By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Pacific island region's largest conservation initiative launched over the weekend has received more than $200 million in grants pledged by two global nonprofit organizations.
The initiative dubbed “Unlocking Blue Pacific Prosperity,” launched by Pacific island state leaders, is aimed at revitalizing the Blue Pacific continent. It was launched Sunday at the United Nations' 28th Session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP28, in Dubai, where world leaders gather for a two-week climate summit that opened on Nov. 30.
The Bezos Earth Fund pledged $100 million, while the Global Environment Facility announced the allocation of $125 million through Star GEF 8.
“We are delighted to lend our support for this bold initiative to secure the health, food security, and livelihoods of people across the region. We urge other partners to join us to support this bold vision,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund.
“I hope that these resources can be leveraged by more resources from many different sources so we can complement what every single country is providing to the public expenditures in their effort to become more resilient to a changing environment,” said Carlos Manual Rodriquez, CEO of Global Environment Facility.
Touted as the largest conservation strategy, the program seeks to establish sustainable coastal food systems and restore and rejuvenate the coral reefs, mangroves and other coastal ecosystems that are the foundation for food security, livelihoods, and culture in the Pacific islands.
“There is no greater threat to the people of the Pacific than climate change,” Palau President Surangel Whipps said. “It threatens our security, our livelihoods, and our wellbeing.”
Whipps said despite major efforts by Pacific communities and long-standing international partners, development and environmental outcomes in the Pacific are not happening at the pace or scale needed to protect the planet or meet regional needs.
“The world is not on track to meet any of the 17 sustainable development goals or climate goals by 2030. The Blue Pacific has a pivotal role in correcting the global course by achieving urgent global environmental commitments, including 30 by 30,” the Palauan president told the audience at COP28.
Steer noted that Pacific island states are custodians of 30 percent of the world’s precious coral systems, provide over 50 percent of the global tuna supply and care for the largest carbon sink on the planet. Whipps said the Pacific island leaders are committed to leading the effort to protect the region along with its cultures and ecosystems. “We’re thrilled to partner with the Bezos Earth Fund on this initiative and call on others to join us,” he said.
Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi 'Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni said environmental occurrences in the Pacific islands have an impact on the planet due to the vast size of the region.
“That’s why we have committed to protecting 30 percent of our Blue Continent as we strive to protect and sustainably manage critical ecosystems,” Sovaleni said. “We mean to show the world that Pacific people are resilient and determined to hope, despite the dire Global Stocktake report card.”
Dr. Cristián Samper, managing director and leader for Nature Solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund, said the group fully supports the Pacific island leaders’ initiative. He urged the international community to follow suit and create and implement similar plans to protect the world’s oceans.
The rollout of "Unlocking Blue Pacific Prosperity” followed the September launch of Niue’s novel funding approach to ocean protection. The initiative involves selling “conservation commitments” for $148 each, which anyone can buy to help protect Niue’s ocean for 20 years.
Enric Sala, founder of Pristine Seas and National Geographic Explorer in Residence, urged the rest of the world to follow the Pacific island leaders' lead toward the achievement of "30x30 by 2030."
"Pacific Islanders are experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis, which they did not cause. Yet their ocean is also poised to offer an effective climate solution unlike any other," Sala said.
"I have seen with my own eyes how local and Indigenous communities across the Pacific have protected some of their waters, with incredible results. And science has shown over and over that fully protected areas are key to fostering climate resilience. Protecting marine ecosystems will pay off in dividends now and in the future - for marine life, people and the climate," he added.