- By Christina Reed
New report shows strengths and weaknesses in Pacific conservation
Of all the factors considered in an extensive analysis on the state of the environment and conservation in the Pacific Islands, released recently during the 10th Pacific Islands Conference for Nature Conservation and Protected Areas, the reduction of ozone depleting substances has received the only triple gold crown.
It is the only indicator with all three criteria coming in at the top: the status is good, the trend is improving, and managers have a high confidence in the data. Coming in second place with a good status report, high confidence in the data, but showing a trend that is for now only stable, are commercial pelagic fishes. “Both of these positive trends have come about as a result of significant government regulations and adherence to the law, combined with actions by individuals and local community members, showcasing the importance of scientific data in demonstrating the need for regulations as well as the comprehension of that data for taking action,” said Kosi Latu, director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP).“Ozone depletion has benefited from a strong international agreement and financial support, as well as extensive innovation in industries such as refrigeration. Fisheries have benefitted from strong regional coordination and a willingness to pressure distant water fishing nations to comply with regional regulations.” The report is the first of its kind for two reasons: it extends the national State of the Environment reporting system that has been ongoing since the 1990s to a regional level reporting system, and it combines the State of Conservation reporting system with the State of Environment assessment. Moving forward, this joint reporting will allow for a regular cycle of assessments, supporting streamlined analyses and reports. “In this assessment of the state of the Pacific environment and conservation using regional indicators endorsed by SPREP member countries and territories, we seek to lay the groundwork for sustained monitoring that supports action, and measures Pacific success as well as our shortfalls in achieving environmentally sustainable development,” said Latu. Of the 31 total indicators of Pacific species, ecosystems, and factors affecting our relationship with nature, most have a medium data confidence, meaning the data are geographically sparse or cover only short time periods. On this aspect, the report provides clear guidance about what needs to change in order to improve understanding and assess where the gaps are in the data. “A key priority for sustainable environmental management and resilient development in our islands is the need to obtain, assess, and apply high-quality national and regional environmental information to enable us to effectively plan, implement, and monitor our progress towards sustainable environmental outcomes in a time of great change in the region. To achieve this, we require a commitment to science, knowledge, and appropriate technologies, investment in the education and engagement of our young people, and continuous up-to-date reporting on the status of the Pacific environment,”Latu explained. Data limitations are a challenge throughout the region: 11 indicators in the report are given a low confidence rating and for some, there is not even enough data to determine a trend. These limitations prevent an accurate assessment of terrestrial wildlife protection, the rate of capture of household waste, protected area management effectiveness, and integration of protected areas into wider land- and seascapes. Yet expert opinion and the limited data about these topics suggest a range in their status, with some nearly meeting and others well below healthy environmental standards. Data and information come from multiple sources and are not just a matter of scientists expanding their fact-finding missions. “In Oceania, our islands have an extraordinarily high number of unique species that have existed for thousands of years,” stated Thierry Santa, the President of New Caledonia, during the opening session of the Conference. “It is essential to create synergies between and with Pacific people, to reinforce cooperation and increase exchanges to be able to face ongoing transformations and build our shared resilience with the necessary help of everyone involved.” Several indicators that are close to meeting healthy environmental standards continue to show consistent improvement: the per capita generation of municipal waste is below the global average on most islands, Pacific leaders have rapidly expanded marine protected areas to cover huge swathes of the ocean, and funding for ecosystem-based adaptation as part of climate resilience is climbing. However, live coral cover and wetlands are showing deteriorating trends as are most of the biodiversity indicators. The worst offending indicator, with enough data to show it’s already well below environmental standards, is the deteriorating trend seen for hazardous waste. E-waste now joins the noxious offenders list with asbestos, agrochemicals and other hazardous materials — including those transported over long distances into the region by air and water, such as mercury and persistent organic pollutants. Both local and global action as well as cooperation are needed to reduce and treat the hazardous waste — solutions that are needed for many of the threats to Pacific island ecosystems. In an immediate call to action environmental ministers from 13 PICTs and other SPREP Member countries, along with 11 members of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation, endorsed a five-year commitment, called the Vemööre Declaration on 26 November 2020. “In the Kunié language, spoken on the Isle of Pines, Vemööre means to make viable, whether it be a word, or a project,” explained HE Santa. “This declaration will ensure that our voice, the united voice of the Pacific, will be heard during international negotiations, most notably during the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in China in 2021.” The State of Environment and Conservation in the Pacific Islands: 2020 Regional Report may be the compass to provide guidance for decision-making for many Pacific island people, communities and governments over the coming years. The 10th Pacific Island Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas was held from 24 – 27 October 2020 under the theme “Nature Conservation Action for a Resilient Pacific. The conference is organized every five to six years by the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation and SPREP, and hosted by the government of New Caledonia. (SPREP)