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Vanuatu’s religious call for climate justice

Part of the Vanuatu coastline affected by rising seawater levels Port Vila, Vanuatu: March 23, 2021: 4pm (PICAN media): Around the world, people of faith are calling on their leaders to close the massive gap between what is required to limit global temperature rise and actual climate change commitments by governments and financial institutions. Most religions hold core to their beliefs the sacredness of the earth and God’s creation, and so they are calling for world leaders to address the injustice and impacts that the climate crisis is inflicting on communities worldwide. Two leaders of different faiths and beliefs in Vanuatu are standing behind the call for action on climate justice that was issued by a global solidarity from people of diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds on 11th March 2021. This was the biggest-ever-faith based global day of action to sound the alarm for climate Justice. The Vanuatu Christian Council’s Secretary General, Pastor Shem Tema, lamented that “the destruction of Earth, our shared home, directly goes against the values and teachings which we Christian believers of faith, embrace and uphold. We feel it is our obligation to raise our voice against our current way of living, which is causing harm and destruction on a huge scale to our fellow inhabitants of the earth, including human and animal populations, and disruptions to the many diverse ecologies within which we exist, and acknowledge that we must reassess our concept of progress within the context of eco-justice to achieve a more just and equitable world for all.” Pacific religious leaders have long-advocated for bold, urgent and transformational action to scale back human activities that are causing climate change; threatening the very survival, livelihoods, security and way of life of millions of islanders across the region. While the countries of the Pacific contribute little to nothing to the global greenhouse gas emissions, we are the ones unjustly bearing the brunt of its consequences. The Legal Advisor and Secretary General of Vanuatu’s Islamic community, Auuad Leon Malantugun said that from the Quranic perspective of the environment “Human beings are able to use earth’s resources. But we have no right to exploit or destroy these resources that belong to God. Islamic academics have argued that the ecological crisis is a result of human greed and selfishness. We have lost our purpose of life, seeking satisfaction in material goods. The use of resources therefore needs to be in keeping with the nurturing and sustaining responsibilities of the role of stewardship.” The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) is helping to raise the voice of religious groups and people of faith in the Pacific, and call out climate injustice affecting our people, and continue to sound the alarm of destructive climate change. “These are the voices of the grassroots people of diverse faiths are rising to face the climate emergency. As people of faith, we cannot wait for governments and financial institutions to act. The fossil fuel industries are condemning our Earth to climate disasters that we might never come out of in a very long time. Pacific neighboring countries like Australia must stop extracting, burning and exporting fossil fuels, and in the meantime we are taking action to bring the issue of climate change to the International Court of Justice. The world’s highest court is expected through an advisory opinion, to acknowledge that countries and companies can be held legally accountable for the climate destruction communities are facing in the Pacific.” Lorenzo Raplili, PICAN Climate Justice Project Officer stated. The 11 March 2021 Sacred People, Sacred Earth global day of action on climate Justice was organised by Green Faith International Network and included participants from over 400 grassroots religious organizations in 43 countries including Vanuatu. The Pacific Island Climate Action Network (PICAN) is the largest network of civil society organizations in the Pacific Islands working on climate change. Established in 2013, the Network brings together non-government actors from across the Pacific island countries, advocating for climate justice and environmental integrity, and more ambitious climate change policies and action at the national and regional level. PICAN is the Pacific arm of the global Climate Action Network which has over 1,100 members in 120 countries.

