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Carbon offsetting Canberra and the Pacific Games.

It is hard trying to continuously raise the red flag on the effects of Climate Change in the Pacific Islands, when the region’s biggest economy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases Australia, re-elected a Liberal Party-led conservative government that continues to downplay the impact of this human-induced weather phenomenon.

In fact re-elected Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a paltry record when it comes to Climate Change, he has been part of a Liberal Party-led coalition government where greenhouse gas emissions have risen consecutively over four years! 

But hey the Australian people have spoken and who are we to question the election results of a foreign land, who had a former prime minister who laughed off the impact of Climate Change in the Pacific Islands, and a former environment minister who sarcastically asked the former president of Kiribati Anote Tong if he was in Canberra for her “cheque book”.

As Pacific Islanders, we are a resilient people who navigated the great expanse of the Pacific using the stars, and have cultures that go back a millennia. There is no need for a “big brother” to champion our cause, when for thousands of years we have set sail in our canoes, the future often unbeknown to us but the destination as clear as day.

Therefore, the decision of the Samoa Government to embrace and promote “greening the Pacific Games”, has to be a master stroke. If we cannot get the conservative Australian government on board our Climate Change canoe, at least we can get their athletes to plant trees in Australia before they travel to Samoa in July. 

All 2019 Pacific Games participating nations have been asked offset their air travel emissions by planting trees. Teams New Zealand and PNG have done that and we look forward to seeing Australia and the other participating nations and territories following suit.

But what exactly is the host of this year’s Pacific Games talking about when it is urging athletes to offset their “air travel emissions” by planting trees in their home countries before travelling?

The Cambridge Dictionary dictionary defines carbon offset as the activity of trying to stop the damage caused by activities that produce carbon, by doing other things to reduce it, such as planting trees. In other words, carbon offsetting is the process of making compensation for greenhouse gas emissions, that is Pacific Games athletes can offset the amount of carbon their travel to Samoa emits by planting trees.

The gesture could be seen as symbolic and insignificant in the Climate Change debate, but when you have between 3000-4000 athletes and sports officials all converging on a single destination from different parts of the Pacific Islands, then the emission levels become significant. And not forgetting the impact of 24 participating nations and territories simultaneously planting trees in their home countries and territories before flying to Samoa.

The Samoa Government is determined to make the 2019 Pacific Games the region’s first ever “green and plastic-free” sporting event. In April this year, the Pacific Games Office (PGO) agreed to work with the Samoa Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), towards achieving that goal.

SPREP director Leota Kosi Latu said greening the Pacific Games and making it plastic-free was a very important regional initiative, and is an opportunity for both Samoa and the Pacific to show how the environment can be better managed. 

"I think it’s been a major challenge for Samoa given the small time that Samoa has agreed to host the Pacific Games and our sub-committee is very pleased and very happy we can be part of this very important regional initiative. 

"We are confident that through the greening of the Games that there will be important lessons learnt that we can pass on to other sporting events like this.

"But this is an opportunity not for Samoa but for the region to demonstrate that we here in the Pacific can have Games that will enable better management of the impact on the environment," he said. 

It is an ambitious initiative, especially for a Government that only took on the role of playing host to the region’s top sporting event 18 months ago, but is achievable. And the Samoa Government has taken a major step towards ticking that box, by implementing a nationwide ban on plastic straws and single-use plastic bags which went into effect on January 30 this year. 

With the Pacific Games now 45 days away, we have to up the ante by doing our bit to tick the boxes to make the sporting event green and plastic-free. 

This Saturday May 25 you have the chance to contribute to the cause by joining volunteers to undertake a town-wide river clean-up starting from 6.30am to midday. 

The Pacific Games Office,  Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), will coordinate the exercise in targeted areas. The organisers need at least a thousand volunteers for the town-wide clean-up. 

Volunteers should gather at at Malaefatu Park at 6.30am for team leaders to provide safety instructions and divide people into groups, and there will be barbeque and a social event from 11.00am to thank the volunteers. 

Let us be the change we want to be. 

Have a lovely Thursday Samoa and God bless. 

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