Institutional Framework There are a large number and variety of institutions, at both the regional and national
level, involved in various aspects of environmental management in the Pacific. However,
in general, the countries and territories of the Polynesia-Micronesia Hotspot still lack
efficient institutional and legal arrangements at the national level to protect the
environment, as well as staff, expertise, and funding resources dedicated to
environmental management. There has been relatively little improvement in national
institutional capacity or environmental quality in recent years, despite significant external
support. While a more solid institutional framework exists at the regional level, major
challenges still exist in improving national actions within the regional framework (ADB
National Institutional Framework National institutional frameworks vary greatly across the hotspot, largely reflecting the
colonial histories of each PICT. Of all the countries and territories in the hotspot, only
Tonga was never a colony. Some hotspot states became independent in the 1960s (e.g.
Samoa and Nauru) or 1970s such as Fiji and Kiribati. Former territories of the U.S. Trust
Territories of the Pacific Islands became freely associated independent states in the 1980s
and 1990s (FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands). The Cook Islands and Niue are self-
governing in free association with New Zealand, while American Samoa, CNMI, Easter
Island, French Polynesia, Guam, Pitcairn Island, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna are still
formally attached to metropolitan countries.
While environmental planning and management functions are actually conducted by a
range of government institutions including departments of agriculture, forestry and
fisheries, and health or economic affairs, environmental management is usually
coordinated by a dedicated environmental unit, usually part of a larger resource
management department. In current or former U.S. territories, environmental policy and
management is usually coordinated by the local Environmental Protection Agency, while
in former British colonies and current New Zealand dependencies, it is coordinated by a
Department or Division of Environment in a Ministry of Natural Resources or Local
Government. In most French Territories, it is coordinated by an Environment Delegation
under a Ministry of the Environment.
Environmental departments and units have been strengthened in many countries in the
hotspot in recent years, with increased staff levels (UNEP 1999). However, in general,
most environment departments are still understaffed and under-resourced, but with a
rapidly increasing workload. The thin institutional baseline remains a major constraint to
the implementation of a wide range of environmental projects and programs in PICTs
(ADB 2003). Capacity building such as human resource development, improving
communications and information, policy, planning and institutional strengthening remain
key national and regional priorities.
Despite the disappointing performance of many national institutions in improving the
management of the environment, there have been some positive developments in recent
years. The first relates to the increasing recognition of the close relationship between
environment and development and the importance of “mainstreaming” environmental
considerations into national development and financial planning. Mainstreaming has in
fact become the leading theme for biodiversity conservation at both the national and
regional level. Furthermore, there has been improved transparency and accountability of
government bodies and the development of a more participatory and collaborative
approach by government with local communities, NGOs, the private sector and academia
Paralleling and perhaps fuelling the increased recognition of NGOs and community-
based organizations (CBOs), has been a rapid growth in the number and influence of such
groups in the Pacific. There are now estimated to be more than 1,000 NGOs operating in
the region, although most focus on human development issues such as education, health,
and women’s affairs, rather than the environment (Crocombe 2001).
A robust national environmental NGO infrastructure only exists in a few countries in the
hotspot. Prominent national environmental NGOs in the hotspot include the Conservation
Society of Pohnpei and the Palau Conservation Society in Micronesia, O le Siosiomaga
Society in Samoa and Societé d’Ornithologie de la Polynésie in French Polynesia. Most,
if not all, of these environmental NGOs are still in need of significant additional support
to achieve conservation objectives.
Another recent development in the hotspot has been the establishment of conservation
trust funds at the national and sub-national level in some countries. For example,
community-based trusts are being established in the districts of Aleipata and Safata in
Samoa to fund resource management in marine protected areas. Another example is the
Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) in the Federated States of Micronesia. The MCT
was developed to mobilize funding from a variety of sources to build an endowment fund
to provide long-term support for sustainable natural resource management in the country.
An additional initiative coming out of Micronesia is the establishment of a pilot
Micronesia Leaders in Island Conservation network. This peer-learning network,
developed with the assistance of TNC, aims to strengthen the organizational and
technical skills of leaders and their organizations so they can better protect important
natural areas of Micronesia.