Pillaging people’s Tubi trees

Chief Eric Gnorko in front of a pile of fallen logs at the Korona logging base. Photo: OFANI EREMAE Villagers fight to reclaim stolen logs from Gov’t and Asian logger By OFANI EREMAE Honiara, SOLOMONS - March 16, 2021: 7.35pm - AT Korona logging base on San Jorge island in Solomon Islands’ Isabel province, the logging machinery lay quiet. Except for the movement of three local security guards, the silence in this once bustling log pond was deafening. “The workers have gone home,” Eric Gnokro, a chief in the area who negotiated my entry into this tightly guarded logging worker’s camp, said. “There’s a dispute going on so work has stopped,” he added. On site, huge piles of freshly cut Xanthostemon logs, locally known as Tubi, lined the strip of dirt road that runs through the camp. Up to 30 workers – both local and foreign – used to live and work on the campsite, which spans an area of about 8,000 square metres. Tubi is a rare tree species found only in two provinces in the Solomons group: Isabel, where Korona is; and Choiseul, to the country’s west. The rich, dark hardwood is sought after mostly by Asian countries for furniture and is being advertised at $US2, 300 (SBD$18,110) per tonne in some online markets. Since it was a rare and endangered tree species, the Solomon Islands Government decided to restrict its felling and export. For the people of Isabel, Tubi is a tree of significant value that holds a special place in their culture and belief system. “Tubi grows in the wild, but we have a responsibility to look after them,” Gnokro explains. “That’s because it provides timber for our houses,” he added. Gnokro said carvers prefer Tubi trees when producing wooden bowls and other traditional artefacts. Tubi trees also form a significant part of the natural forests, which villagers rely on for traditional medicine, building materials, soil cover, and as hunting grounds. Locals referred to it as the “iron tree” because it is strong and durable. This is why Asian companies are coming out for it. But under Solomon Islands’ environmental laws, Tubi is described as a “regulated and controlled species.” It can only be felled and exported on a commercial basis under strict compliance with the country’s Wildlife Protection and Management Act (WPMA). To do that, a company or community has to apply for a special felling licence from the Ministry of Environment. But the ministry rarely issues such licenses. Ministry records show Tubi permits were previously issued only to allow illegally harvested logs to be exported. The logging road that runs through Saint Jorge Island So who felled the logs piling up at Korona? “These are disputed logs,” Gnokro explains. “The company cut them illegally.” The company he was referring to was Sunrise Investment Ltd, a Malaysian logging firm that was issued a five-year licence in 2018 to operate on Korona. But the company’s logging licence does not include the felling of Tubi. It is only for other commercial species within the concession area. Wilson Tohidi, chairman of the recently established San Jorge Island Resource Owners Association Trust Board, a body established to represent landowners on logging and mining issues, said Sunrise didn’t have permission to cut the Tubi but did so anyway. “They were simply trying to steal our trees,” Tohidi said. “We are fighting to get our logs back.” With financial contributions from community members, Tohidi initiated legal proceedings against the Malaysian logger in the Solomon Islands High Court that resulted in the “stop work” order on Korona. Initially, Tohidi explained, all three landowning tribes on San Jorge gave their consent to Sunrise to log on Korona. That consent, he added, was reached on the understanding that Sunrise would be there to log other commercial species and not Tubi, and to provide job opportunities, as well as income in the form of royalties to landowning tribes. But Tohidi said after the company cut down all the other commercial species, they went on and started felling Tubi. “They did this although they knew it was illegal,” he said. Members of our community protested, but Tohidi said the company, with the support of a group of tribal members, refused to listen. “That’s when we decided to go to the court and obtained an order that stopped them from their illegal felling,” he explained. Sunrise has not responded to an email sent to them for comments. But owner Richard Song Sing Ngea did plead guilty in December to a criminal case the Solomon Islands Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) filed on instructions from the Ministry of Environment, accusing the company of illegally harvesting Tubi trees. Ngea was fined SBD$50,000 (USD$6,232), the maximum penalty for such offence. But the company’s licence has not been cancelled so it can resume operations if it wishes. Tohidi estimated that around 10,000 cubic metres of Tubi logs, worth tens of millions of dollars, are lying inside the logging camp. That would make it the biggest stockpile of illegally harvested logs ever seen or recorded in the Solomons. Tohidi said landowners would earn more money from their trees if they sell the logs themselves overseas. A history of exploitation While Sunrise Investment still has two more years to operate on San Jorge before its license expires, locals claim there are no more trees left to log on the island except Tubi. Located at the southern end of the province of Isabel, San Jorge is a resource-rich island with an area of 184 square kilometres. It is host to virgin forests and large deposits of nickel. Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana gave the island its current name during his 1568 expedition to the Solomons. On one end of the island, more than 70,000 metric tonnes of nickel ore worth up to USD$30 million (SBD$256 million) have been lying idle in a deserted mining camp since September 2019. The nickel was extracted by Axiom Mining Limited (AML), an Australian firm that holds a lease over the mining tenement on the island. However, Axiom was unable to export the nickel ore after the Solomon’s government refused to grant it an export permit on the basis that the company had failed to obtain a provincial business licence from the local government of Isabel. Axiom has challenged the decision and the matter is currently before the courts. San Jorge is also an island that is highly revered by the people of Isabel. That’s because they believe it’s the final resting place for the spirits of their dead. Illegally felled Tubi logs held at the Korona logging base But since the late 1990s international logging companies have been pillaging San Jorge of its virgin forests and shipping the trees to places such as Malaysia and China, where they’re turned into furniture and building materials. “Today, the only loggable trees on the island are Tubi,” says Samuel Efulu, a landowner and elder of Talise, the only village on San Jorge island. Efulu, now in his 50s, has lived all his life on San Jorge and witnessed first-hand how Asian loggers have been “stealing” Tubi from local landowners. “They have been doing it since the first logging operations in the late 1990s,” said Efulu, who had previously worked with the loggers. In the past, he said, the loggers mostly cut the Tubi when they were constructing their roads. “They would just mix the Tubi logs with other species and export them without any questions from forestry officers,” Efulu said. Battles over Tubi heat up About six kilometres across the pristine Thousand Ships Bay on the mainland of Isabel, another huge stockpile of Tubi logs is visible at Lelegia log pond. Mas Solo Investment Ltd, another Malaysian logger, holds the lease over the area. Like Sunrise Investment, their licence also does not allow them to fell Tubi. “Mas Solo gave the excuse of cutting them down while clearing their road into the forest,” Tohidi said. “We’ve included those logs in our High Court challenge so Mas Solo cannot ship them out.” Some four kilometres west of Lelegia is Totoru-Rarade log pond, also located on the edge of Thousand Ships Bay. Pacific Logging Company, owned by Solomon Islands politician Freda Tuki, used to operate there. Like Sunrise and Mas Solo, Pacific Logging also felled Tubi trees illegally during the course of its operation on Rarade land. In 2019, a group of landowners took up a court case against the company over the Tubi logs it felled. The High Court issued an order preventing Pacific Logging from shipping the logs out. As a result, the logs were kept at the Totoru-Rarade log pond for months until September 2020 when the company covertly shipped them out. Customs later seized the logs at the country’s second international seaport at Noro in the Western Province. Mary, a mother of two in the nearby commercial station of Kaevanga, remembered that incident quite well. “The barge the company sent to pick the logs arrived there in the evening,” Mary said, pointing to the log pond at Totoru. “It was not unusual for a barge to come and berth at the log pond so there was nothing suspicious about the arrival of this barge,” she continued. Under the cover of darkness and with no villagers watching, Pacific Logging loaded the barge and took off during the night. News of this “illegal shipment” spread out the next day and quickly reached environmental authorities in capital Honiara. Together with Customs, the logs were seized and stored at the premises of another Asian logger at the port of Noro. But Tuki, who is the country’s Minister for Women and Youth, claimed the Tubi shipment that was seized and held at Noro was her company’s property. “We have already bought the logs from the original Rarade landowners,” she said. “They’ve collected their money from us which they used to meet their children’s school fees,” Tuki added. “In fact, it was the original landowners of Rarade who agreed for us to harvest their Tubi trees.” But in a separate Tubi case in 2015 before the Magistrate Court, Principal Magistrate Augustine Aulanga stated that any Tubi felling that was done without a licence from the Department of Environment would always be illegal even if landowners gave their consent. Following Pacific Logging’s covert shipment, landowners took out a court order that restrained Tuki and all her agents from dealing with the logs that were seized and held at the port of Noro. The case is expected to be heard this year. At the Ministry of Environment, Permanent Secretary Dr Melchior Mataki said the law on the illegal harvest of Tubi is clear. “It’s a violation of the relevant sections of [the] Wildlife Protection and Management Act (WPMA) 2017 if you fell Tubi without a permit,” Mataki said. He said his ministry acted on the matter and referred the Sunrise case to the police, who then initiated the criminal case. Mataki said the other cases involving illegal harvesting of Tubi are being pursued as well. While some welcomed the ruling against Sunrise, long-time environmental activist Lawrence Makili described it as a mockery to the Solomons environment laws. “What is $50,000? That’s nothing compared to the damage this Malaysian logger caused to our environment and his deliberate act in breaking our laws,” Makili said. “This Malaysian company should be closed down and its owners deported,” he added. Makili said loggers with a no- care attitude must not be entertained in the Solomons. Back at the Korona log pond, the guards continue to keep watch over the huge stockpile of logs, unaware that a new battle has emerged over who holds legal rights to them. According to Mataki, the Solomons environment minister has exercised his powers of forfeiture and declared the logs now “government property.” But Tohidi and his group argue the logs are rightly theirs. The rights issue will be determined in the High Court in coming weeks. * This feature story is produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network (EJN) under its Asia-Pacific Story Grants 2020-21

