30 May 2023, Paris France - For Pacific island communities at the forefront of the impacts of the plastic pollution crisis, every minute of the day counts in the global effort to negotiate a legally binding instrument to address the problem.
The Cook Islands made the impassioned plea on day 2 of the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC2) to develop an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, over an impasse involving procedural matters.
The deadlock over Rule 38 has taken up much of the conference’s time since it was opened on Monday by the President of France, His Excellency Emmanuel Macron, who described plastic pollution as a “ticking time bomb” and called for urgent action to address the issue.
On Tuesday, Mr Halatoa Fua, Director of the Cook Islands National Environment Service, added his nation’s voice in an intervention calling on the conference to move forward.
“By the end of today, over a billion single use plastic bottles will be produced in this very one day. We seek your direction and leadership to move this matter forward as quickly as possible because we are running out of time,” Mr Fua said.
“As a small island developing state, every minute of today counts and we cannot let these procedural matters stall our progress for the very reason why we are here. Objecting to such consensual decisions will delay our progress in substantive discussions.”
The Cook Islands’ intervention was greeted by loud applause from hundreds of delegates at the Main Plenary Hall of the UNESCO Headquarters.
As INC-2 continues in Paris, the latest figures show that over 380 million tons of plastic are produced yearly, 50 percent of which is single-use plastic.
Only 9 percent of the plastic manufactured is recycled, 12 percent is incinerated, and the rest accumulates in landfills and the environment. Most of this plastic is washed into the Pacific ocean, placing lives of Pacific communities at risk.
Plastic accumulates in the food chain, contaminating water, soil, and air. Studies have found microplastics in fish, a major food source for Pacific communities. It is against this backdrop that the Cook Islands implored officials gathering in Paris this week that there is no time to waste.
“We do not think Rule 38 should be reopened as the provisional rules of procedure has been agreed as per the INC1 Report,” Mr Fua said.
“We made a consensual decision in the INC1 in Punta del Este to provisionally apply the draft Rules of Procedures as developed at the OEWG in Dakar. May I also note that in previous negotiating committees, they always included a possibility to vote on substantive matters. The proposal to bracket Rule 38.1 not only reopens a point that was already agreed but also creates a new precedent diverging from established practices for decades.”
The Cook Islands plea was also supported by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), who also supported the proposal for informal discussions to try and resolve the issues. AOSIS Chair and the Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations, His Excellency Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Dr Pa’olelei Luteru, urged the Secretariat to move on to more substantive negotiations.
“On behalf of the 39 Small Island Developing States, I would like to say that we are committed to multilateralism and the principle of consensus. Member states provisionally agreed to apply the draft rules in order to proceed with the substantive negotiations,” Ambassador Fatumanava said.
“We must get on to the substantive work of the INC. We must have sufficient discussions at this session so that a Zero draft can be prepared for INC3. We do not think that more time should be spent on this in plenary discussions.”
Rule 38 on Decision Making deals with the possibility of putting issues to a vote during negotiations. The matter has been moved to an Open-Ended Consultation on the text of draft Rule 37 and Rule 38, with the plenary resuming on Tuesday evening.
The second Intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment is taking place in Paris France from 29 May to 2 June 2023.
The Pacific Islands are represented by the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu through the support of the Government of Australia and the United Nations.
They are supported by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), working with partners the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.
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