Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, officially opened the 26th Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Meeting last night at the Hotel Tanoa Tusitala in Sogi.
The meeting is scheduled to run over three days and has attracted 150 participants, including more than a dozen partner organizations.
In his address, the Prime Minister noted that 22 years had passed since the signing of the SPREP Agreement which established the Programme as an independent regional organization, and marked the birth of SPREP as the Pacific’s environmental agency.
“SPREP arrived soon after Cyclones Ofa and Val had caused immense devastation to the islands of Samoa. It was a time of rebuilding and reconstruction for Samoa and a challenging time for us all,” said Tuilaepa.
“There were a number of options for the location of SPREP within the region and the Government of Samoa at that time played a key role in ensuring that SPREP moved to Samoa.”
He went on to say that since then, the recognition of environmental issues has grown to influence national policies throughout the region.
“Our Government, through the Strategy for the Development of Samoa 2012 to 2016, clearly identifies the Environment Sector as one of our key national priorities.
“Put simply – without a well-managed and healthy environment we will not achieve sustainable development in Samoa or any other Pacific island country.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa said this is a clear reflection of the importance placed by the Government of Samoa on the environment and on the importance of SPREP for our region.
He added that the SAMOA Pathway is the key outcome from the landmark United Nations SIDS conference which Samoa was honoured to host in September 2014.
“This conference reaffirmed the need for sustainable and durable partnerships to address the pressing challenges faced by our small islands,” said Tuilaepa.
“When SPREP came here it had a very small but dedicated staff. Since that time the organisation has grown significantly and now has staff in Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands.”
The Prime Minister said SPREP’s programme addresses major issues for our Pacific countries, including biodiversity, conservation, waste management, environmental monitoring and climate change.
“SPREP is the lead agency for climate change in our region under the mandate given in the Pacific Island Framework for Action on Climate Change (PIFACC). PIFACC which ends this year has been extended by the Forum Leaders for a period of one year.
“This is an issue of vital importance for me and for my fellow Pacific Leaders in our collective journey to COP21 in Paris this year, towards the strongest possible legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions.”
He said climate change is the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific and one of the greatest challenges for the entire world.
“Our Government recognizes that climate change is a reality, that it is an urgent issue and that we have to act now, said the Prime Minister.
“We are taking decisive action to adapt to climate change and to ensure an increasing part of our energy needs are met through renewable energy.
“Our Government has made a firm commitment to a target of 100% Renewable Energy by 2017. The share of renewable energy in Samoa has made significant progress, as witnessed by the solar installations at Faleata and at Faleolo Airport, and the wind turbines in Vailoa, Aleipata.”
He said other Pacific countries are making very strong progress on their renewable energy targets and called on the rest of the world to do the same.
Susuga Tuilaepa also acknowledged the generous commitment of the Government of Japan for the Pacific Climate Change Centre (PCCC), which will be built here in Samoa at SPREP.
He said the Centre will be a focus for innovation and climate leadership in this region and in the world and has the full support of our Government, as the host of SPREP.
“Our government believes that the PCCC is the natural and logical location for the implementation/coordination unit for the proposed “Strategy for Resilient Development in the Pacific: An integrated approach to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management”.
Tuilaepa said he had already put this proposition to our Forum Leaders at their recent meeting in Port Moresby and a final decision is expected at next year’s Forum Meeting.
“Samoa and other Pacific island countries greatly appreciate commitments made under the Copenhagen Accord to provide 100 billion US dollars per annum by 2020 to support climate change efforts by developing countries, including by the Government of Japan.”
“The establishment of the Green Climate Fund, on which Samoa serves as an Alternate Board Member, and the recent accreditation of SPREP is good news for our region and will create greater opportunities for access to climate finance for our Pacific nations,” he said.
Tuilaepa also congratulated SPREP on its many efforts to protect and better manage biodiversity. He said it is a critical issue given that our plant and animal species in the Pacific are being lost at alarming rates.
He said efforts to manage both solid and hazardous wastes by SPREP and many partners, including the EU through the PacWaste Programme, and the Japanese Government, through JICA, have also made a positive impact in our region.
“Samoa has been pleased to trial the innovative Fukuoka method of solid waste management which is now being widely applied in the region.
“The Government of Samoa has been pleased to partner with SPREP on many programmes over the last 22 years.”
But he said we must not rest on our laurels as the challenges ahead for our Pacific environment are many and varied and the role of SPREP has never been more important.
“I would urge SPREP members, donors and partners to get behind and support our regional home grown environment agency,” urged the Prime Minister.
He said Samoa is a member of a host of international organisations including the United Nations and its organs, the Commonwealth, Intergovernmental financial institutions as well as our own Pacific regional organisations, to ensure that Samoa does its part to add to the collective voice and weight of our region in advancing global issues, important to the Pacific. But the Prime Minister acknowledges that it comes with a heavy price tag relative to our financial resources.
“Nevertheless, I am happy to advise that Samoa has made an additional voluntary host country grant contribution of about ST$50,000.00 in recognition of the benefits of SPREP’s work in addressing environment concerns of the Pacific region and our country.”
The Prime Minister also conveyed his appreciation for SPREP’s Director General, Mr David Sheppard for his outstanding service to SPREP and to the Pacific region.
“He (Mr Sheppard) has exemplified excellence in leadership, innovation, determination and a strong will for effective and enduring partnerships for the betterment of our Pacific region.”
Mr Sheppard in his remarks said it is pleasing that 24 of the 26 member countries are represented at the meeting.
“For SPREP, this represents a record. Congratulations to you all on being part of such a record breaking event,” he said.
“SPREP’s work has at all times been guided by the principle of increasing practical and tangible support for our Pacific island members of SPREP to better manage and protect their environment.”
He has seen significant improvement in SPREP’s governance since 2008 and said that SPREP is an effective and efficient organization.
“The bottom line from improved governance is that SPREP is better able to support our Pacific Island members in addressing their pressing environment and sustainable development challenges.”
Mr Sheppard also noted the landmark SIDS meeting that was hosted by Samoa last year, adding that Samoa’s hosting efforts were widely considered to be excellent and greatly admired.