“Finance, Human Righrts & Sustainable Landsscapes – Actions & Concerns for Rarotonga”


University of the South Pacific, Rarotonga
Wed 25 February 2015 at 7.00pm


I think the key take-home message about both climate change and sustainable development is to try to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts caused by humans. We cannot stop natural climate changes, but we can stop the changes brought on by manmade acttions such as air pollution from greenhouse gases or land and marine pollution from poor waste disposal practices.

I would like to clarify how the title of my presentation relates to climate change, and to climate change related actions and concerns in Rarotonga. As residents in a Small Island Developing State, we are more conscious of how we should have a holistic world view. I will focus on two aspects in tonight’s talk – Sustainable Landscapes and Human Rights , because last week Minister Mark Brown talked about the finance aspect.

In our current discussion, “landscapes” has nothing to do with landscape paintings – rather it is a shorthand term to describe how we can use the landscape approach to land management, which brings together all land-use sectors such as agriculture, forestry, energy and fisheries, to ease pressure on the world’s natural resources which are threatened by climate change. As a UNEP spokesman said “Landscape does not have a one-size fits all definition…but it is useful because it desribes the key role of humans in shaping the land”.1
In the Cook Islands, one key tool in managing land-use is the Environmental Impact Assessmen(, which estimates (for instance) whether a change to practices in the economic sector, will have negative social and environmental impacts.

With regard to human rights, we are familiar with the the vulnerability of Small Islands Developing States like ours to climate change impacts we did not casue e.g. sea-level rise and more frequent cyclones during El Nino periods) . Our negotiators work through the UNFCCC arena to reduce greenhouse emissions from other countries that are causing these threats to our atolls. However, I was disappointed at the last SPREP2 meeting in Marshall Islands in September 2014 to find that SPREP is promoting the installation of 28 new healthcare waste incinerators funded by the EU – an old technology that is not longer used in the EU regionj, and replaced by newer procedures in the Philllipines because of high associated costs. The proposed Pacific healthcare waste incinerators will be too small to have effective pollution controls.

At the February 2015 Preparatory Meeting for the UNFCCC Climate Change Agreement in Paris, NGO human rights and environmental justice proponents called for integration of human rights obligations in the development and implementation of climate change policies and solutions3. This call was supported by several countries, including the EU. In another forum, Asia-Pacific contributors to a UN-Non Government Liaison report were concerned that proposed policies and goals aimed at stimulating economic growth may undermine policies and goals on social and environmental issues.4

A UNDP representative 5 noted that the the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) featured key elements of sustainable landscapes in the 17 goals and 169 SD targets contained within them . Indicators tro measure achievement of these SDGs goals and targets will be negotiated during 2015, together with means of implementation.

During February 2015, there was a whole day workshop on climate finance in Rarotonga, incuding the Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund, so I will not repeat what has already been said. At the 3rd Forum in this series last week Minister Mark Brown referred to the insurance system that has been established to assist the resilience of countries in dealing with damage resulting from cyclones. While Japan has paid the insurance premium on behalf of some countries, the Cook Islands paid its own premium of $200,000.

The Norwegian Carbon Procurement Facility (NorCaP) aims to prevent the reversal of emission-reduction actions and funds Clean Development Mechanism Projects. Today it reported in a press release that the majority of project proposals accepted dealt with methane avoidance (principally animal waste management systems( and about 16% were related to waste-landfill gas.


The Climate Change COP20 held in Peru in 2014 was preceded by the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum at which the CEO of UniLever said that “Business leaders recognize that.the cost of inaction is rapidly becoming greater than the cost of action”.6 He and other leaders went on to say that the governments, businesss and investors need to act faster and think bigger in fighting climate change and promoting sustainable development, using finance, human rights and sustainable landscapes.

A recent UN Non-Government Liaison Report7 noted that the four main objectives of the Post-2015 Development Agenda are:
-rebalance power relations for justice
-fulfill human rights and overcome exclusion
-ensure equitable distribution and safe use of natural resources
-establish participatory governance, accountability and transparency.

Many Asia-Pacific region contributors to this report were concerned that proposed policies and goals aimed at stimulating economic growth may undermine policies and goals on social and environmental issues. They further asserted that the dominant economic model of globalization and free market policies disproportionately benefited the corporate sector, especially transnational corporations.

While most countries have identified climate change as a major threat, there are many like me who believe it is very important but not the sole issue when viewed through the lens of the three sustainable development dimensions i.e. economic, environmental and social dimensions. The Cook Island is party to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (”MEAs”) such as the UNFCCC but also the Chemicals & Wastes Cluster, and these overlap with regard to global emissions of pollutants to the air, soil and water.

Yes, climate change has a direct impact on agriculture and food and water security. But it also exacerbates “sleeper” issues like degradation of the ecosystems that we rely upon. A 2011 report from UNEP8, with contributions by IPEN9, highlighted that climate change increases revolatization of carcinogenic POPs gases into the atmosphere. In 2014, the head of UNEP asserted that more stringent controls over air quality woud reduce the number of people dying before their time.

In my opinion, we could do more in the Cook Islands towards improved waste management and the reduction of methane emissions from our landfill and wastes. We should encourage clean solar and wind energy, but avoid incineration of municipal and healthcare wastes.


In 1992 the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro where the concept of sustainable development was elaborated as part of a long list of recommendations grouped under Agenda 21. It was during that Rio Earth Summit that many principles referred to in both climate change and development forums were adopted, and principles such as user pays, the precautionary principle and common but differentiated responsibilities; user pays, internalization of costs and inter-generational equity came into common usage.

The Commission for Sustainable Development was established and provided a forum to discuss and promote sustainable development under three equally-important dimensions – i.e. economic, environmental and social objectives. Then in 2012, a series of meetings called “Rio +20” considered how well the recommendations from the 1992 Earth Summit had been achieved. The outcome document, finalized in June 2012 at Rio was called “The Future We Want”, was wide-ranging and covered not only climate change but also chemicals & wastes.

The Millendium Development Goals (or “MDGs” which were promoted from the year 2000, will come to an end in 2015. So about three years ago, Colombia proposed the development of a set of replacement goals called “Sustainable Development Goals” (“”SDGs) . By the end of 2014, a set of 17 SDGs had been negotiated on a wide range of economic, environmental and social issues.

The phrase “post-2015 development agenda” has been coined to describe the negotiations that are taking place now to develop targets for the SDGs, and also indicators to measure their achievement.

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