The former prime minister of New Zealand is renowned for her strong commitment to environmental issues. She has won many awards over her lifetime, including New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand in 2010. She also won awards for her work on promoting nuclear disarmament and world peace. As former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Clark was responsible for the work that UNDP did with the Global Environment Fund, a very large public funder of environmental projects, including many in the Cook Islands. This includes one of the very few sources of funding for NGOs under the Small Grants Programme.
In her characteristically candid manner, Clark wasted no time in asking the hard questions including, who bears the costs of the adverse impacts of tourism? With respect to the health of the Muri lagoon she remarked that you ‘don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg’. Clark was very interested to hear about how local tourist operators were registering to become green accredited through the recent Mana Tiaki Eco-Certification project promoted through Te Ipukarea Society and Tourism Cook Islands. This project seeks to curb the impact tourism has on the natural environment while at the same time celebrating those operators who adopt best practice.
Waste management was another hot topic. Clark shared her concerns how none of the revenue created from the importation of goods goes towards covering the cost of dealing with the product at the end of its useful life.
She was very interested to hear about the draft Solid Waste Management Bill which should soon be before the Cook Islands’ Government. Among other things, the Bill seeks to ban a range of single use plastics. She also expressed her strong support for the concept of an Advanced Disposal Fee (ADF). The ADF works by adding a sum of money to the cost of a product when it enters the country that will pay for its disposal when it reaches the end of its usable life. The ADF could be added to almost all non-biodegradable or hazardous products that enter the Cook Islands, from plastic bottles to cars and heavy machinery. For example, it could provide the basis of a Container Deposit Scheme where you receive cash back for returning an item such as an empty plastic drink bottle. This would provide an incentive for people to bring back products once they are no longer useful instead of dumping them or putting them into general rubbish bins.
Other topics from the Society’s ecologically sustainable development portfolio were also of particular interest to Clark. These included our work raising awareness on the potential impacts of deep sea mining, a campaign on sustainable fisheries, and reviewing environmental impact assessments (EIAs), especially for coastal developments, wetland infilling and developments on sloping land. She was also very glad to hear of the Society’s work on educating our youth through our schools’ programme on worm farming, composting and waste management.
A robust discussion was held on how to overcome the constraints of political bureaucracy, lack of planning regulations and issues around landownership in the Cook Islands. Clark advised that people need to take action themselves and actively push governments if they want environmental change. She suggested a paradigm shift whereby the Cook Islands globally identify themselves as ‘green champions’, effectively challenging and committing both government and the community to live up to the expectation.
An avid conservationist, Clark wanted to hear about the Society’s biodiversity projects throughout the Cook Islands, including the 2018 rat eradication project in Suwarrow. Despite her jam packed schedule, she enthusiastically accepted an invitation from Te Ipukarea Society patron Ian Karika for a trek up to the Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA) in Vaimaanga the next day. She was in her element exploring the diverse biodiversity and beautiful landscape of the Takitumu valley and looking for the rare Kakerori bird also known as the Rarotongan flycatcher. She was also shown an example of efforts to control invasive plant species using biological control.
Te Ipukarea Society is very grateful to the President of the Rotary Club of Rarotonga, Jaewynn Mckay, for facilitating our meeting with Clark. We really appreciated the time Clark spent with us, sharing her knowledge and experience and also for her moral support for the work that we do. We were left inspired by her resolve and determination to make environmental change by just getting out there and getting things done!
- Te Ipukarea Society