Tongans say no to seabed mining

Nuku’alofa, TONGA – November 4, 2020: 11am (PEJN/RNZ PACIFIC): Tongans do not want to have anything with seabed mining. And they are seeking answers from the government over its plans for seabed mining in the country’s waters. A national consultation on seabed mining in Tonga was held by video link-up on Tuesday, November 3. That included representatives from the five island groups. Church, civil society, youth groups as well as members of the fishing and tourism sectors also participated in the consultation, which was opened by the prime minister. The Chair of Tonga’s Civil Society Forum, Drew Havea, said people want more information from government about the implications of potential seabed mining. He said there’s concern that the government is to sponsor exploration by a subsidiary of a company linked to a failed deepsea mining project in Papua New Guinea. “The ocean supports us. The ocean is the main livelihood for ninety percent of the people. But we need to know what our government is doing, and if they sign up the ocean (by sponsoring an exploration license) what’s going to happen to that ninety percent of the population,” Drew Havea said. Havea said there was concern that if the subsidiary, Tonga Offshore Mineral Limited, violated its contractual obligation with the International Seabed Authority, Tonga might be left with a heavy bill to pay. Advocates of seabed mining say it causes far less environmental damage than land-based mining, and offers significant economic benefits for island countries. Tonga Offshore Mineral Limited Tonga manager Christine Pomee told the PEJN in a meeting that they do not mine anywhere within the Tonga EEZ but do that out in Asia. "So that in itself should be an assurance that we are not doing anything that will harm Tonga in anyway," she said. "And yes the work done with seabed mining is safer than land mining." But people in the consultation were worried that the cost of environmental damage from deepsea mining activities could far outweigh the benefits. “All the five island groups said no: No seabed mining for my island; no seabed mining for my region; and no seabed mining for my world. All unanimous, saying no,” Havea explained. “So we will take that message to the prime minister and cabinet.”

