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DG Sheppard's Welcoming Speech at the Opening of UNEP Office at SPREP, 2nd September 2014, Apia, Samoa

Honourable Prime Minister of Samoa

Honourable Executive Director of UNEP and Under Secretary General of the United Nations, Achim Steiner

Your Excellencies

SPREP members, partners and staff

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for joining us today for this happy occasion.

This is a happy and a special occasion.

SPREP started in this region in the early 1970's initially to help Pacific countries prepare for the landmark Stockholm Conference in 1972 – the forerunner to the Rio Conferences and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

From the very start, UNEP was by our side as our partner and friend. In fact in our first 15 years, we existed largely as a regional seas programme of UNEP, with a 2 person staff headed by the "godfather" of SPREP, Arthur Dahl.

I'm pleased to note that Arthur is still very much alive, still active, and still associated with UNEP.

For SPREP our birth as a regional organisation in 1993 followed a very long gestation period - of about 20 years - much longer than for an elephant.

I think it's fair to say that our parents during this period – SPC, the Forum, and UN ESCAP - had some moments of reluctance and at times wanted us to stay with them.

However I would note that UNEP was a key supporter of SPREP standing on our feet and becoming a new and separate organisation.

We were very fortunate for the guidance during this period of many wise men and women from around the Pacific region, including Sione Tongilava from Tonga, Neta's boss for many years, Robin Yarrow from Fiji, and Kilifoti Eteuati from Foreign Affairs in Samoa, still actively involved with SPREP through his current position as Samoa's Ambassador to Japan.

David PMSamoa

Through establishing SPREP, Pacific countries and these wise persons made a strong statement to the region, and to the world, about the importance of managing and protecting our environment.

Put simply - if we don't look after our environment then there will be no future for the people of the Pacific.

Since the early days SPREP has grown - but so have the challenges facing our Pacific environment - from climate change, to loss of biodiversity, to the increasing problems of solid and hazardous waste.

In dealing with these issues we have always been happy - and at times relieved - to have UNEP as a partner, as a strong supporter and, more importantly as a friend, to work together to help Pacific countries deal with the challenges of environmental management and sustainable development.

We have been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with UNEP to help Pacific Countries transition to a Green Economy in a Blue World.

The opening tonight of the sub regional office of UNEP is a key landmark for the relationship between SPREP and UNEP. It will strengthen our partnership and move it to a new level.

More importantly, it will strengthen the ability of SPREP and UNEP to support Pacific countries to address the major challenges they face.

Hon Executive Secretary, Achim, thank you for your leadership in making this decision a reality, thank you for your partnership and support, and thank you for your trust in SPREP.

We are really looking forward with excitement to the next phase of our relationship.

I would like to acknowledge, with the deepest and most sincere appreciation, the Government and people of Samoa, for all they have done to support SPREP in Samoa.

Honorable Prime Minister - We would not be the organisation we are today without the support of the Government and people of Samoa, so generously given. Not only do we appreciate being hosted here, but we also appreciate the opportunity to learn from the practical experience of Samoa in managing its environment.

Samoa is a leader in the Pacific – and globally - in the environmental field and in the green economy - and SPREP is very pleased and honoured to work with and learn from you.

Thank you most sincerely to you, the Government and people of Samoa for making our stay here in your beautiful country so welcoming, so interesting and so enjoyable.

SPREP looks forward with eager anticipation to the future - working with your Government, Hon Prime Minister, with UNEP, Hon Executive Secretary, and many other partners to serve the environment and the people of the Pacific region.

Thank you all very much for sharing this important and happy occasion with us today.

Thank you

Fa'afetai lava

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