Regional Institutional Framework There are a large number of regional intergovernmental organizations active in the
Pacific dealing with a range of socioeconomic, political and environmental issues.
SPREP is the lead regional intergovernmental organization dealing with the sustainable
development and management of the biological environment. The work of SPREP is
guided by its four-yearly Action Plan, which is agreed by SPREP members. The SPREP
member countries include the governments and administrations of 21 PICTs and four
developed countries with direct interests in the Pacific islands region. SPREP’s work falls
under the following five key result areas: natural resource management (species
protection, ecosystem management and development and management of conservation
areas), pollution prevention (marine pollution, hazardous waste, and solid waste and
sewage pollution), climate change and variability, economic development (integrating
environment and development and trade, investment and environment) and processes
(including legal, institutional capacity building, human resource development, and
environmental information services) (SPREP 2003b).
The other three major regional agencies dealing with environmental issues in the Pacific
are the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA),
and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC). SPC is the premier
technical and development organization in the region and was the first intergovernmental
agency to be established in the Pacific in 1947. SPC is an intergovernmental organization
with focal points in Living Aquatic Resources and Maritime Development, Agriculture,
Quarantine and Plant Protection, Forestry, Public Health, Demography, Women, Media,
Youth, Rural Technology, Statistics and Community Education. In terms of resource
management, SPC has major regional programs in forest management and coastal and
oceanic fisheries management. The SPC headquarters are in Noumea, New Caledonia
and there is a regional office in Suva, Fiji.
FFA was established in 1979 to help members of the South Pacific Forum to get
maximum benefit from the conservation and sustainable use of their fisheries resources.
A major focus of the work of the FFA has been on assisting members to manage and
develop their tuna resources, and in particular to negotiate and implement agreements
among its members and with nations undertaking deep-sea pelagic fishing. The FFA is
based in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
SOPAC was established in 1972 in Suva, Fiji to assist member states to sustainably
develop their non-living resources. SOPAC’s work focuses on the development of
mineral, water and energy resources, coastal management, hazard assessment and ocean
development and on national capacity building in the geosciences (SOPAC 2001). An
important recent SOPAC initiative has been the development of an Environmental
Vulnerability Index (EVI) to measure the vulnerability of islands to a range of social,
economic and environmental impacts (ibid). The EVI project aims to promote
environmental vulnerability considerations into national development planning and
management thereby encouraging sustainable development. A major SOPAC regional
project is an European Union-funded project called “Reducing Vulnerability of Pacific
ACP States” (SOPAC 2003). This project aims to introduce the concept of “Island
Systems Management” to strengthen integrated development in three focal areas: hazard
mitigation and risk assessment; aggregates for construction; and water resources supply
and sanitation (ibid).
There are a now a large number of universities and other tertiary institutions in the
hotspot. Foremost among these is the University of the South Pacific, which is
headquartered in Suva, Fiji, but has campuses and extension centers in a number of other
PICTs. Other important academic institutions include the University of Guam in Agana,
the Université de la Polynesié Français in Papeete, the University of Hawaii, and
Brigham Young University (BYU) in Hawaii, the National University of Samoa in Apia
and Community Colleges in Micronesia and American Samoa. Some of these
Universities have important research institutions specialising in the study of the culture,
language and environment of Pacific islands, including the Institute of Pacific Studies at
USP, the Institute for Polynesian Studies at BYU and the Center for Pacific Island
Studies at the University of Hawaii. Also in Honolulu, is the East-West Center that was
established in 1960 to establish better relations and understanding between the United
States and Asia and the Pacific islands through cooperative study, training, and research
(Lal and Fortune 2000).
There are a number of research institutions in the hotspot, especially in Hawaii and in
French Polynesia. One of the oldest and most important research institutions is the
Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu which was established in 1889. The museum has
a vast and comprehensive Pacific natural history collection and continues to take the lead
in conducting biological and cultural research in Hawaii and across the Pacific region.
Important research institutions in French Polynesia include the University of California at
Berkeley’s Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station on Moorea, the Institut
Malardé, the Institut de recherche pour le développement, based in Tahiti, and the Centre
de recherche et observatoire de l’environnement on Moorea.