Tackling Climate Change Risk Management In The Pacific

SPREP Director General Kosi Latu (middle) speaking at the meeting from Apia to other stakeholders during the virtual meeting. Photo: SPREP Apia, SAMOA – September 28, 2020: 2.45pm (SPREP): The forecast increase in extreme weather events and slow-onset climate related changes is a huge threat to the ability of the Pacific to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Known as Loss and Damage - when the climate impacts exceed the capacity for countries, communities and ecosystems to adapt – it worries the Pacific island region given what is forecast to come. For Small Island Development States in the Pacific region, building resilience to better cope with the impacts of climate change is among their most important development challenges. These impacts on vulnerable groups as well as the private sector can be particularly severe. Among the sectors most affected are, for example, agriculture, water and food security, sanitation, coastal and marine resources, infrastructure and tourism. Through a Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ)-funded project called “Enhancing action on comprehensive climate change risk management in the Pacific region”, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) was able to undertake work with a team of international and regional experts to assess needs and to analyse options last week. SPREP Director General, Mr Kosi Latu, said, “This work has made tremendous strides since it was first suggested by the then Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, back in 2016. Originally envisaged as a climate change insurance mechanism, the concept has been broadened to other risk management approaches.” “We have also benefitted from having a range of stakeholders contributing to these developments, in that our consultancy team was able to fully understand what was actually needed in the different communities, to react to difference scenarios and climate change impacts,” Mr Latu added. The consultancy team worked on identifying risks that will need to be covered both in terms of specific events and the level of coverage for individuals, communities, nations, and/or the region. By identifying the climate change threats to Pacific island countries, the nature of the insurance-type response most applicable to those threats can be designed. In addition, the team worked on building on existing databases of various current risk management and finance mechanisms available to establish an appropriate means of knowledge management on these issues. Through a two-day virtual meeting convened by SPREP, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GIZ, the consultancy team will have the opportunity to present the outcomes of their findings, as well as to discuss and digest the issues, and come up with suggestions for next steps. One of the issues to be discussed includes the key point that Small Island States (SIS) of the Pacific Islands Forum, and other remote, outer-island communities, are often overlooked and mostly underserved by existing climate change risk management initiatives. A recommendation for a specialised focal point that would act as a broker for small island states be established in order to engage with the existing regional institutions and ongoing initiatives in disaster and climate change risk management to be included in the discussions on next steps. This brokerage function will advocate and integrate SIS needs and priorities at the project development phase, with an understanding of technical development and how to leverage research and evaluate suitability for SIS to inform decision making and the implementation of solutions. It will also support knowledge management and straightforward access to climate change risk data, as well as provide support to SIS to weave together existing capabilities to develop and implement comprehensive climate change risk management and financing strategies under a unified framework. At the end of day one of the workshop, participants were invited to provide further comments through an online survey.

Tonga targets 70% renewable energy by 2030

Hon Poasi Mataele Tei, the Vice President of the Asia and Pacific Region of the ISA and the Minister for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC). File Foto Nuku’alofa – September 29, 2020: 2.35pm (MEIDECC): Tonga will continue the efforts to have renewable energy providing 70 percent of the country’s power supply needs, with solar power being an important part of that investment, the Regional Committee for the Asia and Pacific Region of the International Solar Alliance has been told. Hon Poasi Mataele Tei, the Vice President of the Asia and Pacific Region of the ISA and the Minister for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC) made the revelation at the virtual meeting of the Regional Committee Meeting for Asia & Pacific Region, on Monday, September 28. And he pointed to the important role that the ISA will play in helping members in the Asia and Pacific region strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to chart a roadmap for achieving their climate action targets. “In Tonga, we have taken the decision of building of renewable capacity by 70% by 2030 and solar will be a key driver for achieving our targets. The role of ISA will be crucial in helping the countries strengthen their NDCs and to chart a roadmap for achieving their climate action targets,” Hon Tei said. “With the next round of NDCs, countries especially across Asia & Pacific are enhancing their commitments for greater deployment of renewable energy, particularly solar energy.” He highlighted the opportunities and potential for solar energy in the region, adding the fact that the needs of the member countries are “large and diverse”. “The needs of Asia  and Pacific region are pretty large and diverse, but at the same time, the region is filled with immense opportunities and potential. Solar PV has shown tremendous growth potential across the globe, especially in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. The Hon Minister said the solar capacity in Asia alone is expected to rise to 1860 GW by 2030 and he added that the ISA needs to work hand in hand with Member Countries to ensure that this phenomenal rise of solar is equitable so as to facilitate climate justice for all. Part of the Vaini solar farm in Tongatapu..a major investment and partnership with the Japanese government. File Foto. He said the regional committee meetings gives Ministers, stakeholders reps and partners the chance to reflect back on the needs and requirements of the various regions, and the roadmap for achieving the same through ISA. “This year has been especially special for the ISA and its Member Countries with the launch and progress of various new and innovative initiates by the ISA Secretariat,” Hon Tei said. “The World Solar Technology Summit which witnessed a gathering of more 10,000 participants from across the globe, was a unique first in that direction.” Other initiatives this year saw the launch of the banker’s training programme, ISA’s Coalition for Sustainable Climate Action (ISACSCA), ISA CARES, World Solar Bank and Roadmap for Mobilizing US $1 Trillion in solar sector by 2030. The Third Assembly of the International Solar Alliance will be held on October 14, 2020 in New Delhi, Republic of India. That meeting will discuss a wide range of issues including the adoption of reports from the various regions, election of officials for regional and the international associations and the updates of various projects and programs that have been undertaken. Hon Tei said the initiatives taken for the scaling up the solar deployment in the Asia and Pacific region will be achieved by all members working together. “The Kingdom of Tonga has always been an active participant in all of ISA’s activities and I urge all the other countries of the region to support ISA in its endeavours through their participation,” he added. Meanwhile, Mr. Upendra Tripathy, Director General of the ISA, also attended the virtual meeting, along with other stakeholders and partners.

