Plastic pollution in the Pacific is very real with an enormous impact on communities there.
Waste Management and Pollution Control

29 May 2023, Paris France - The plight of Pacific countries, where entire communities are at risk from the scourge of the plastic crisis despite contributing less than 1.3 per cent to global plastic statistics, has been highlighted in Paris where officials continue to negotiate a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

At the official opening of the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC2) at the UNESCO Headquarters, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Ms Inger Andersen drew attention to the impact of transboundary washed away plastics and legacy marine litter washing up on our Pacific shores.

“We should think about the impact [of the plastic crisis] on Pacific communities,” she said, reminding that much of the plastic arrives on Pacific shores, uninvited.  “We must act on legacy pollution. Huge amounts of plastic have accumulated in the environment. Some plastics will continue to fail the circularity test over the next 20 years. A coordinated effort to stop pollution at source, while investing in waste management, clean-up and consumption patterns, can help address this toxic trail.”

Ms Andersen was amongst the speakers during the opening ceremony, where the President of France, His Excellency Emmanuel Macron, called plastic pollution a “ticking time bomb.”

“Plastic pollution is a scourge at the global level and we are now just beginning to understand the extent of it,” His Excellency Macron told the gathering in a recorded video message. “If we do nothing, the generation of plastic waste will triple again by 2060. Plastic pollution is therefore a ticking time bomb as well as an already present scourge.”

President Emmanuel Macron

President Macron urged officials at INC-2 to “put an end to a globalised and unsustainable model of the production and consumption of plastic” assuring that his country would fully support the process.

“You can count on our determination but we will all need to work together,” he said.

Delegates from Pacific countries are among more than 2,000 officials meeting in Paris, actively engaged in the discussion of an options paper that will be used as the basis for ongoing negotiations.

It is the next step in a process that began in February 2022, at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), when a historic resolution was adopted to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

The aim is to complete negotiations by the end of 2024 and create a global, legally binding plastics treaty. INC-1 took place in Uruguay last year. INC Chair, Mr Gustavo Meza Cuadra, reiterated that the time to act is now, encouraging active and constructive engagement from delegates to expedite the process.

“The time for contemplation is over, we need to move in an urgent manner, the world’s eyes are turned on us. Fighting plastic pollution is possible but we need to work together,” he said. “Plastic pollution is everywhere, it knows no borders, posing a direct threat to our environment and our health. It is only through collective action that we will overcome this challenge. We need to move these negotiations swiftly and ambitiously.”

The Palau delegation at INC-2

For UNEP and Ms Andersen, they see the INC-2 as the international community’s chance to consolidate the work that has already started on a global deal to end plastic pollution.

“It will take leadership to deliver – while ensuring a just transition for workers in the informal waste sector and everybody involved in the plastics industry,” Ms Andersen said.

“Member States should lead by example. Champion key solutions. Be bold. Full stakeholder engagement isn’t an add-on. It’s fundamental. The informal sector. Indigenous peoples. Local communities. Civil society, academia and youth. Nobody should be kept on the outside looking in. “The private sector must be part of the solution.

A legal instrument to end plastic pollution, she said, provides our only chance for a future unblighted by the plastic crisis.

“This future is dependent on a strong deal, which in turn is dependent on what you do this week. At this gathering, you can set the mandate to prepare a zero-draft of the agreement for negotiation at INC-3,” she said.

“You have a 2024 deadline to deliver a deal. A meaningful deal. Each year of delay means an open tap and more plastic pollution. So, I ask you to show leadership and inclusive multilateralism here in Paris, as the international community did on climate eight years ago, in this very city.

“Show ambition, determination and innovation. Set the stage for getting the deal done. We have already wasted so much time and spewed so much plastic into the environment. We should not also waste this opportunity to do better – for ourselves and for every living creature on this planet.”

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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