New  Zealand's delegation at INC1.
Waste Management and Pollution Control

01 December 2022, Punta del Este - As the call for an ambitious global agreement on plastic pollution gathers momentum at the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC1) in Punta del Este Uruguay, Aotearoa New Zealand has urged the global community to consider the issues caused by plastics at the start of their lifespan.

In particular, Aotearoa New Zealand has used its statement at the main plenary, delivered by Ms Renee Yap, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to highlight the deep connection between fossil fuel and plastic pollution.

“Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel and plastic industries are deeply connected,” Ms Yap said. “Each year governments spend an estimated US$500 billion of public money to subsidise fossil fuels.  These subsidies artificially lower the cost of production and consumption, resulting in low prices of virgin plastic and many plastic products, which do not reflect true environmental costs.”

In making the case for a legally binding plastics treaty, Aotearoa New Zealand reminded more than 2,000 delegates that while plastic pollution impacts everyone, Pacific countries are at the forefront of its impacts.

“In the Pacific region we see it in bottles on our beaches, micro-plastics in our fish, and perhaps most visibly in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage patch. The impacts of plastic pollution faced by our friends and neighbours across the Pacific, and by other small island developing states (SIDS), should be recognised and accounted for as we pursue our negotiations.”

Ms Yap added that plastic pollution is a pervasive and present everywhere, including our soils, water, food and the air.

“Plastic pollution is a global challenge that requires action at all levels, including global action.”

A key part of that global action is the INC process, for which New Zealand has issued a caution.

“We have set ourselves the ambitious goal of concluding these negotiations by 2024. To meet our deadline we must work fast but we must not compromise our ambition. For this reason, New Zealand is pleased to join other countries in the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution.”

For Aotearoa New Zealand, Ms Yap said they support an instrument that will reduce plastic waste and eliminate plastic pollution on a global scale, covering the full lifespan of plastics from extraction and production to disposal.

“Achieving this goal will require a focus on circular economy and waste hierarchy principles. It will require innovation; redesign to avoid unnecessary use of plastics; and enabling plastic reuse and repair. All actions must follow a low emission approach, and recognise the impacts of plastic pollution on human and ecosystem health.”

The role of indigenous peoples in reducing plastic waste and eliminating plastic pollution, and facilitate indigenous perspectives, must not be ignored, New Zealand articulated.

“We must also recognise the role that traditional knowledge plays in the sustainable management and protection of the environment. The challenge before us is great. And time is short. But New Zealand enters this process ready to engage constructively, and to ensure we meet this collective challenge with a collective response.”

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, Tonga and Tuvalu 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, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, University of Newcastle, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.