Ocean is important to Tonga and the Pasifika

Whale watching and swimming has been a major event in the Tonga tourism calendar annually, an indication of what the ocean brings to the country. File Foto Nuku’alofa - September 28, 2020: 4.35pm (MEIDECC): The ocean and its marine environment is important for Tonga, Prime Minister Rev Dr Tu’i’onetoa told the General Debate at the Seventy-fifth Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, September 25. He said Tonga continues to recognize the importance of the ocean-climate nexus, and further continues to note with grave concern the detrimental impacts of climate change on our marine environment. “We endeavour to achieve SDG 14 through advancing our commitment to conserve and sustainably use the world’s ocean, seas and marine resources through measures taken to establish Special Management Areas (SMAs) initiatives, and the implementation of the Tonga Marine Spatial Planning Project,” he said. “Government has approved the inclusion of a network of 30% Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the Kingdom. Tonga progresses well in relation to improved fisheries management and the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing to secure oceans contribution to food security and the well-being of the country’s economy.” In the fight against plastic pollution, the Hon PM said it is worrisome for Tonga to note the alarming 12 million tonnes of plastic wastes that are leaked into our oceans annually. As a pro-active step Tonga is beginning the process to ban single-use plastics. But he added that the problem will require a global solution. While countries around the world are enforcing lockdowns and restrictions in varying degrees in the fight against the COVID-19, it may not occur to many that the “ocean” plays a pivotal role in this context. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (or UNESCO), the bacteria used to detect the presence of COVID-19 is found in the depths of the ocean. “We cannot overemphasize the urgency for action to protect and sustainably use the world’s ocean, seas and marine resources. However, actions can only be meaningful and effective if derived from science-based and innovative information and data,” he said. Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga supports the proclamation by the United Nations of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from 2021 – 2030 which provides an overarching framework that will allow ocean science to support countries in their sustainable development of the ocean. He said Tonga maintains that the baselines which presently determine our territorial boundaries, once established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, should remain unchanged despite effects of sea level rise and any climate change modification that might ensue. “Our Sovereignty must not be compromised to that effect and we continue to support the work of the International Law Commission in the Sixth Committee,” Hon PM told the UN. The much anticipated Fourth Session of the Inter-Governmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction has been postponed to March 2021, tentatively, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga look forward to participating in this very important process. “Tonga is greatly invested in engaging as a State Party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the International Seabed Authority and its continuing work on the draft exploitation regulations with other State Parties and stakeholders to ensure agreement on the appropriate balance between the need to conserve, protect and replenish the environment, and to mine the seabed for minerals that will contribute to the sustainable development of Tonga as a Small Island Developing State in the Pacific,” he added. Meanwhile, in his Tonga Country Report the Hon PM said that Tonga is pleased to have ratified and become a State Party to the three conventions this year. These were the: (1) the United Nations Convention against Corruption; (2) the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards; and (3) the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. “Following Tonga’s presentation of its first national review at the High-Level Political Forum in July 2019, it made good progress in the implementation of its SDG targets, however, the intervening devastating impacts of the COVID-19 have impeded progress going forward. These have intensified the vulnerabilities of our country and affected the implementation of some of Tonga’s national outcomes under the Strategic Development Framework, which are ultimately linked to the achievement of the priority areas of the SAMOA Pathway and our SDG targets,” he said. “Tonga is committed to engaging with the High-Level Political Forum which remains an integral platform, even more so, as we brace to embark on this much anticipated Decade of Action from 2021 – 2030, geared for accelerated solutions to achieve the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We acknowledge with gratitude the positive engagement of our Development Partners and all United Nations agencies including the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developing Countries (LDCs), LLDCs and Small Islands Developing Countries (SIDS); the World Health Organization (WHO); the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); the UNDP; the UN ESCAP; the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as, the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).”

Tonga reviews NDCs in the face of climate change challenges

Tongan Prime Minister Hon Dr Tu'i'onetoa says his country is reviewing its NDCs in the face of the continuing climate change challenges. File Foto Nuku’alofa - September 28, 2020: 4.25pm (MEIDECC): Tonga is reviewing her Nationally Determined Contritbutions (NDCs) in the face of continuing Climate Change threats, Prime Minister Rev Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa told the General Debate at the Seventy-fifth Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, September 25. In a pre-recorded statement Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga and other signatories to the Paris Agreement need to reaffirm their commitments to achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius. “While Small Island Developing States, including Tonga, contribute to no more than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is unfortunate that we continue to bear the brunt of this climate injustice,” the Hon PM told the UN. “As a result, the Pacific Island countries continue to be imperiled by many tropical cyclones of unprecedented magnitudes and destructive in nature. The most recent one was Tropical Cyclone Harold in April of this year which wreaked havoc on four (4) Pacific Island nations, namely, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and my own country, Tonga. “This is while we grapple with the distressing effect of the COVID-19 outbreak.” Solar energy is part of the Tongan government's strategy to reducing carbon emmissions. File Foto Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Pacific Island Forum Leaders have consistently echoed the need for urgent climate action in their communique, every year, for at least the last 30 years. This year marks the fifth-year anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement. “And it is only befitting for us to capture this historic moment through reaffirming our commitment to achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C,” he said. He said Tonga is currently reviewing its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and its Enhanced NDCs will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat this year. Though the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the UNFCCC that was to be held in Glasgow, United Kingdom, has been postponed to 2021, Hon Dr Tu’i’onetoa said Tonga remains committed to prepare its Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategies (LT-LEDS) which will be communicated to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC at COP 26. He revealed Tonga’s “Year of Delivery” for powering the sustainable development for our Kingdom through the attainment of 50% Renewable Energy penetration by 2020 was delayed because of the global pandemic. He said the sudden halt to the market supply chains, has led to a major disruption on Tonga’s NDCs in the achievement of this target. “However, agreements have been signed for grant funding, by way of public private partnership and the fervent support of Development Partners, will continue to drive Tonga’s SDG7 and its objectives through the composition of innovative technologies such as Solar, Wind, Battery Energy Storage Systems coupled with the Network Rehabilitation and increase accessibility of electricity to the furthest most islands of Tonga,” the Hon PM added.

