Making Peace With Land And Ocean: Generation Restoration In Action Across Our Blue Pacific

Published: Thu 6 Jun 2024 09:39 AM
The very foundation of life for our Pacific people—their ability to sustain themselves—is eroding with each passing season. Climate-induced disasters have caused thousands to suffer, not only from livelihood loss and consequent poverty but also from a fear of losing their spatial identity. The current generation in the Pacific notes that their families are constantly adjusting to the unpredictable forces of nature more than ever before.
Brutal storms that were once a once-in-a-decade phenomenon have become yearly events. The ocean, once a source of bounty, now unleashes its force upon our small island nations with increasing regularity. Ocean acidification has stressed our Blue Pacific, with pH levels decreasing by 30 percent since the early 19th Century. The coral reefs, vital to marine life and the livelihoods of many Pacific communities, are bleaching and dying at an alarming rate.
The resilience and adaptability of Pacific people are unmatched. Despite facing these relentless challenges, they continue to persevere and adapt to their changing environment. However, disbelief prevails as they confront this new reality.
"This is not how things used to be. In our memory, there have never been longer droughts, powerful cyclones, or flash floods like what we're experiencing now," said a resident of Kiribati, a country on the frontline of our changing environment.
Together, we can tackle today’s environmental challenges and move forward socially, economically, and politically, focusing on what can be achieved collectively. Around 40 percent of Earth's land is already degraded, affecting a staggering 3.2 billion peop le worldwide due to desertification. This situation is expected to worsen, with projections indicating that over three quarters of the global population will be impacted by drought by 2050. In the Federated States of Micronesia, 2024 has seen unprecedented drought conditions, affecting an estimated 16,000 people across the North Pacific nation.
As a result of human actions, environmental damage is intensifying, leading to severe consequences like climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation. Our generation has a critical responsibility to safeguard the environment and restore our planet's ecosystems to their natural state. The urgency is particularly pronounced in the Pacific, where rising sea levels threaten to submerge entire islands, displacing communities and erasing cultures.
The dedication of Pacific people in confronting climate change is unparalleled. Across the region we  see initiatives focused on both immediate relief and long-term solutions. Projects aimed at  strengthening coastal defenses, restoring mangroves, and implementing sustainable agricultural  practices are already making a difference.
There is one thing that unites many of these initiatives: to protect our Blue Pacific, we must  improve our region’s environmental security. This involves not only physical measures but also  advocating for policy changes and securing international support.
To achieve an environmentally secure Pacific, we need to scale up evidence-based approaches.  Scientific research and traditional knowledge must go hand in hand to create effective strategies  for adaptation and mitigation. Together with our partners, we must advocate for regional  environmental and climate security and justice in international forums. For situations where  adaptation is limited, we must equip Pacific Island Countries with the tools required to manage trade-offs, resource loss, and redistribution.
Community involvement is key. Engaging local populations in decision-making processes ensures  that solutions are culturally appropriate and widely accepted. Education and awareness programs  are crucial in empowering communities to take proactive measures in preserving their  environment. By fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility, we can build a collective  resilience that is both strong and sustainable.
We cannot turn back time, but we can grow forests, revive water sources, and restore soils.  Initiatives such as reforestation and sustainable land management are essential in reversing some  of the damage done. Prime Minister of Fiji, Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka, has declared the Pacific a “zone  of peace”. We must extend this premise to our environment, making peace with the land, and our  Blue Pacific Ocean. If we fail to draw up an equivalent social contract between humans and our  flora and fauna, the Sixth Extinction and the destruction of between 20-50 percent of all living species on Earth awaits within this Century.
On the back of World Environment Day, we must remind ourselves that the time for a resolute,  comprehensive, and coordinated response to environmental degradation and climate change in the  Pacific is now. Our future may seem bleak, but not all is lost. With concerted efforts and  unwavering commitment, we can create a sustainable and resilient future for our children and  grandchildren.
It is our young Pacific people – Generation Restoration – who are leading the charge. We must  stand behind them, and champion their efforts, for they are our true climate leaders. From grassroots initiatives to high-level policy advocacy, our children and young people are taking their  commitment for the Blue Pacific Continent to the world stage. But they cannot do it alone.
Together, we can transform challenges into opportunities and build a thriving, resilient Pacific. The  road ahead is long and fraught with difficulties, but with unity and determination, we can navigate  this turbulent landscape and emerge stronger than ever.
Munkhtuya Altangerel is Resident Representative with the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji.

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