The major scientific academic society in the region is the Pacific Science Association
(PSA), set up in 1920 to promote cooperation and communication in science and
technology among Pacific communities. It is hosted by the Bishop Museum and produces
a quarterly journal called Pacific Science. Scientific networks related to the PSA include
Diversitas International of the Western Pacific Area - a program to study the biodiversity
in the Western Pacific Area, and the Pacific Asia Biodiversity Transect Network
(PABITRA), a collaborative program for investigating the function of biodiversity and
the health of ecosystems in the tropical Pacific Islands. PABITRA has already conducted
workshops and training for Pacific island professionals in biodiversity assessment in Fiji
and Samoa and developed standardised methodologies for the assessment of vegetation,
fauna, climate and hydrology, stream and saltwater ecosystems, invasive species and
other parameters (PABITRA 2004).
The U.N. system is well represented in the hotspot. UNDP has offices in Fiji (covering
most of the Melanesian and Micronesian countries) and Samoa (covering Samoa, Niue,
the Cook Islands and Tokelau). Much of UNDP’s effort in the region is focussed on
environmental issues such as biodiversity conservation, waste management and
adaptation to climate change. UNESCO and the Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) have subregional offices for the whole Pacific based in Apia, Samoa. Together
these U.N. agencies have a comprehensive assistance program covering a wide range of
scientific, socioeconomic, and environmental issues.
Complementing the work of regional intergovernmental organizations are a growing
number of international and regional NGOs which are active in the environmental sphere.
The most prominent international environmental NGOs in the region include Greenpeace,
Conservation International, the World Wide Fund for Nature South Pacific Program
(WWF-SPP), BirdLife International, TNC’s Pacific Program, and the Wildlife
Conservation Society (WCS). Most of these international NGOs are based, and most
active, in Melanesia and to a lesser extent Micronesia, rather than Polynesia.
Conservation effort has generally focused on capacity building at the community level to
improve resource management and conservation.
Important regional NGO networks include the Pacific Concerns Resource Center, which
is based in Fiji and represents more than 100 affiliated Pacific NGOs and CBOs, and the
Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI). FSPI has been active
in environmental management projects such as in coral reef conservation, sustainable
management of the aquarium reef trade, rainforest conservation and ecoforestry. Other
regional NGOs include the Pacific Youth Caucus for the Environment, and the Pacific
Island Association of NGOs. Once again, most of these regional NGOs tend to be most
active in Melanesia, and to a lesser degree Micronesia, rather than Polynesia, where
national NGOs tend to predominate.
There are a number of donors active in the hotspot region, many of them supporting
environmental management projects and activities. Major multilateral assistance agencies
supporting environmental management include the Asian Development Bank, the
European Union, and the World Bank. Major bilateral donors include the governments of
Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan. Important foundations
actively supporting environmental management in the region include the MacArthur
Foundation and the Packard Foundation. The Global Environment Facility has been a key
source of funds for many large regional programs, especially those related to the
implementation of global environmental conventions such as the Convention on
Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. GEF has
committed more than $60 million in the past decade to the Pacific region.
There has traditionally been poor coordination and information sharing between
international and regional NGOs and development organizations in the Pacific. This has
been an impediment to effective conservation effort. Recognition of this has led to the
development of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation in 1998. The
Roundtable is the only forum where major international and regional environmental
NGOs and donors meet to exchange information on projects, identify gaps and develop
new ideas and methods to address the major regional conservation issues. It meets once
or twice per year.
At the regional intergovernmental level, coordination between organizations has
improved in recent years with the development of a formal coordination mechanism, now
called the Council of the Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP). CROP, with the
support of the Forum Secretariat, provides an important framework to ensure that
regional institutions are focused on common regional goals and that environmental
considerations are mainstreamed into regional policy and programs. The 10 members of
the CROP include SPREP, SPC, USP and SOPAC, FFA, the Forum Secretariat, the
Tourism Council of the South Pacific, the Pacific Islands Development Program, the Fiji
Islands School of Medicine, and the South Pacific Board of Education.