World's Largest Ocean 'Garbage Patch' Reaches Size Of France

The Great Pacific garbage patch of aggregated floating litter has expanded to the size compatible with that of France Moscow, RUSSIA - August 11, 2020 (UrduPoint News / Sputnik): The Great Pacific garbage patch of aggregated floating litter has expanded to the size compatible with that of France, Philippe Cousteau Jr., a grandson of renowned oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his wife Ashlan Gorse Cousteau told Sputnik in an interview on Tuesday. "We have five huge 'garbage patches' in the ocean," Ashlan Gorse Cousteau said, adding that "the largest garbage patch is located in the Pacific Ocean, with its size larger than that of the US state of Texas and an area equal to France." As explained by Philippe Cousteau Jr., garbage patches predominantly consist of plastic which ends up in the ocean from rivers from all over the world due to specifics of oceanic streams. Cousteau's EarthEcho International environmental foundation is encouraging young people worldwide to partake in the cleanup of waters from plastic, among other things. The environmental advocate said that while we cannot make oceans completely climate neutral, we can significantly reduce our hazardous impact on them, for example, by starting to travel clean. A good example is teen climate activist Greta Thunberg who chose to travel to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York last year on a zero-emission carbon-neutral racing yacht. "Today we have the technologies to use solar panels on ships, which is really great because conventional engines pollute the environment. There are already technologies that can recycle our waste before we dump it in the ocean. All this is and can be used," Philippe Cousteau Jr. said. Additionally, people can opt out for renting ships rather than owning them to reduce the number of vessels, the environmentalist said, adding that he himself does not own one and normally rents ships for expeditions. According to Cousteau, the coronavirus pandemic "gave the ocean a small break," as the number of vessels and the scale of transpiration dropped during the global lockdown. "But the ocean's existing problems the climate change and extensive fishing cannot be solved in a couple of months as people reduce their marine presence. This is good, but in fact, it does not solve anything. What really matters is long-term solutions," the environmental advocate argued. As an example of such solutions, he cited the initiative of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources to create the world's largest sanctuary in Antarctica. If implemented, it will turn some 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) of Antarctic waters into a so-called marine protected area with strict regulations on pouching, fishing and drilling for fossil fuels.

Transparency and Innovation will Help Build Ocean Resilience

New York, USA - July 21, 2020 (GLOBAL FISHING WATCH): The world is at a standstill. Over the last few months, COVID-19 has challenged health systems, crippled economies, and put our most vulnerable at risk. The pandemic has impacted almost every community worldwide, leaving us uncertain about what the future holds. It is no surprise that close to all ocean-related events throughout 2020 have been postponed. What was once presumed a ‘super year’ for the ocean is now a time to reflect on environmental prospects and explore how we can build back better. It is more critical than ever that we strive to safeguard the food security of billions who rely on fish for their primary source of protein, which can only be achieved through sustainable management. Global Fishing Watch recognizes the need to put cost-effective solutions in place that will support fisheries management bodies and ensure future ocean resilience. In the absence of this year’s global meetings, we sat down with Peter Thomson, United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, to discuss the need for continued momentum in the push to implement Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 – the conservation and sustainable use of our ocean. Q: What is the biggest obstacle preventing the implementation of SDG 14? A: The fundamental challenge facing human beings on planet Earth is the escalating level of our greenhouse gas emissions. They are the cause of the climate crisis and they are the reason the ocean is acidifying, deoxygenating, and warming – and warming results in the death of coral, rising sea levels, and changing marine ecosystems. To this challenge, we must add the effects of detrimental human behavior in the fields of marine pollution, stemming mostly from land-based activities, and some of our fishing habits – notably overfishing, illegal fishing, and the subsidization of industrial fishing fleets. Q: How can innovation and technology address some of these challenges? A: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society will be required if we are going to succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This will require political will at all levels of society. Be it climate action, pollution control, or fisheries management, there can be little doubt that the application of our best innovation and technology will be key to our success. Q: How would global fisheries transparency help achieve SDG 14? A: SDG 14 requires us to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources, and global fisheries transparency will be one of the necessary tools to get there. Transparency requires the sharing of information, and in the year 2020, this must be done through digitalization of information of both fishing and fishing-related activities, and the efficient global exchange of that information. Q: How can communities around the world take appropriate ocean action to maintain momentum this year? A: The SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement are the agreed universal plan. For the sake of our children and those who come after them, we must all stick to the plan. SDG 14 has ten targets – we have to implement them all, without exception. Everything is connected and there can be no healthy planet without a healthy ocean. Q: In the wake of a global pandemic, how can the ocean aid us in our recovery? A: The ocean is the mother of all life on this planet and it will sustain us if we give it the respect it deserves. It will feed us, give us our medicine and provide our renewable energy. But we have to treat it right and cease our polluting and harmful ways. The blue-breen recovery road lies ahead, and we must choose it over the solicitations of the grey one that takes us back to where we were. Q: Are you optimistic about the future of ocean governance? Yes, but optimism is not enough. Our success will be more about the hard-headed yet pragmatic pursuit of action to reverse the decline of the ocean’s health. I see this every day. Working with ocean action communities around the world, it’s abundantly clear they’re never giving up on the struggle against avarice and mismanagement. There will be no surrender, ever, from our moral obligation to conserve and sustainably use the ocean’s resources. Society has always depended on the ocean, and it will continue to do so in these exceptionally challenging times. Now, we will be all the more reliant upon life below water for our financial and food security, maritime transport, and security amid the global climate emergency. As communities adapt to these formidable circumstances, the importance of nature is more evident than ever. * PACNEWS Courtney Farthing manages the transparency program at Global Fishing Watch.

