“Invest in locals for a more resilient Palau” and “Local control of resources will secure environmental and social benefits for all Palauans” were common recommendations at the 3rd National Environment Symposium (NES) held on August 18, 2020. Over 250 participants crammed the standing-room-only Ngarachamayong Center, with many more listening in virtually via Wave Radio.32 presenters, interviewers, and moderators spoke on the NES theme of “New Opportunities for a Resilient Palau.” In total, more than 100 planners, experts, and volunteers from government, non-government organizations, communities, and the private sector collaborated to identify, refine, and present issues and solutions for building resilience in three spheres of national security: Economic, Food, and Energy Security.
To achieve resilience, speakers across all three NES spheres stressed the need to increase local control of production and decrease dependency on imports. Capitalizing on existing local expertise in the tourism industry, increasing local food production on land and offshore, and taking advantage of Palau’s plentiful renewable solar energy will all contribute to national security, insulate the country against future shocks like Covid-19, and more sustainably use natural resources. Continued reliance on outside goods and services (e.g., international visitors, foreign labor, imported foods, and imported fossil fuel) makes Palau vulnerable to external shock sand natural disasters (like drought and typhoons) and fuels environmental damage.
Keynote Speaker Miel Sequeira-Holm succinctly conveyed the Symposium’s key messages. “This pandemic is a window of opportunity for us to change things and has really shown us that we need to be more self-sufficient. We don’t have to always rely on imported products; we can make our own. We have so many talented and hard-working people right here in our own home,” she said.
With an understanding that the ‘new normal’ in a post-Covid-19 world may be different for everyone, the 3rd NES served as a jumping board for a systematic national dialogue to address how our environmental and cultural resources and opportunities can sustainably help Palau move forward and thrive, despite Covid-19’s global impact. Organizers will use key messages and Speaker recommendations to develop a multi-agency Policy Brief to be shared with elected and traditional leaders and the public. Through continued national dialogue and by implementing recommendations arising from the 3rd NES, Palau will be able to better channel economic, social, and environmental benefits to local communities and households in a post-Covid-19 world. Materials from the 3rd NES can be found online at: https://sites.google.com/view/gef6palau/national-environment-symposium.