Ensuring a Promising Future for the Pacific

26 January 2015

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 was held in the Oceania region, offering the most optimum opportunity for BIOPAMA (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme) Pacific to invest in showcasing this programme to regional and global actors. Looking back at the successes for the Pacific of this once-in-a-decade event, Tony O’Keeffe, BIOPAMA Coordinator for the Pacific, shares his thoughts on the opportunities to ensure a promising future for the region and the innovative means to voice the Pacific messages to the world.

The ‘Mua: Guided by Nature’ canoe voyage to Sydney for the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 was a compelling way of conveying and advocating the importance of the Pacific’s protected areas to the world.  And the WIN- Pacific Pavilion was a hub of interactive learning and multi-stakeholder exchange. The BIOPAMA Pacific programme lent its considerable support to these two actions, among other regional activities, at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014. 

The purpose of the ‘Mua: Guided by Nature’ journey was to take a unified Pacific voice on conservation to the Congress, and to the world. The arrival of the four voyaging canoes in Sydney Harbor visibly portrayed the essential messages from the Pacific Islands – the ‘one Pacific voice’ providing important and unified statements from the entire Pacific Islands region about its beliefs, commitments and ways to secure a sustainable future for its oceans, islands, people and heritage. It demonstrated that traditional and indigenous approaches and knowledge can combine with thoughtful modern ideas to help solve the complex problems facing the globe. This Pacific voice spoke about the importance of the region’s large oceans and unique island spaces, and their global value in a changing climate. The Pacific contains big ocean states but small island communities, and these communities are guided by ancient traditional knowledge that provides the cultural tools to be resilient in the face of the impact of climate change.

The voyage also drew attention to the stand made by many Pacific Island leaders who have pledged millions of square kilometers toward protecting marine areas, while Pacific Island communities drive local action to secure and sustain livelihoods.

I was struck by the apparent simplicity, yet eloquence, confidence and power, of the regional perspectives voiced by individual Pacific Islanders concerning their approach to nature, their livelihoods and their customs. As peoples directly reliant on land, coastal and marine resources that form an intrinsic part of their culture, tradition, history, way of life and livelihoods, any loss of biodiversity has negative effects on food and energy security, health and material wealth and the adequate functioning of ecosystems. It also influences social structures and behaviors. Island communities are highly sensitive to impacts on their environment but are sometimes far from capable of addressing the huge and pressing issues they face without having the recognition of these impacts from the global community, and also their active support.

Additionally, the voyage bought forward many younger, and older, people who were crew members and gave them the opportunity of being regional environmental champions, community role models and spokespeople, and which many of them did with notable skill, maturity and impact. For them, this voyage will springboard them, and some of those they influenced, into further environmental advocacy roles on behalf of their countries.

With cultural elements that were interwoven into the formal schedule such as displays, music, dance and art and crafts work, the WIN-Pacific Community Dialogue Pavilion created a strong Pacific atmosphere and placed the region clearly on the world stage in terms of protected areas values and issues. Having a focal destination and meeting place for regional people to assemble and mix enabled a variety of informal discussions, events and planning meetings to take place. The pavilion, also supported by the IUCN Commission on Environmental Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), provided a platform for indigenous peoples and local communities to share knowledge among peers, experts, policymakers and the media, and strategize for the future.

The goal of ensuring a promising future for the Pacific region was a thematic focus of the Congress week and embraced by all.

Expert panelists facilitated discussions on indigenous and community best practices in the management of protected areas, highlighting initiatives like the locally managed marine areas (LMMA) network in the Indo-Pacific. The WIN and Pacific Community Dialogue Pavilion offered unique opportunities for stakeholders to engage directly with government and high-level policy makers. A press conference with Pacific leaders was overflowing. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias addressed how the outcomes of the recent Conference of the Parties are aligned with the discussions at the World Parks Congress, and the post 2015 development agenda.

Community dialogues such as this one should be a valued component of international meetings, providing an arena for community voices and perspectives, and an effective bridge for international, national, and local practitioners in sustainable development.

A perspective by Tony O’Keeffe, BIOPAMA Coordinator for the Pacific region

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