HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

Bringing the World together to save Planet Earth

By Nanette Woonton of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) www.sprep.org

When I first started working in the environment field I would often hear the term “MEA’s” thrown about in sentences and I’d try really hard to stop my eyes from glazing over as personally, it’s not the most sexiest of terms for me. But as time went on, I realized it’s the work that is done under MEA’s which holds a lot of relevance in our Pacific region.
MEA is short for Multilateral Environment Agreements, and if your country is a party to an MEA, then it drives some of the work that is carried out on the ground. It’s also one of the reasons why you have a Cook Islands delegation attending international environment meetings each year.
Read on and I’ll try to knock your socks off with this short column about MEA’s and what goes on at these meetings, well I will try my best to!
Each year the Cook Islands have a delegation attending the Conference of the Parties (COP) to a multi-lateral environment agreement (MEA). These are the international environment treaties that commit your country to meeting certain targets that will bring about sustainable development. A secretariat is set up under each MEA to help this come about.
Planet Earth is getting a lot of the attention that it needs as there are a lot of challenges that she faces such as high population numbers, pollution, human behavior and development. At some stage the resources on Earth are going to run out, unless we take care of it.
To help this happen, 20 years ago, governments around the world have committed to a sustainable development treaty which then led to three key United Nations MEA’s – the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Land Desertification and degradation.
When you are a party to these, your government is committed to meeting targets that will help save Planet Earth under these three areas.
The Cook Islands is a party to all three.
They lead to programmes of work in country, help with providing training to build local capacity to carry out the work, provide funds to have national projects and activities and at some stage all the parties must come together to review the work they have done under the MEA and plan the next programme of work, which requires some negotiation work.
Despite the misconception that the trips to these meetings are really holidays for government workers in exotic locations, there are Pacific delegations that are always committed and attend the meetings and remain helpful in the negotiations. I find the Cook Islands is always one of them.
The most recent meeting year was the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar.
Yes, it sounds exotic and exciting but let me assure you the circumstances are anything but.
This meeting is vital for the Pacific as we are asking the 190+ parties for financial support and for them to change their lifestyles to be less fossil fuel reliant and lower their greenhouse gas emissions – amongst other asks. The Small Island Developing States are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change yet we contribute to less than 1% of the World’s greenhouse gases.
In doing so we band together under the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) and work collectively as together, we are stronger and louder.
Let me give you an example of how these meetings work.
The first meeting starts at 8am but you must be mindful that traffic to and from the conference venue can be difficult, security is strict and takes some time and on top of that the venue of the conference itself is immense and sometime requires a compass and map for navigation.
Taking this into consideration you probably need to leave home between 6.30am to 7.00am to make your first 8am meeting on time. From this point on there is just meeting after meeting after meeting. You can have “strategy” meetings to plan your next step; to “negotiation” meetings to discuss a text for approval or; “bilateral” meetings with interested donors and partners. Often times your roles at these meetings can be varied.
In the negotiations sometimes you provide the moral support that helps your team make it through tough and trying negotiations, other times you take notes, act as the runner to find documents and information required for your plan, help draft and write interventions, do the food and drinks run, stay alert to remember all that was said and try to decipher what is really meant and what the next step will be.
It’s like a game of Chess.
Sometimes this can go all night, once you are locked in the negotiations you don’t really want to leave the room as you must act on the best interests of your country at all times. In Doha, I know this meant that members of the Cook Islands delegation remained in the meeting room overnight putting in over 24 hours of negotiations, that means a long time without a good bath, fresh clean clothes, brushed teeth, a decent meal and a good sleep.
Any break you can get during these times is well deserved, as the overall process is trying, both mentally and emotionally.
That was for the Climate Change conference but it’s very similar to the other MEA’s as well.
The Convention on Biological Diversity also had its’ Conference of the Parties this year in which the Pacific works together and yet again, the Cook Islands remained committed to the negotiation process – long days of meetings.
Under the UN Convention on Desertification and Land Degradation the Cook Islands also plays a lead role in the negotiations helping to bring the Pacific all together and to work strategically on agenda items of importance.
I think it is difficult for our Pacific region as we must be on par with the international negotiations to protect our interests, but at the same time the very same people that attend the negotiations are also the ones that have to carry out the environment work on the ground. We don’t have the luxury of having whole legal teams containing people in their hundreds to attend the negotiations. Our Pacific does what it can including the Cook Islands.
This year was my first to be on the Cook Islands delegation at the Climate Change COP.
Due to the nature of my job, over the past 4 years I have had to attend 11 Conferences of the Parties to provide media and communications support for the Pacific region.
I’m the person that helps get the news out, coordinates a media team if we have raised funds to take reporters, prepares the side events, sets up and mans the booth and helps to prepare the Pacific with their communications activities on the international stage.
Each time I have attended these with a Cook Islands delegation, I am always proud of the dedication and commitment from the team, they put in the long often uncomfortable hours, taking their roles seriously.
We have more pictures of our work on the PEIN facebook page – Pacific Environment Information Network. We also have our Pacific news run on a Climate Pacific blog www.climatepasifika.blogspot.com and a Biodiversity blog – www.bionesian.blogspot.com. I hope to see you on there some time
Okay, I hope I have knocked your socks off, I’ve tried to make the MEA’s sound as real and exciting as I can!

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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