The Capacity Development for Protected and Other Conserved Areas in the Pacific Islands Region, Strategy and Action Framework 2015-2020 has just been launched and it is the result of a joint effort by the Pacific BIOPAMA programme represented by IUCN and regional partners and stakeholders.
All fifteen Pacific ACP countries are guardians of immensely rich natural resources at small and large scales. With this responsibility, one of their most important actions has been to make formal commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and adopt the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for conserving biodiversity and establishing and effectively managing terrestrial and marine protected and other conserved areas. Working toward these targets relies on addressing many issues and one of the most important is the fundamental need to improve capacity. Developing human potential is at the heart of achieving lasting solutions to conservation challenges and must become a greater regional priority despite other pressing development needs.
In its simplest description, ‘capacity development’ is the process of enhancing the effectiveness of what people are able to do. While this obviously includes strengthening individual skills and competency, it also requires that all of the supporting conditions and resources are in place within capable organisations and across a well-informed civil society.
To support this need, the BIOPAMA programme has facilitated the process of developing an important tool for guiding and promoting action called the Capacity Development for Protected and Other Conserved Areas in the Pacific Islands Region: Strategy and Action Framework 2015–2020. It is a guide for national governments, national and regional institutions and organisations, as well as communities, on how to direct their resources and energy in ways that will create the capacity platforms needed for steady improvement in planning and managing protected and other conserved areas. This regional framework draws from the global Strategic Framework for Capacity Development 2015-2025, that was developed by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.
IUCN’s Regional Director for Oceania and Chair of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation, Taholo Kami, says "In the Pacific Islands region, the most effective and long-term solutions lie in the hands of local people and organisations – particularly central and provincial governments, community based resource users and stewards, indigenous affairs bodies, regional and local NGOs, and learning institutions. While direct interventions from beyond the region may provide resources, ideas, two way learning and some immediate benefits, capacity development efforts must ultimately strengthen locally-driven action for lasting impact".
The Framework highlights the importance of culturally-responsive capacity development, with Pacific Islanders defining the most appropriate approaches to be used. This requires partnerships, programs, and processes that work closely with each other and existing contexts and conditions, and understand and reflect values and cultures. Efforts should build on existing knowledge and the great strengths of the region – community-based management and relationships, traditional knowledge, and exchange of information.
In addition to formal, curriculum-based learning, there is also recognition of how a number of communities and organisations use other mechanisms, such as sharing their experiences through peer networks, practical hands-on learning, short tailored training courses, and mentoring. While the principles and actions identified in this framework may not seem altogether new or ground-breaking, they do reflect a more current analysis, provide a reaffirming checklist, and will serve as a stimulus for refreshed region-wide action by partners and participants.
Reflecting on his observations of capacity development endeavours in the region, Taholo Kami further stated that "There have been some modest gains and some outstanding success stories in improved capacity for managing protected and other conserved area. However, we still see significant weaknesses at the systemic, institutional, and individual levels. To move on, we need to recognise what hasn’t worked so well. Then we need to reinforce what has been proven to work and to realign capacity development around a targeted set of actions that are pertinent for the next five years – actions that build the networks of committed individuals and institutions that are strong enough and effective enough to address the threats to our Pacific Ocean and islands".
The approaches and actions in the Framework echo what Pacific Islanders have said about what works best for them in their circumstances. It is also grounded by the combined lessons, perspectives and open reflections passed on by many practitioners, partners and stakeholders on how to strengthen capacity in the region for planning and managing protected and other conserved areas.
Actions are to focus on three main groups – existing practitioners in conservation and environmental management institutions; land and sea stewards; and a range of important participants, particularly leaders, decision makers and younger people. These groups need to be better supported and equipped. They need specialised skills and understanding to balance the conservation, socio-economic and cultural needs, and management objectives of multi-stakeholder interests and achieve results at community, provincial, national, and regional levels.
Importantly, the Protected Areas Working Group of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation has supported the formulation of this Framework and has a prominent role in helping to implement the recommended approaches and actions. The Regional Coordinator for the Pacific BIOPAMA programme, Tony O’Keeffe, concluded "Widespread implementation relies on many participant groups so the Protected Areas Working Group will use its considerable reach to promote understanding and support for the approaches, directions and action areas in the Framework. Although challenges are broadly similar across the region, there are no easy or one-size-fits-all solutions to many specific national or local issues. Those responsible for improving capacity, as well as those in need of capacity development, can use the Framework to steer the development of tailored capacity development pathways that best suit their particular needs, situations and resources".