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There is a critical urgency to invest in people—to build the social capital of the Pacific islands; to ensure that the future leaders are equipped with the skills, knowledge, outlook and commitment to use the limited natural resources with the least impact on the fabric of Pacific identity. To help them make decisions that meet the needs of the present, without compromising the needs of the future, and with respect for the past. That’s what this article is about.

From April 2-4, SPREP and UNEP brought together more than 30 young people: current and aspiring professionals, working or studying in the environment field, to attend the Pacific Future Environment Leaders Forum in Apia, Samoa.

Representing 14 Pacific countries and territories, the Forum explored the notions of global and regional leadership, whilst providing sessions in practical skills pivotal to strong environmental management including project management, proposal writing, and negotiation skills.

The participants included a large contingent of students from USP in Suva, who came with smiles, a guitar, energy and a desire to learn and share their knowledge and experiences.

While there are many philosophical discussions on what constitutes a ‘good’ leader, there is common agreement about what comprises leadership. Some key statements at the meeting: “We can say that leadership is courage and spirit. Leadership is about growing people. Leadership is about getting the job done. Leadership is about knowing the issues. Leadership is about looking to the future and having a vision.”

The Forum allowed the young people to look forward to the future, to envision the impact of issues such as climate change. In one of the sessions, the participants learnt about the effects of climate change on their communities, such as drought, sea level rise, effects on agriculture and biodiversity loss.

Within these scenarios, the participants then developed possible community-based adaptation measures. The ideas, vision and creativity that emerged from this session highlighted the incredible talent of this region’s future leaders.

Not only did the young people identify similar adaptive measures highlighted through extensive national consultations, they approached the task with passion, commitment and teamwork, and an overarching ethos that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

This Youth Forum was the first regional capacity building workshop, facilitated by SPREP, which was aimed directly at young people promoting environmental sustainability in the region. The Forum is part of an ongoing programme for future leaders in the environment sector as part of SPREP’s commitment to build capacity of Pacific islanders for strengthening environmental management.

The Forum complemented the work undertaken by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), to support young people in the region; it was a privilege to have the presence and participation of a key SPC representatives throughout.

Samoa’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment provided support in an ongoing partnership with SPREP.

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