4 Dec 2013

Pacific told to re-think priorities on nature and conservation

6:03 pm on 4 December 2013

A conservation conference in Suva has been told the Pacific has got to change its approach to stop the loss of natural resources, culture and traditions.

The head of the International Union for Nature Conservation, Taholo Kami, has told the Pacific Islands Conference On Nature Conservation and Protected Areas that the region needs to re-think its priorities.

TAHOLO KAMI: If we're going to see the right kind of development that embraces the things that we value - the green, blue economies that we desire that are sustainable in future - then we've got to do something different. The governments have got to sit down and say 'Is GDP the outcome we are measured by or is with it a bigger GDP plus well-being that we can get growth without sacrificing the important things like our environment and our values?'

DON WISEMAN: And what do you have to do to do that?

TK: This is where the whole re-thinking is and the challenge that we're putting forward. I think the aspirations are there with the people. The natural drive has been how do we fit and grow under a western economy framework, but we know that globally the western development framework has led with issues like climate change. How do we ensure with our national planning process that we can start to ensure with development there are big environmental wins? Our societies are also recognised for what they have, for example rural communities looking after forests and healthy local fisheries. In the end the only way to get involved in society was to sell everything they have, come work in a factory. Because the economies we have don't value nature, they don't value the fact that clean water has to come from a source. We were told you have to sell the source and you've got to get rid of your forests so you can make some money, while at the same time we should be saying 'Actually, what is productivity?' It's not about just jobs in the western sense, but if our villagers are out there keeping healthy forests and maintaining clean water, they should be rewarded and they should be included in some way for what they are doing in society. The current economic system doesn't do that - it says we will reward you when you sell the logs. By not valuing nature and nature's infrastructure development has had certain costs, and the real costs have massive impacts on our social infrastructures and nature's infrastructure.

DW: How would you envisage marrying these two concepts? How would you marry something like this into an economic structure?

TK: What's interesting is it's happening already in some countries. Vanuatu is now, under this government, redoing their national plan. And they've put in a process where they're serving the well-being and the welfare of our people with an outcome that's important. The government of Papua New Guinea, they've stepped up and said, 'We're going to review our development strategic plan because it needs to reflect more sustainability, it needs to reflect environmental [factors] and safeguards in terms of the investment in our communities'. So the government is starting to see that we're on a pathway that doesn't give a secure future. I hope that we can start to get momentum. I think the critical issue right now is leadership.