30 November 2022, Punta del-Este, Uruguay - The race is on for the world to work together in the spirit of multilateralism to develop a global, legally binding treatment to address plastic pollution. Across a two-year period of five different committee meetings, over 190 countries will come together to agree on an instrument that will do so.
While this is a global problem, the impacts are also very real for the Pacific Small islands Developing States.
Thirteen per cent of the waste stream in Kiribati is comprised of plastic with recent studies indicating a plastic waste generation of 9.7 tonnes every day accumulating in landfills and the Kiribati environment. This amount is significant for small island state like Kiribati with lack of capacity and minimal proper treatment options to treat such waste other than landfilling. The current recycling facility recovers 40% of plastic bottles.
“Despite our challenges in adapting to the severe impacts of climate change and disasters overwhelming our local resources, Kiribati remains committed to address plastic pollution. Kiribati has produced the Kiribati Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy 2020-2030, identifying plastic waste as the top waste stream,” presented the Deputy Permanent Representative, Republic of Kiribati to the United Nations, Ms Josephine Moote as she took the floor at the First Intergovernmental Committee on plastic pollution now underway in Uruguay.
Addressing the plastic waste challenges at the national level, Kiribati has banned single use plastic bags, disposable nappies and plastic bags for ice blocks. In 2019 Kiribati joined other Pacific Islands in endorsing the Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution and its Impacts which is consistent with the Kiribati Integrated Environment Policy now in its final draft version.
“The lack of resources including limited land space, technical capacity to manage such wastes in environmentally sound manner has severely impeded the ability of government to effectively implement its policy. We acknowledge the assistance from our generous donor partners who have supported us in our projects for a safer and healthier environment.”
“As a Small Island Developing State, we are facing real, immediate and unique vulnerabilities linked to our geography and small size making us susceptible to natural disasters in particular adverse impacts of climate change. Marine waste and pollution are among the top priority concerns of the Kiribati Government that continue to threaten the health of our ecosystems, marine resources which in turn affect the health, wellbeing and livelihood of our people.”
Reports have shown the world’s cities produce 2.2 billion tons of waste every year, more than the amount produced a decade ago. Pacific Small Islands Developing States are not producers of plastics and their additives. Yet, according to the Second World Ocean Assessment, the South Pacific subtropical gyre is home to the highest recorded quantity of floating plastics.
While there must be a global solution to address this problem, Kiribati also calls for the special circumstances of Small Islands Developing States to be considered in the new global legally binding agreement to address plastic pollution.
“Kiribati recognises that while there is an obligation for us all to work towards an agreement that covers full lifecycle of plastic and promotes circular economy to support Sound Management of Plastic wastes, we are keen to see consideration of the Small Island Developing States special circumstances, who are not major producer but are affected by its impacts,” said Ms Moote as she addressed over 190 countries in Uruguay.
“It is also important to ensure that the agreement specify clear mechanisms for capacity building, technical and financial assistance and technology transfer for the equitable sharing among parties involved.”
“As we strive for the new robust and ambitious legally binding instrument on plastic pollution including in the marine environment, we should not allow ourselves to depart from the narrative of working together in true spirit of multilateralism to be able to put in place an instrument that is workable, doable and implementable not only by the few capable and resource rich states but by all.”
Kiribati took the floor to make a national statement at the INC1 on 29 November, 2022.
The first Intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment is taking place in Punta del Este, Uruguay from 28 November–2 December 2022.
The Pacific Islands are represented by Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, 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) with financial assistance from the Government of Australia. SPREP is working with partners the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, University of Newcastle, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.