UNs declaration a huge boost for Fiji

Community Pillars of Recycling (formerly informal waste pickers) of Lautoka benefited from a recent UN training on accessing clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Minister for Environment Dr Mahendra Reddy is standing 5th from right. Picture: SUPPLIED

The United Nations General Assembly’s declaration that access to clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right is historic and comes at a critical juncture in terms of climate change and its impact on our country and on the planet.

The declaration calls upon States, international organisations, and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all and the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the ‘historic’ decision and said the landmark development demonstrates that member states can come together in the collective fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

We welcome and embrace whole-heartedly the comments by the UN Secretary-General that the resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples.

This declaration is a game changer because it now gives every member state of the UN, some ‘teeth’ in terms of being able to ramp up their efforts in all facets of the environment.

PRF also thanks our Honourable Prime Minister for being a climate champion and Honourable Attorney-General for being our Oceans Champion which are important advancements in the areas of environmental rights for a small island nation such as ours.

Now the onus shifts to every Fijian and every person who calls Fiji home to take up the fight and to become champions in their individual settings.

Many times, we sit back and relish the idea that our leaders have made some effort in trying to bring attention to critical issues such as climate change, maintaining our biodiversity and the flow on impact into the waste management and recycling space.

It is time we all stop taking the back seat approach and become participants and not bystanders.

We are all proud of our nation and the lure that our flora and fauna has and how it entices tens of thousands of visitors to our shores every year.

The onus is on us to ensure our environment remains free of waste and in a pristine state, so we can continue to attract tourists and keep Fijians employed and businesses open.

I believe that everything starts at home.

Parents can bring the discussion of good waste management into their homes by beginning with the way waste is sorted prior to being placed in the bin.

They can develop compost heaps and only place waste that is not biodegradable into the rubbish bin.

Plastic PET bottles and cans can be separated and taken to companies like Waste Recyclers Fiji Ltd.

Communities can do the same as a collective.

For such a beautiful country, it is a shame to see rubbish littering the surrounds or being dumped indiscriminately because people are not aware or don’t care about the implications of that waste – should it find its way into waterways and ultimately, the ocean.

The UN declaration is far-reaching and could also extend to people involved in the waste recycling business – from Community Pillars for Recycling (CPRs) right through to council workers who worked at dump sites and landfills and every actor in-between.

This also has an impact on our regional partners in terms of their waste management.

We have been working with our CPRs (formerly informal waste pickers) for the past 28 years and we are very aware of the challenges they face on a daily basis – from the stigmatisation to the name-calling to being looked down upon by the very people who are creating the waste these individuals sort through every day.

The UN declaration encompasses the vulnerable and these are among the most vulnerable in Fijian society.

So I challenge every Fijian to bring this bold UN declaration into action, by changing the way we behave at home, in our communities, in school and when we are out and about.

• AMITESH DEO is the director and CEO of Waste Recyclers Fiji Ltd and Founder of the Pacific Recycling Foundation. The views expressed in this article are his and is not necessarily shared by this newspaper. 

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