ADB funds for resilient Pacific hits $900 million

Manila, PHILIPPINES - July 19, 2020 (ADB Media) : The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and cofinancing partners’ investment to make Pacific towns and cities more livable through improved essential services is poised to reach $900 million by the end of 2022, according to a new report. ADB’s Pacific Urban Update 2020 details a raft of extensive investments across the region—both ongoing and upcoming—which will improve water supply, sanitation, and other municipal infrastructure and services in urban areas. The report highlights how integration and coordination, and an emphasis on building capacity to plan and manage urban development, are building urban resilience by addressing the root causes of vulnerability and fragility. “More people moving to cities and towns risks the growth of underserved informal settlements and increased spread of disease, but it also presents an opportunity to improve lives through the sustainable delivery of accessible services,” said the Urban Division Director of ADB’s Pacific Department Jingmin Huang. “By helping countries provide safe, efficient, and reliable urban services, and by better managing the growth of towns and cities, we are building strong and healthy economies to better manage their isolation and limited resources.” The report states significant urban planning, investment, and institutional reforms are needed to improve access to, and the quality of, urban services in Pacific cities and towns. It says to build urban resilience today, and in the future, a focus on disaster preparedness and the impacts of climate change is needed. The report examines the case-by-case solutions ADB is developing for each Pacific country’s unique situation through 17 ongoing urban development projects, estimated at more than $320 million. Another 26 projects, estimated at almost $580 million, are set to begin before 2022. ADB’s cofinancing partners include the Governments of Australia and Ireland, the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund, the European Union, the European Investment Bank, and the World Bank. In Fiji, the $405 million Urban Water Supply and Wastewater Management Investment Program is building and renovating infrastructure to improve access to safe drinking water and sewerage for the people of greater Suva. Along with a new, climate-resilient water intake station and an expanded wastewater treatment plant, the project is improving the Water Authority of Fiji’s management and service delivery capacities. Meanwhile, the proposed Nadi Flood Alleviation Project will deliver structural and other measures to protect Fiji’s fourth-largest urban center from increasingly regular flooding. Major water supply projects in Kiribati, and Solomon Islands are also detailed in the report. In Kiribati, following on from a $26 million sanitation project, the $62 million South Tarawa Water Supply Project will improve the health of the densely populated Kiribati capital’s population. The project will build new climate-resilient and sustainable water supply and sanitation infrastructure, improve urban planning capabilities, and undertake community engagement and awareness raising on health and hygiene issues. Meanwhile, a $93 million project in Solomon Islands will improve access to safe water and sanitation in the capital Honiara and five other urban centers and help Solomon Water become financially sustainable and technically proficient. Residents in Honiara will also benefit from a $10 million project to build priority infrastructure identified in the government’s plan for the capital. In Palau, the report details an urban planning project for Koror and Babeldaob Island that is working with the government to develop a strategy and action plan that integrates spatial and geographic information system maps. The project focuses on maintaining a balance between economic, cultural, and physical environments while optimizing scarce resources to support economic growth and increased well-being. This holistic focus is also reflected in the $16 million Integrated Urban Resilience Sector Project in Tonga. Along with improving water supply and waste services, this project is working to build knowledge and capabilities to manage these services and develop associated policies as needs change in the future. The report notes that improved water and sanitation through projects such as these, as well as better planning of urban areas, will reduce the risk of communicable diseases and increase local capacity to manage disease and illness, such as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). ADB is also working to strengthen regional coordination and integration by building urban planning, assessment, and development capacities; developing a subregional solid waste management strategy; establishing regional networks; and producing knowledge products on improving urban services in Pacific countries. ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

