Opening Remarks by Dame Meg Taylor Pacific Centre for Social Responsibility and Natural Resources

Opening Remarks by Dame Meg Taylor
Pacific Centre for Social Responsibility and Natural Resources
14 November 2016
Suva, Fiji


Theme: Social Responsibility is central to and defining of, sustainable development

The Region that we call home – the region that we have stewardship over – is a region endowed with natural resources aplenty – both renewable and non-renewable resources. We have known and (still unknown) oceanic and coastal marine resources that are of social, economic and cultural importance to us – Our forest resources are both on our islands and in the ocean and both offer enormous economic potential as well as mitigators against Climate Change - for example the forests of Papua New Guinea is the third largest contiguous rainforest in the world rich in biodiversity, timber and serves as a carbon sink. Our Ocean and our economic zones cover 10% of the earth’s surface and it too has and offers the same potential.

Our onshore mineral resources such as copper, gold and nickel have been mined over the decades – with robust social frameworks for the distribution of benefits in particular in Papua New Guinea. However, they have been weak in environmental regulatory frameworks and these have resulted with devastating impact in some cases - such as Ok Tedi and the Bougainville Mine.

But let me first turn to the international scene with the topic at hand – if we use the establishment of the Bretton Woods System which includes the United Nations and the World Bank Group, as the starting point – then since the second World War the international community has made significant strides in determining and agreeing collective responses to matters related to international security and commerce. Indeed, members of the community of nations have pooled elements of their own sovereignty as a means of creating a more robust and binding architecture that responds to the collective security and livelihood concerns of mankind. More recently, the fabric of this international governance framework, has expanded to include issues related to the global-political economy and more recently climate change risk.

The global policy architecture has evolved from loosely accepted norms, voluntary in character, into soft law and even binding Convention. While this blanket of generally accepted rules continues to expand, the question of environmental, social and cultural responsibility is being addressed through the 2030 Development Agenda and the SDGs – but its effectiveness is yet to be measured.

For our Pacific Island Countries, economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability are central to our development. In this regard environmental, social and cultural responsibility are inextricably linked and cannot be seen nor treated without the other. To be clear, development in our region, ought not be measured by inflexible outcomes; rather, our development path should be informed by adjustable economic and environmental targets, based-on, and supportive of, inclusive social development and our cultural context. For this reason, environmental, social and cultural responsibility should be hardwired into our institutional agendas and programming. This requires adjustments to our collective priorities in the areas of: education; scientific research; economic planning, and of course community and strategic level approaches to the exploration and exploitation of our natural resources.      

Ladies and Gentlemen;
While we must acknowledge the positive changes that have taken place to the international governance and policy architecture, the extensive coordination that our Leaders have mandated on a raft of public policy concerns at the regional level- under the overarching 2014 Framework for Pacific Regionalism; as well their endorsement of related regional policy instruments including for thematic priorities such as for Our Ocean – the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, and the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific – for Climate Change and Disaster Risk must also be recognised and acknowledged. Their success can only fully be achieved through the mainstreaming of the environmental, social amd cultural dimensions into the mix of policy prescriptions and interventions.

The regional public policy process through the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalsim seeks to ensure that ‘environmental, social and cultural (ESC) responsibility’ becomes a quantifiable result of public policy interventions, and the uptake is by the public and private sectors, and equally, by civil society and other non-state actors. Since 2015 there have been two calls for submissions from the region’s public. Among these have been submissions to address the sustainable development of our natural resources – including on oceanic fisheries (in 2015) and coastal fisheries (in 2016), which Leaders have committed to as high-level regional priorities requiring their oversight and attention. In 2015 there was a submission made on deep-sea mining and while this was not commended to Leaders at the time – it is not to say that it would not become a matter that would require their oversight and attention in the future given its regionalism dimensions.

Our region is now at a major policy crossroads.  Our path toward economic development complicated by ecological concerns and climate change risk. These complexities create a measure of uncertainty for our economic development but also equally, as it relates to the effectiveness of existing structures in addressing climate change risk, as well as issues of gender equity, social inclusion and sustainable development.

