12th September, 2011 - The very first Pacific Environment Forum opened in Samoa today, drawing upon the expertise and experience of Pacific environment workers to discuss three vital issues of importance for our region.

Today panelists made presentations on: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, environmental governance in the Pacific and, adapting to climate change.

"We in the Pacific are fortunate that we still maintain to a large extent our traditions and practices that govern the way we manage and use our natural resources. We have also developed modern and contemporary systems," said the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Government of Samoa, Hon. Fa'amoetauloa Lealaiauloto Taito Ulaitino Dr F. Tumaali'I. He opened today's forum with an address that also reflected upon Pacific ownership of our environment.

"Community ownership and leadership is at the core of environmental governance particularly because most of our lands are customary owned. Many of our national policies and strategies are meaningless if our communities are not a part of it."

The Pacific Environment Forum is an initiative from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). It has come about from requests from SPREP members to allow for discussions on key environment issues to the region, outside of the annual SPREP Meeting agenda topics.

"Rio +20 and Beyond: Building resilience for a sustainable future" is the theme of the one day forum that will culminate with an outcome to be presented before the 22nd annual SPREP meeting which begins tomorrow. This outcome will also provide input to the Pacific preparations for the Earth Summit in 2012, also known as the Rio +20 Meeting that will bring together world leaders to address global environment issues with plans of action.

"20 years down the track we can see there has been major progress in the Pacific on areas such as mainstreaming environmental issues into development sectors and on the Green Economy, Samoa MNRE for example," said Mr. David Sheppard, the Director of SPREP.

"However, major challenges remain. The loss of biodiversity globally, and in our region, countries at alarming rates and climate change has been identified by Pacific leaders as the biggest challenge facing our region and requires urgent action."

Alphonse Kambu, the Programme Officer, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also spoke at today's opening ceremony calling upon partnerships to help bring about a thriving green economy.

"Environmental, economic and social crises the world is experiencing today demand governments, international development agencies, and civil society groups to form partnerships and explore innovative and integrated solutions aimed at greening the world economy. These solutions will require investment in clean technologies and building the green economy which creates jobs and opportunities."

Participants at the Pacific Environment Forum divided into three different working groups in the afternoon to discuss how their topic area can feed into the final outcomes document to be presented at the end of the day.