Monday 6 September 2010, Madang - Environment Ministers, Officials, donors and government and non-government partners from in and around the Pacific have gathered in Madang, Papua New Guinea, for the twenty-first annual meeting of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, being held from 6 to 10 September.

Speaking at the opening of the Meeting, PNG's Minister for Environment and Conservation, the Honourable Mr Benny Allen, reminded delegates of their important role in addressing environment as a key pillar of sustainable development.

"It is unlikely that the development trends of the past two decades will change in the near future," he said. "And that means we will need to address growing environmental contamination and destruction."

The Minister listed land use practices, waste management, rising populations and urban growth, climate change and terrestrial and marine resource management as key priorities in PNG's environment management work.

A key task for officials attending the meeting is determining the future direction of the inter-governmental body, which is responsible for assisting Pacific countries with environmental management and protection. The Secretariat of the Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) will be guided by a new five-year Strategic Plan, designed to meet the environmental priorities of all its 21 Pacific Island members.

Director of SPREP, Mr David Sheppard, highlighted the need for guidance from the Members for the work of the Secretariat.

"It is your Secretariat," he said. "Therefore the vision and actions outlined in the Strategy must reflect national needs and priorities."

The Annual Meeting is being held for the first time in PNG, an event considered particularly timely, as the region celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity under the theme: Value Island Biodiversity - It's Our Life.

"Issues relating to biodiversity are clearly brought into focus in PNG," said the Director. "PNG in itself contains over 5 percent of the world's biodiversity in less than 1 percent of the world's total land area."

Issues of biodiversity conservation, climate change challenges and waste management and pollution prevention will be addressed during the five-day meeting.

The first day of the Meeting commenced with a full agenda, ranging from reports on work done over the past year to more strategic, long term planning. The officials will meet for three days before a high level segment commences on 9 September.