Let me take you back to the status of international norms and what we in our region could draw upon – for example the World Bank Group has led international financial institutions and private sector banks in the design and delivery of safeguard policies, and the IFC performance standards for private sector development. At the heart of these standards is the environmental, social and cultural safeguards for people and for communities. All IFIs have created accountability mechanisms that hold both institutions and banks accountable for the implementation of safeguards and performance standards – they also offer redress for communities – for all of their investments. This is a very rigorous approach.

But then many large mining companies, many banks and their collective bodies such as the ICMM (International Council for Mining and Metals);  the Equator Principles, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – all embrace the principles of environmental, social and cultural responsibility, and some adopt risk management frameworks around environmental and social risk. The weakness however remains the lack of accountability. So whatever it is that we do and choose to do in the future in Our region must and has to be robust, accountable and offer redress for our citizens.

Our region and our peoples face challenges associated with climate change, ecosystem pressures due to population growth, declining trends in offshore and coastal marine resources, ecological impacts attended to terrestrial and mineral resource extraction and the scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

The viability of ecosystems, particularly marine ecosystems, becomes even more of a concern when resource exploitation and the extraction of hydrocarbons and minerals place external pressures on natural ecosystems. These pressures are related to wastewater and other effluent that can pollute and contaminate otherwise pristine riparian and marine environments.  

Ladies and Gentlemen;
Concerns related to IUU and fisheries subsidies must be considered as they contribute to declining trends in some of the important pelagic and coastal fish stocks in Our Ocean.  Worryingly, a report commissioned by the Forum Fisheries Agency that assessed IUU fishing for tuna in EEZs of member countries, estimated losses attributable to IUU fishing at approximately USD600M annually. These issues have environmental, social and cultural consequences. Therefore public policy development must be inclusive, cooperative and collaborative between our governments, our development partners, the private sector, with CSOs and with our communities for without redress and attention this could have dire consequences for us and our future generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen;
Development and sustainability are not abstract propositions, but should be tied to social development and inclusion. While international and regional organisations should take on their responsibility to play a meaningful role in linking social outcomes to economic and ecological imperatives, a paradigm shift is required in the public and private spheres which requires ownership of sustainability related concerns by: governments, civil society, local communities and at the level of the individual. In order to bridge the gap between policies related to sustainability and their adoption and implementation, ‘ES&C responsibility is required at all levels’.

Ours is a collective responsibility to provide for our current needs and for our future generations. This principle should be both the ‘North Star’ and the ‘Southern Cross’ of our efforts at the organisational level. We must continue to strengthen the link between policy development and ES&C responsibility.

In summary there remains some tough questions – how seriously has the developing world absorbed ES&C issues? – How seriously have safeguards been developed, adopted and implemented by governments in the developing world and particularly in our own region.

Yes – there have been examples of good social contracts between developers the state and communities in mining projects – less so in forestry projects. We have a whole framework in the region around our fisheries resources managed by the FFA and the PNA – and this remains a work in progress.

But if we look at the emerging topic in the region with regards DSM we may well have made progress in the science and understanding of the mineral resources themselves and we may no doubt be able to pull a financial structure together to exploit these resources if the price is right. But what we don’t know enough about is firstly the knowledge of our own people about these resources, their use of the resources, the value that they place on these resources, and the implications of the use of these resources on their culture (I only know of one major anthropological assessment that is being undertaken no – with regard to this kind of study – while there may be a few more such studies it is nevertheless an important area for us). As well, we still don’t know enough about the environmental and social impact on communities and the environmental and social impact on the marine ecosystems and their biodiversity. These all remain unknown quantities wherein an inclusive, collaborative approach will be necessary to develop a framework that allows for the sustainable development, management and conservation of our natural resources that is considerate of the environmental, social and cultural inclusion dimensions.

The essence of this sentiment is well reflected in the words of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who posited:
‘If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology.  We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it
Ladies and Gentlemen - I thank you.

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