31 May 2023, Paris France – The Pacific region is world-renowned for its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, vibrant forests and colourful reefs.
While this postcard image remains, its environment has been contaminated by exorbitant amounts of plastic floating into our waters from other regions, washing up on to our shores, placing Pacific communities at the forefront of the impacts of the plastic pollution crisis.
In addition to the impact on our environment, scientists are reporting concerning amounts of microplastics in fish and human exposure to certain harmful plastic additives. These chemicals result in serious health impacts on humans in many areas, including fertility and development.
For Pacific communities, it is ironic because they contribute less than 1.3% of the 14 million tonnes of global plastic pollution. Against this backdrop, fourteen Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) have called for a shift in gear at the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC2), to progress and fulfil its mandate to address the plastic pollution crisis.
Addressing the opening plenary of INC-2 at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris France on Wednesday, the Chair of PSIDS and Palau’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Her Excellency Ilana Seid said only a robust, ambitious and legally binding instrument can address plastic pollution, which she identified as one of most pressing issues of our time.
“We need to be ambitious in our efforts in this treaty if we are to leave the legacy of a cleaner planet for future generations,” Ambassador Seid said.
“We call to reduce the global production, use and discharge of plastics across their life cycle, including through the promotion of a safe, circular economy to end plastic pollution by 2040 and protect human health and the environment from its adverse effects. We must consider banning problematic and avoidable plastic products, microplastics and chemicals of concern. As noted by the UNEP Executive Secretary, ‘We cannot recycle our way out of this.’”
Ambassador Seid spoke on the third day of INC-2, after an impasse over procedural matters took up the first two days of the meeting. Time is of the essence, she urged.
“If we continue on our current trajectory, ocean plastic pollution will quadruple by 2050; in addition to plastic pollution, we bear the negative effects of carbon emission from virgin plastic creation,” she cautioned. “This is our moment to catalyze the transformation for a cleaner planet. With little time left to negotiate such a complex treaty, we will soon need to shift gears and start text-based discussions to progress on our mandate.”
The Pacific Small Island Developing States also highlighted the importance of the Ocean to Pacific communities.
“We are ocean people and view ourselves as the custodians of the Pacific Ocean, and we believe it is imperative that this instrument includes robust measures to prevent and tackle plastic pollution in the marine environment, consistent with UNEA Resolution 5/14. This is not just for our benefit, but also for the international community, which relies on the Pacific region for the majority of the global seafood trade, including 60% of the global tuna trade.”
Looking at the agenda for the coming days, Ambassador Seid assured that PSIDS will engage actively in the two contact groups. She also reminded about the special circumstances of SIDS.
“Making the treaty work will be dependent on the ambitions we set both in terms of obligations and measures, and the means to implement such provisions.
“Since 1992, SIDS have been recognized as a special case for sustainable development in light of our special circumstances, in light of our unique vulnerabilities, including our small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and vulnerability to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks. In this treaty, we emphasise the critical importance of taking these into account.”
The PSIDS Chair reiterated that the entire lifecycle of plastic must be captured the instrument and that mandatory measures should be undertaken to accelerate the speed to reduce plastic pollution towards a goal to end it by 2040.
“In our view, the lifecycle starts from the sourcing of raw materials all the way to the remediation of legacy pollution.”
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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