Press Relese - The 20th Annual meeting of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) opened in Samoa amidst a tribute to the Pacific nations struck by the tsunami, spiritual inspiration and an embracing of Samoan culture.

From 17 to 20 November, member countries and territories are meeting to discuss the future work plans of the regional environment organisation as well as to look back over the past year.

Before the official opening of the Conference, Deputy Director, Mr. Kosi Latu called for a minute of silence in commemoration of people affected by the tsunami in September this year. SPREP Member countries - American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga experienced great loss from the disaster and fellow pacific islands nations, countries and partners joined with SPREP in paying tribute at the start of the opening ceremony.
The 20th SPREP Meeting is the first gathering for Mr. David Sheppard in his capacity as the new Director of the organisation. He outlined four key approaches for SPREP to help meet its mandate to ensure sustainable development for present and future generations.

These range from the need to strengthen effective and focused partnerships to supporting and accelerating country efforts to mainstream environmental management into all sectors and build capacity.

"We need to prioritise. SPREP cannot do everything and we need to focus on areas where we have comparative advantages and strengths. Climate Change is an overarching issue which SPREP must consider as a priority, given the clear direction from Pacific leaders."

The Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Government of Samoa, Hon. Faumuina Tiatia Liuga opened the 20th SPREP Meeting with words of welcome to the delegates and encouragement about discussions on the agenda for the week. He also looked at the importance of climate change to the Pacific region.
The Pacific islands states are now calling upon the world for a legally binding agreement to come from the UN Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen and this was reinforced by the Minister.

"The news from our negotiators is not uplifting and there is a very real danger that we will not be able to conclude a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen. It is therefore important for the region to remain engaged and active and to give full expression to the urgent climate change concerns of the region," said Minister Faumuina Tiatia Liuga

"We cannot afford further delay in the process, as climate change impacts are already being felt by countries in our region."

The opening ceremony was also an opportunity for the member countries and territories to be welcomed to Samoa with songs of worship from Samoan choirs and singers, as well as the vibrant culture which ended closed the opening ceremony on a high note.

Proceedings for Day 1 began with a full agenda ranging from an overview of work undertaken by SPREP in 2008, to Institutional reform and strategic issues.

The SPREP Meeting is being held at Gym 1, Tuanaimato Sports Complex, Apia, Samoa, from November 17 to 20.