Policy and Legislation Environmental policies and legislation, like institutional frameworks, vary widely across
the region. Current policies have evolved from a complex mix of often relatively recent
colonial administrations and strong social and cultural values and mores (UNEP 1999).
However, regardless of their particular history and form of government, Pacific countries
share a common tradition of consultation at the local, national, and regional levels and a
strong foundation of governance rooted in traditional political systems (ibid).
Environmental management in many PICTs has been guided by the development of
National Environmental Management Strategies in the early 1990s, and more recently by
National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans and National Sustainable Development
Strategies. These strategies have set out the national blueprint for the development of
environmental policies and plans. While the NEMS set out strategies to improve
environmental management by strengthening environmental institutions, supporting
environmental legislation and policy, and raising environmental awareness, amongst
others, little progress has been made in implementation. Part of the problem may have
been a failure to set priorities based on links to economically or socially based criteria
At the regional level, conservation effort is guided by the five yearly Action Strategy for
Nature Conservation. As noted already, the current strategy (2003-2007) reflects the
approach of mainstreaming conservation into development planning. The strategy
provides a broad framework involving partnerships between conservationists, and
governments, the private sector and civil society to promote the mainstreaming of
conservation into all development sectors.
Legislation dealing with environmental management and nature conservation has been
drafted and enacted in many countries and territories in the hotspot. In most countries
there is legislation incorporating environmental impact assessment and regulating natural
resource extraction activities such as forestry, fisheries and agricultural development,
establishing and managing protected areas, protecting endangered species and controlling
disposal of solid waste and other pollutants, amongst others. However, many PICTs still
lack legal frameworks covering major aspects of environmental protection and natural
resource management (ADB 2003).
The deficiency in environmental legislation frameworks may stem from conflicts
between the Pacific tradition of local management authority and attempts by government
to impose contemporary western-style legal frameworks. One result of this conflict is that
even where national laws governing natural resource management do exist on paper, their
enforcement at the local level remains weak to non-existent. Another factor contributing
to the lack of enforcement of environmental laws is the slender technical and
administrative resources of enforcement agencies. Fortunately, there is renewed
appreciation of the need to consult with stakeholders and to take into account customary
practise and tenure in regulatory frameworks. For example a national law was passed in
Samoa in 1990 (the Village Fono Act) which legalises the traditional right of village
councils to pass their own rules in a number of areas including the management and use
of natural resources (Peteru 1993).
Hotspot states have signed up to most global and regional multilateral environmental
agreements (MEAs). For example, most independent states have signed the U.N.
Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UNFCCC, the CBD, the U.N. Convention on
Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and the Kyoto Protocol to name a few. PICTs are
active participants in conferences linked to these MEAs and to the related forums
including the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Barbados Program of
Action for Small Island Developing States, and the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development (ADB 2003). A notable exception however, is the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which has only been
signed by Fiji, Palau, and Samoa (although it is applicable to all U.S., French and New
Two regional MEAs form a particularly strong legal foundation on which further regional
cooperation on environmental matters can be built. The first is the Convention on the
Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific (the Apia Convention), while the second is
the Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South
Pacific Region (the SPREP Convention). The former seeks to encourage the creation of
protected areas, including national parks and reserves, while the latter provides a broad
framework for cooperation in preventing pollution of the marine and coastal environment
and with the basic structure and mandate of SPREP.
A major catch of MEAs is that ratification of these agreements is required before
financial resources can be obtained, but that the MEAs require a high level of
engagement in dialogue and negotiations at international meetings, and place heavy
reporting burdens on small environmental agencies and units. This puts a severe strain on
limited resources of environment units and can divert attention away from pressing
domestic environmental issues (ADB 2003). A recent GEF–supported initiative called the
National Capacity Self Assessment (NCSA) aims to enable countries to assess the
progress and barriers to the national implementation of the three major global MEAs (the
CBD, UNFCCC and the UNCCD). The NCSA will allow countries to identify capacity
development needs and efforts required to expedite the achievement of MEA objectives.
The ultimate intention if the NCSA and other capacity assessments is to advocate for the
use of National Sustainable Development Strategies which are required to be completed
by 2005 under the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, as the primary vehicles for
coordinated implementation and achievements of the objectives of MEAs (McIntyre pers.