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Pressing ahead with environment policy

Monday 3 April 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Environment, National


Pressing ahead with environment policy
National Environment Service director Halatoa Fua. MARAE MOANA/23040238

It’s a document which received applause from environmentalists and school students alike when it was launched last week. The Cook Islands National Environment Policy 2022-32 is an attempt to ‘escalate efforts to protect the environment’.

It’s a 35-page document that, in a nutshell, is a policy to escalate efforts to protect the environment, “without policy, there is no clear direction as to what the National Environment Service is wanting to achieve”, its director Halatoa Fua says.

“Our policy is to make structural changes to our law to help better enforcement and management of the environment.

“From a public perspective, the outcome we aspire to achieve is to change attitudes and behaviours relating to the environment.

“This can be based on the simplest of things like recycling, refuse to use plastics and conservation of water.”

Fua points to half a dozen sections in the document, a total of 53 initiatives outlined in them.

They are set out as objectives and policy instruments under the umbrella of land, marine, biodiversity, water, air and climate change, and waste.

They include repealing and replacing the Environment Act 2003 to strengthen land-use, marine provisions, definitions on biodiversity, water conservation, air quality and waste management among others.

There’s a myriad of policy instruments and it’s going to come at a cost, in more ways than one.

There are ways to counter the costs as NES receives overseas funding support from various donors.

The key donor for NES is the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“We’re currently on track to receive GEF7 funding, followed by the new project design for GEF8 funding,” Fua says.

“Furthermore, we continue to provide new proposals to Government for direct funding support on these thematic areas and goals.”

That also takes into consideration the wider region and around the globe – the policy went through extensive public consultation in the Cook Islands and abroad.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Programme (SPREP) gave advice to the development of the policy based on best practices in the Pacific and internationally.

The document introduction spells it out in black and white.

“Environmental degradation will likely escalate within the next decade as the impacts of climate change intensify.

“Therefore the implementation of the NEP 2022-32 will be critical in addressing the environmental concerns and challenges faced by the Cook Islands.

“The necessary legal and institutional frameworks outlined in the policy instruments will deliver the tools required to ensure the Cook Islands’ environment is protected and will sustain the next generations.” 

Te Ipukarea Society has congratulated NES on the launch of the policy, with technical director Kelvin Passfield, saying the Society sees it as an important step forward in the makeover of NES.

“This is an important part of making the agency more fit for purpose.” 

The Society made substantial comment on earlier drafts of the policy, many of which were addressed, he added.

“One of our more significant recommendations was for the Island Environment Authorities to not be political.

“That is, they should not consist of members of parliament, as is largely the case on Rarotonga Environment Authority (REA).

“Technical expertise is much more relevant to the Authority and past experience has shown that REA decisions were sometimes politically motivated.

“While this recommendation was not included in the policy, we are hopeful that it will be taken on board when the legislation is drafted.”

The 10-year policy is to be reviewed in five years’ time while the monitoring and evaluation framework will be reviewed every two years.

Fua says NES will be focused on the implementation process and “how we can fulfil the policy instruments committed”.

“We will also spend significant time in planning the data collection process as per our monitoring and evaluation framework.

“This requires collaboration with key agencies in Government, NGOs and the Pa Enua.”

The National Environment Service partnered with Tereora College to launch the National Environment Policy 2022-32 in Rarotonga on Thursday last week. 

The launch was a speech and debate competition by Year 13 Tereora students, designed to engage with youth and hear their perspective on the plans to protect the environment.

On Friday, Fua said it was fitting to work with a school to launch an environment policy.    

“The students’ views on the state of the environment is important as they are the future leaders of the Cook Islands.”

A number of Government agencies announced school holiday internships for the students at the event, with an environmental theme in mind.   

“We do internships in Government, but not together as a group of agencies, to make it compelling,” Fua said.

“The internship is aligned with the environment goals and the respective heads of ministries were very supportive of the initiative.

“We will work with the Ministry of Education to help us make these internships effective.”