UN75 Campaign Highlights Call for Effective Climate Action for Pacific Nations

Survey results and panel events expose concern for climate change while immediate need for jobs and security persist.

This year, the United Nations celebrated its 75th anniversary by conducting a global conversation on what the world wants to see over the next 25 years. In Papua New Guinea, the largest country in the Pacific, this conversation reached over 25,000 people who participated via Facebook live dialogues, community outreach and online survey.

These online promotions and engagements reached over 19, 00 people and teams of youth in regional areas of East Sepik, Hela, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Alotau, East New Britain and Madang reached over 6,000 people through community outreach. Ensuring the opinions of young people from these areas were included in the UN75 survey was essential to creating a representative picture of the needs and concerns of the population. Achieving this engagement required significant engagement with existing provincial partnerships as the COVID-19 pandemic saw domestic travel restricted. Our teams – covering each region of the country – distributed and entered hundreds of surveys each as they visited schools, workplaces, and markets in their provinces. 

Asked to think about the trends that will affect their future, the message was clear – Papua New Guineans demand immediate action on climate change and environmental protection.

However, when asked about the three things they would most like to see in 25 years, respondents told us they want more employment opportunities, better access to education and better access to health. More environmental protections and more sustainable consumption and production trailed behind, in contrast to the global survey results.

These results exposed a challenge in reconciling the need for jobs, access to education, and access to quality healthcare, with the call to act on climate change. Home to a third of the world’s rainforest and five per cent of the world’s biodiversity in just one per cent of global land mass, Papua New Guinea is described as one of the lungs of the earth. These results put into stark reality the dilemma that Papua New Guineas as global citizens face - the burden of meeting basic needs of a fast-growing population versus protecting what is a global good.

To discuss the UN75 Survey results, our live panels invited leading voices on peacebuilding, agriculture, environmental protection, gender representation in government, gender-based violence, and good governance. A series of these discussions culminated into a high-level dialogue, “Shaping Our Future Together: Development Partnerships to Achieve the 2030 Agenda”. This dialogue was co-hosted by Prime Minister James Marape and UN Resident Coordinator Gianluca Rampolla, and attended by Parliamentarians, civil society representatives and other key development partners.

“The partners that we have around the table testify to the international cooperation that we have – Papua New Guinea  is a microcosm of the world – the challenges that PNG faces can only be overcome by genuine partnership and collaboration,” said Gianluca Rampolla.

As the largest country in the Pacific, providing a platform for the needs and concerns of Papua New Guineans is critical to elevating the voice of the Pacific in international decision making. The UN75 campaign exposed nationwide enthusiasm for embracing this platform on behalf of Melanesian and Pacific communities. A call for climate change action in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific at large, is a call to protect the identity and culture of indigenous peoples. Professor Simon Sauli, Head of the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Papua New Guinea, noted the importance of engaging communities so they will accept climate change refugees, both physically and culturally, given the strong connection Melanesian peoples have with their homelands and the expectation of conflict if recipient communities are not properly prepared. “When we move people, they lose their identity,” said Professor Sauli. “How do we resolve this conflict?”

Prime Minister James Marape has been advocating for a decisive answer – that more advanced economies should restitute small island states so that basic needs can be met while the natural environment is protected and indigenous people do not lose their ancestral land.

“Contributions by industrial nations to small island states is really something that needs to be discussed more freely and I ask United Nations to coordinate these discussions,” he said. “If the UN wants to advance into the next 75 years, carrying the rights of every member states, the smaller island states and their rights as far as living on their nation and not relocating must be a subject that United nations take on.”

Environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive: attention must also be paid to promoting employment opportunities afforded by renewable energy, using sustainable resources to achieve better education, and demonstrating the benefits that averting climate-related natural disasters will have on our healthcare infrastructure and systems.

Parliamentarian, Allan Bird, Governor for East Sepik Province said the UN75 results confirmed what he knew of the concerns of the province - they need sustainable jobs and consumption for their growing population.

“For me that is the most confronting thing that we need to address. 20 years from now, if I do not have an economy in my province that sustains these children that are being born, if we do not have a plan for them, then it doesn’t matter how you want to protect the forest, we will lose the forest inevitably.”

With 85% of the land under customary stewardship, Governor Bird says the challenge is in ensuring these stewards of PNGs natural resources have opportunities to engage in the economy or else immediate family needs will block out the concern for the future.

US Ambassador Erin McKee called for a multilayer partnership in addressing this issue. One that provides a conducive environment for effective stewardship of PNGs natural resources. “When we look at the green economy and sustainable resource management, the government can’t do that alone, donors can’t do it alone,” she said. “We work hand in glove with our multilateral partners to make sure that we can protect the future while stimulating the economy going forward.”

Inarguably, international cooperation is the only solution to lasting peace and development and for Papua New Guinea—which is a microcosm of the world—the challenges it faces can only be overcome by genuine partnership and collaboration.

UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Volunteers