Tonga works on clean, resilient and sustainable environment

Mangroves are now being looked at as coastline protectors for most of Tongatapu's low lying coastline villages. Photo: PEJN Nuku'alofa - July 17, 2020 (PEJN): Tonga has been hard at work in ensuring that the environment is clean and healthy over the past two years. It has been a government effort as the threat of climate change is realized across the Kingdom and the Pasifika. Joining hands in taking the lead role are the Ministry of Environment (MEIDECC) and the Ministry of Tourism. They are working with partners across the country, including communities. Non-Government Organisations like the ‘No Pelesitiki Campaign’ and the Tonga National Youth Council have also been great initiators and work with different community groups as well in cleaning up the main Nuku’alofa waterfront – from Sopu down west to Patangata out East. Rubbish bins places along the waterfront so that members of the public can place their rubbish in them. Photo: PEJN The Waste Authority of Tonga is also a critical partner in ensuring that waste collected from clean up campaigns are properly disposed off. A major push for a cleaner city started in 2018 and to-date community groups have joined in the campaign. Monthly clean-ups are being done from the Sopu waterfront right down to Patangata. Waste Authority, Environment and BSP have joined in placing rubbish bins along the waterfront so that people can throw their rubbish in. Tongatapu is a low lying island, with one half of the island exposed to sea level rising. That half runs from Afa in the East to Ha’atafu on the West. Sea level rise is a reality for the villages along the coastline, as it is to some of the low lying islands as well in Ha’apai, Vava’u and the two Niuas – Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou. Ministry of Environment’s Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u says it is crtical for Tonga to work on ensuring that the environment is clean and also sustainable. “We need to clean out environment and get rid of rubbish like plastics and other items that pollute the environment,” he said. “That will help in ensuring that nature grows, the trees need to grow healthy, the marine life needs to grow healthy. “And at the same time we need to ensure that our environment is sustainable and resilient.” He said climate change is a big threat and if we do not take action everyone and everything will perish. “Critical therefore for Tonga to implement programs that can help Tongans be more resilient and able to adapt better,” he said. The Nuku'alofa waterfront. Photo: PEJN Part of that program is the replanting of mangroves and coastal plants along the coastlines to help protect communities from sea surges. In the last two years Tonga had undertaken nation-wide campaigns to help people understand the climate change threat and to prepare for the worst. The Department of Environment works with communities on different programs aimed at helping build their capacities and their resilience. And so does the Department of Climate Change. In the past three years the Climate Change Department had implemented projects in villages to help them adapt to the challenges faced. Tonga is ranked 2nd behind Vanuatu as the most vulnerable country to natural disasters. It’s not lost on the government, which is ensuring that every effort is taken to help people understand and while understanding make the decisions to prepare for the worst. That begins with the easiest but challenging of tasks – keeping the environment clean!

Methane emissions threaten climate change goals

By Denise Chow Environmentalists say that agriculture and transportation activities have boosted the amount of Methane in Earth's atmosphere.Dago Galdieri / Bloomberg via Getty Images July 16, 2020 (NBCNews.com): Earth's climate crisis is starting to look even worse than scientists had feared — in part because of just how much meat we eat and how we get around.
Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have soared over the past decade, according to two new studies that tracked growing sources of the odorless, colorless gas. The increased methane, combined with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, could warm Earth's atmosphere by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius before the end of this century — significantly above the levels that scientists have warned could be catastrophic for millions of people around the world.
"This completely overshoots our budget to stay below 1.5 to 2 degrees of warming," said Benjamin Poulter, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Poulter is an author on both studies published Tuesday, one in the journal Earth System Science Data and the other in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Poulter and his colleagues found that since 2000, the biggest increases in methane emissions came from agricultural activities — particularly from livestock, such as cattle and sheep — and the fossil fuel industry, which includes coal mining as well as oil and gas production.
Human activities account for about 60 percent of global methane emissions, according to the researchers. Agriculture makes up roughly two-thirds of that, with fossil fuel production and use contributing most of the rest. In the new studies, researchers analyzed methane emissions from 2000 through 2017 — the latest year for which complete global methane figures are available — and found that a record 600 million tons of methane were released into the atmosphere in 2017. Annual emissions of methane have also increased by 9 percent since the early 2000s, a pace that could contribute to more than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100. A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018 highlighted that the planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century; it used 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels as a threshold beyond which the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and sea-level rise, become life-threatening for tens of millions of people around the world. Another author on both studies, Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, said the amount of methane released into the atmosphere since 2000 is roughly equivalent to adding 350 million more cars on the road. In 2017, methane emissions from agriculture rose by nearly 11 percent from the 2000-06 average, while methane from fossil fuels jumped by nearly 15 percent compared to the early 2000s. Methane is released into the atmosphere when coal, oil and natural gas are mined and transported, but microbes also emit it in low-oxygen environments. "Any place where there is little to no oxygen — wetlands, rice paddies, landfills, the gut of a cow — are all sources of methane," Jackson said. Overall, methane makes up a much smaller percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions than carbon dioxide does, but it's of particular concern to scientists because methane's molecular structure makes it more readily able to absorb thermal radiation.
"Methane doesn't last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it's much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide," Poulter said, which makes the gas a key factor in global warming.
To curb methane emissions, countries need to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, in addition to reducing the number of harmful leaks from pipelines and wells, Jackson said.
Scientists are also studying how to minimize methane emissions in agricultural practices, such as altering water levels in rice paddies and experimenting with changes in the diets of cattle and sheep to reduce the amount of methane belched from their digestive systems. Burger King recently announced that it is adding lemongrass to the diet of its cows to reduce methane emissions with a lower-carb feeding regimen.
But slowing greenhouse gas emissions will also require bigger changes in human behavior, Jackson said.
"Diet matters," Jackson said. "Here in the U.S., we have one of the highest rates of red meat consumption in the world. We don't have to stop eating red meat necessarily, but eating less meat or eating more fish and chicken instead of beef will reduce emissions, too."
And while the coronavirus pandemic is expected to result in significant decreases in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 — primarily from economic slowdowns and lockdowns that sharply reduced air travel and other transportation — similar declines are not anticipated with methane.
"Our farmers are still producing food, oil and gas production hasn't fallen much yet, and methane plays only a tiny part in the transportation sector," Jackson said. "So while we may see a small decrease this year because of the coronavirus, methane emissions over the last decade are marching upward. And at this rate, we won't see peak methane emissions any time soon."