13 Aug 2018 Story Environmental rights and governance

Advancing national dialogue on the environment in Tonga

“It is a priority for me to participate in meetings such as the National Environment Forum and remind people that environmental concerns are, above all, people’s concerns. It is critical that our society considers people at the center of its economic development, with the main objective to preserve livelihoods and people’s rights”.

At 83 years of age and full of youthful exuberance, Ms. Papiloa Bloomfield Foliaki is an unlikely crusader for the environment.

Ms. Papiloa Bloomfield Foliaki

And yet, having represented the Tonga Community Development Trust since 1975 – the oldest non-governmental organization (NGO) on the ground working with people – Ms. Foliaki is a familiar sight to many in Nuku’alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga. As the first non-royal woman elected in the parliament of this South Pacific archipelago, she has served as a crucial bridge between the population and the public administration. A key participant at the National Environment Forum held in Tonga on 16 and 17 May 2018, she was one of the many members representing various ministries, the private sector, and NGOs that are moving the national dialogue forward on the environment.

The Forum – the first of its kind – was organized with the support of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and UN Environment. Its purpose is to initiate the revision of the National Environmental Management Strategy (NEMS) and prepare the first ever national State of the Environment (SOE) Report in Tonga.

The NEMS provides policy guidance and direction on key policy measures to address key environmental concerns and challenges, while the SOE reporting process is an important tool for environment planning and management, providing a periodic review of changes in the environment. Both strategic tools go hand-in-hand and are critical for the Pacific region in navigating a country’s environmental priorities and the way forward.

From the national to the global context, mapping and reporting on national environmental priorities supports how countries report back on commitments such as multilateral environmental agreements, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the strategic direction for Small Island Developing States outlined in the SAMOA Pathway, among others.

SPREP’s team facilitated the discussions between the different sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, land and natural resources, statistics, tourism and waste management.

Environment is a cross-cutting issue that is strategically linked to the National Sustainable Development Plan and sector plans. Therefore, environmental issues must be addressed in an integrated and holistic manner,” states Ms. Easter Galuvao, Director, Environmental Governance and Monitoring at SPREP.

The Forum introduced the new Inform Project (a partnership between UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility), which aims to establish national environmental data portals and reporting tools, to support planning and decision-making in 14 Pacific Island countries. In Tonga, the portal will provide the data infrastructure needed for the SOE and NEMS processes, while enabling informed policy-making.

Noting the benefits of the Forum, Mr Viliami Kami, Officer-in-Charge of Quarantine and Quality at the Ministry of Agriculture noted, “the environment encompasses so many areas. Before this Forum, I was more focused on the technical aspects of my work. Tonga is losing its endemic species, birds and plants, because our main island is very flat and all our land can be exploited. There is an urgency to develop a concerted approach to preserve our environment.”

This strategic process is being undertaken in the context of the programme on capacity-building for multilateral environmental agreements in Africa, Caribbean, and the Pacific group of states (ACP MEAs Programme), an initiative funded by the European Commission, coordinated by UN Environment and executed by regional partners – the African Union Commission in Africa, the CARICOM Secretariat in the Caribbean, and the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme in the Pacific.