Back in history: Environmental issues

Officials of SPREP at the Fiji Mocmabo Hotel in Nadi . Picture: FIJI TIMES FILE

The persistent neglect of environmental issues could limit the opportunities for economic development in many Pacific Island countries, former minister for housing and urban development Tomasi Vakatora warned.

Speaking at a workshop preparing for the United Nations conference on Earth Summit, he said the implications of this neglect led to an increasing awareness among regional governments that environmental management and economic development were inextricably linked.

An article published by The Fiji Times on June 5, 1991, stated the workshop was organised by the then South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), for about 50 senior government officials and non-government organisations representatives from the Pacific.

Mr Vakatora said awareness at a regional level was part of an on-going commitment to act on environment matters.

“Countries of the South Pacific have demonstrated that they have many common concerns regarding the environment and development and, as most of you are aware, are in the process of strengthening the role of our regional environment organisation, SPREP,” he said.

However, it was important to recognise the path to sustainable development for the South Pacific may not be possible without the political will and operation of countries outside the region.

“While considerable advantages have been made in recent years, not enough has been done to bring back environment and development concerns together with economic planning and decision making.

“As a result, the question that now challenges the world community is how this can be done so that we can ensure environmentally sustainable development.”

He said the South Pacific had concentrated economically on expanding tourism, commercial agriculture, fishery, forestry and extractive industries which had become expensive. “The cost has been borne largely by the environment and the limited resource bases of island ecosystems.

“It has also become clear that these environment impacts could have been avoided through the better integration of development and environment concerns.”

Global environmental problems including climate change and the associated rising sea level had threatened the land and ocean resources upon which the Pacific Islanders heavily depend on.

Lack of appropriate legislation, human and financial resources would also slow the region on the path to sustainable development.

“These I believe, are at the very heart of the difficulties we will face and are issues I am sure we will discuss inconsiderable detail.”

The aim of the UNCED was to take steps to reverse the trends towards environmental degradation and establish the basis for a sustainable way of life.

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