Coronavirus hits regional, global environment meetings

Regional and global environment meetings are on hold while the world closes in to protect citizens from the novel coronavirus, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme is no different.

The S.P.R.E.P. annual calendar has been sharply affected by travel restrictions, flight cancellations and people all over the world having to adapt to necessary changes in their lives.

Director General, Leota Kosi Latu, is trying to remain positive, and said that while all non-essential travel is off, and some regional meetings have been cancelled, the work has to continue.

The French Government initiatives, the One Planet Summit and France-Oceania summit with the leaders of the Pacific Island States have both been cancelled, which the organisation had been preparing for. 

And the idea has been floated that the United Nations led international negotiations on climate change in Glasgow in November, (C.O.P.26) may be cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Professor Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor at Aberdeen University. said it would be “daft” to go ahead if the Covid-19 virus is still active, the Scotsman reports.

“The organisers should give thought to having a much smaller meeting, or having it online so that no-one needs to travel.”

Leota said while cancelled meetings delay important work, the environment cannot wait for C.O.P. 26.

“The C.O.P. is important because of the global community but we have to keep doing what we are doing, we can’t stop and we are not stopping. You have got to have hope otherwise all the hard work we put in will amount to nothing,” he said.

“Whether or not COP happens, we have got to keep talking, telling people about our story, we have got to keep doing what we are doing on the ground.”

However, every cancellation has a ripple effect across the organisation, Leota said. 

Preparatory meetings ahead of negotiations or official meetings with project launches affect each other if they cannot go ahead.

“The trend right now is for big regional meetings to be deferred to the latter part of this year, but that will put pressure on meetings already scheduled for the end of the year, it won’t make it any easier. They are linked to the bigger meetings, like C.O.P.26.”

He said it is too soon to say how much money the Secretariat has lost out on due to postponed or cancelled meetings in flights and other bookings. 

While the organisation has not placed an outright travel ban on its staff, all non-essential travel has been postponed, and the leadership are monitoring whether the annual S.P.R.E.P. meeting will go ahead or not in September.

“It means our delivery will slow down. There are some countries you cannot travel to because of their travel advisory so we have to respect that and find other ways to deliver our work,” Leota said of the travel restrictions.

He said while teleconferencing and phone call meetings are a viable alternative in some countries, not all Pacific Island states have a reliable enough internet connection, or even phone service.

“One of the things we are looking at is whether we can ask a country to identify nationals or experts in their own countries who can actually deliver on some of these things. If they are able to say yes we can do that, that will at least bring about some progress on the ground.

“We need to look at being innovative and creative in terms of how we deliver our projects.”

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