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SPREP aims for even louder Pacific voice

Saturday 20 February 2016 | Published in Regional

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PACIFIC – The newly-appointed head of the region’s main environmental agency aims to make the voice of Pacific island countries even louder at international negotiations on climate change.

Leota Kosi Latu was appointed as Director General of SPREP at the end of last year.

He told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific there are innovative ways to have the region’s concerns heard.

“For a very long time, we have been trying to tell the world, listen this is what’s happening to the Pacific in terms of the impact of climate change. And for a very long time our voices haven’t been heard. So we need to think of innovative ways to try and make sure that we get the message.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: Have you got any ideas so far?

“We’ve got to think of innovative ways of doing that. You know, just before I was talking about the link between climate change and the arts. We have a close partnership with the Pacific Vaka’s, these are the traditional canoes that were donated by, you know, wealthy German philanthropists, to the Pacific.

“And so we’re using that cultural link to spread the message. It’s not just the conventional communicating a message. We’ve got to use a cultural context, we’ve got to use the arts to articulate the message.

DATELINE PACIFIC: You don’t think the message has got through yet?

“In the context of COP21 I think there was been a major paradigm shift. If you look at the outcomes of the Paris agreement, all the negotiations, there certainly is a major shift in terms of the mindset of the international community.

“So we were able to get some of the key asks for the region, mostly in any negotiation it’s a compromise so there were things that we got and things that we sort of got but not quite in the package that we wanted.

“So I think that a larger portion of the international community is beginning to listen, but it’s not everybody. It’s that outstanding portion of the international community we need to be working with.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: This deal, that is if it’s ratified by the various countries, what would be your priorities for the member countries of SPREP, the advice you provide?

“One of the first things we want to do is help countries ratify the Paris agreement so it’s critical that we move from rhetoric to action.

“So one of the first things that we – in fact we just sent out a circular to the members just last week, reminding – need to do is to start positioning themselves for signing up with the Paris agreement when it’s open for signature on April 22.

“So that’s one of the first things you’ve got to do as a member country and then we are developing a programme of implementation that’s geared to target some key areas intended to help countries.

“So for example their emissions reductions, we need to be in a position to help them develop those pledges, into real national contributions.

“In terms of the outcomes of the Paris agreement there’s a lot of issues that require further negotiation, the details have not been worked out. We have principles and so for the next five years we will be helping the countries to continue to provide support to them in that regard. “

DATELINE PACIFIC: One of the problems that was brought up by the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, was that countries are not individually able to access some of the key mechanisms to help them. For instance the Green Climate Fund, you’re the only agency in the Pacific that can access the money. And they said there’s so much bureaucracy around that, and it’s difficult for them. They’re setting up their own foundation to try and capture private sector funding. What are you doing to help countries access this money that’s available, billions of dollars?

“Sure, we’re not the only accredited entity in the Pacific. There’s the ADB, there’s the World Bank, but we’re the only regional implementing entity in the Pacific.

“Yeah I think we’ve got to bear in mind that the GCF, the Green Climate Fund, has only been operating for just under a year now. We’re still trying to find our feet, most of them come from a banking background, perhaps maybe not necessarily a climate change background.

“So we understand they’re trying to find their feet, we’re also trying to find our feet as an implementing entity. We’re working through that, the advantage or the benefit of going through SPREP is that we obviously understand the concerns and issues of the member countries, so that puts us in a very good position to do that.

“We are aware of the fact that the GCF have been focusing quite a lot on the technical side, you know, looking at requirements and making sure that proposals meet certain technical requirements that’s important, but I think there needs to be a bit of a balance in that approach.

“So I understand that there’s a GCF board meeting happening in March and I think June where they are looking at the whole issue of, you know, simplifying procedures.

“So we’re hoping, we’re keeping an eye on that, we’re hoping that the GCF board will implement that or come up with a simplified procedure for access that will help those small island countries in the region.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: So will you be pushing that, that message that you’d like to see less bureaucracy?

“Absolutely, we support the idea of simplifying procedures for access. Otherwise you know, you can have all these millions and millions of dollars sitting there but not being accessed. Anything that will help simplify access for our members, that’s what we support.” - RNZI