Re-energising the Climate Change Narrative in the South Pacific Region

Re-energising the Climate Change Narrative in the South Pacific Region

By Mohit (Max) Bhanabhai, Executive Director TravelBiz Pty Ltd and Australian Institute of Business MBA student.

The 2020 global pandemic has disrupted tourism, crippled industries, shaken business models, rocked share markets and brought trepidation to humankind, globally. Academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and many others, collectively embraced the need to evolve in order to remain competitive and survive (or with any luck, thrive) in the current business landscape.

Beyond the business landscape, however, the global pandemic has re-energised the issue of climate change. For example, Gaia theorists are celebrating clean water in the Ganges River, and crisper visibility of the Himalayas. After the global restrictions were put in place, a cleaner, clearer environment was visible for all to see. With a renewed sense of awareness of these environmental issues, we must be open to embracing grassroots paradigms to hold onto the gains that Mother Earth has unearthed during the current pandemic.

Hope Stance on Climate Change

When former US Vice President Al Gore founded The Climate Reality Project, he took a stance on climate change through a climate hope mantra. His mission was simple – to catalyse a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society (Climate Reality Project¸ 2020). What the Climate Reality Project demonstrates has been the widespread failure of collaboration and execution of vision into strategic, tactical, and operational plans – plans which are fundamental to strategic management. Whilst some governments, industries and global bodies have been instrumental in doing the right thing, there still exists a denialist view of climate change which needs to change!

Mandate for the South Pacific

Global organisations can only make recommendations but where is the task force to ensure things are done? Where are the right people, with the right knowledge, who can drive and catalyse change for the better? To answer this, we will take a case study perspective of the South Pacific region and how the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) through its Pacific Sustainable Tourism Network (2018) is striving to “realise a sustainable future for Pacific Islands through tourism that brings benefits to people, safeguards cultural heritage and ensures the environment that we depend on is protected for generations to come”.

The mandate here is strong as it is focusing on eco-tourism as a medium to drive sustainability in climate change. Niue (see image), for example, is a niche location in the South Pacific which does not wish to entertain mass tourism in order to preserve its pristine coral aqua reefs and alluring lagoons. Additionally, communities across Pacific Island nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Islands of Tahiti (French Polynesia), Kiribati and Micronesia are engaged via initiatives such as coral reef restoration, capping fishing and mandating eco-friendly options at all commercial hotels.

Source: SPTO – Photo Image Library (Corporate)

The objective here coalesces with restarting domestic tourism within these nations, whilst nurturing a multiplier effect on the economy but with less environmental impact. This mandate, however, comes with multiple challenges, such as cultural variance between governments of Pacific Island nations, a lack of an appropriate and sustainable funding model to drive mitigation themes, and the prevalence of stakeholders who are not technical experts at climate change. These challenges create significant issues in change management and in realising the desired goals. To combat any resistance and to create supporting forces for change, the SPTO, through its regional environmental programme, is aiming to look at holistic policy frameworks set up to create leading and lagging metrics that track and foster eco-tourism and sustainable tourism.

Navigating The Resistance

Climate change practices, such as the Pacific Sustainability Monitoring Program, is an example of where commercial hotels participate and share data across the full gamut of themes spanning energy management, water management, waste management, procurement, conservation and preservation of cultural heritage. Additionally, rainwater harvesting in the Fiji Islands and the complete elimination of plastic bags and bottles in Vanuatu, coupled with coral reef restoration programmes in the Islands of Tahiti, are exemplars of climate change initiatives that relate to commercial, social and cultural objectives (i.e., the triple bottom line approach).

All of this is a step in the right direction, and it is important that entities such as the SPTO obtain the necessary funding. Partnerships with universities, government, and the private and public sector are crucial to amplify awareness and manage politics. A funding model, such as innovative financial engineering that issues bonds for investors, might be one way forward. This would enable stakeholders globally to learn from the South Pacific, and implement a range of frameworks and enforce them through task forces to ensure that climate change is not neglected.

Within our call for action, we reflect on the word crisis and how it is depicted visually in Chinese via two brush strokes. One brush stroke stands for danger: the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity. Perhaps the way forward is to consider a networked approach that integrates stakeholders and shares resources, creates the right type of funding alluded to earlier and enables productivity to flourish.

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