt observer status would help strengthen the Pacific voice on global environmental issues.

"Observer status means SPREP will have better access to meetings and the information flow, which will help improve the technical advice it gives to Pacific Island countries on the full range of international environmental meetings and negotiations," Mr. Howard said. "It will further enhance SPREP's role in assisting Pacific Island country participation in decisions being taken on global environmental issues."

Mr. Howard said coming international negotiations where Pacific Island countries would benefit from SPREP's increased access to information and meetings included the Climate Change Convention negotiations due to be held in November this year; the ongoing negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity and on the elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants; and next September's UN Special Session on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

PRESS RELEASE September 21, 1998

COMMUNITY FOCUS BRINGS PACIFIC CONSERVATION SUCCESS

Pacific Island countries and territories have endorsed a four-year action plan for conserving the region's natural resources, praising its focus on community-based activities and its broad collaborative approach.

The Action Strategy for Nature Conservation in the Pacific Islands Region 1999 - 2002 was drawn up by Pacific Island countries, non-governmental organizations, regional and international agencies, and presented this week to the biennial meeting of the 22 Pacific island countries and four developed countries which are members of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

The strategy provides a blueprint for nature conservation activities at local, national, regional and international levels, building on the earlier 1994 - 1998 Nature Conservation Strategy.

SPREP member countries strongly supported the emphasis on communities having a central role in planning, managing and monitoring conservation activities.

The updated Action Strategy adds activities to deal with emerging issues such as protection of genetic resources, intellectual property rights and the increasing danger posed by invasive alien species. One important new priority is to include consideration of conservation needs in all areas of Government planning, and the need to involve the private sector.

The strategy notes "an urgent need for policy makers to recognize that sustainable natural resources management is not a constraint, but a necessity and opportunity for the future development of Pacific Island countries and territories". It also details examples of innovative new funding possibilities, including trust funds, debt-for-nature swaps, carbon offsetting schemes, special user fees, resource extraction taxes and partnerships with the private sector.

SPREP's South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme (SPBCP) program manager, Joe Reti, said in the Pacific, it was now proven that a community-based approach was the only way to go.

"Earlier efforts to conserve fragile resources in the Pacific failed, because they tried to conserve by establishing national parks. That approach does not fit the Pacific's land tenure systems approach, which is one of community ownership. In the Pacific, sustainability depends on local residents having the necessary skills to lead and manage conservation activities on their own, and this has to include development of sustainable ways of making an income from precious natural resources."

Since 1994, SPREP's SPBCP program has supported the establishment of 17 Conservation Areas in 12 countries. Most of these are developing income-generation options including ecotourism, whale watching, butterfly farming, beekeeping and catch-and-release sports fishing.

"However, SPBCP is by no means the only program in the Pacific using a community -based approach to conserve and protect precious natural resources," Mr. Reti said.

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