Submitted by Sosikeni Lesa on Fri, 12/02/2022 - 10:38
The Cook Islands delegation at INC1.
December 2, 2022 by Sosikeni Lesa
Waste Management and Pollution Control

01 December 2022, Punta del Este - The scope and objective of a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, must be broad enough to protect the environment and health of Pacific communities from the impacts of plastic pollution, and associated impacts from climate change.

Furthermore, the mandatory measures must be set for the prevention, reduction, and elimination of plastic pollution from the marine environment. This needs to stop plastic pollution at the source and promote a non-toxic circular economy.

This is what Cook Islands, on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), told the plenary of the first session of the International Negotiating Committee (INC1) working to develop a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution in Puna del Este, Uruguay.

During the discussion on the Scope, objectives and options for the structure of the instrument, the Director of Cook Islands National Environment Service, Mr Halatoa Fua said the objectives of the future instrument must be twofold. It should aim to end plastic pollution in all environments, including the marine environment, and remediation of legacy waste; and achieve a non-toxic circular economy for plastics protective of human health and the environment, and one which safeguards the climate system.

“Such an increment should be guided by key principles including the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, particularly regarding toxic and hazardous chemicals of concern. It should pursue policies which follow the waste hierarchy, starting with prevention,” Mr Fua said.

“We believe that the international legally binding instrument should have an institutional structure that recognises that plastic pollution, is an urgent issue that needs to be acted on now.  This could include, among other things, the establishment of a scientific, economic, and technical body as a subsidiary body under the instrument, with a broad mandate to provide key advice to Parties on the implementation of the instrument.”

PSIDs are also advocating for the instrument to be a specific convention, one where the core obligations and some control measures appear in the body of the instrument and may be supplemented or elaborated upon without the need for additional ratification.

“There must be a holistic approach to have control measures that address sourcing, upstream, midstream and downstream, taking a full life cycle approach and promoting a safe (non-toxic) Circular Economy.”

Mr Fua also drew attention to the special circumstances of Pacific SIDS, and the importance of human rights and local knowledge.

“Pacific SIDS do not produce plastics but bear the environmental, economic, social, and cultural burdens and injustices of cleaning up after the world’s biggest producers and plastics polluters. The instrument must provide specific allocation or procedures for SIDS to access finance and other means of implementation necessary for carrying out obligations under the instrument,” he said.

“A financial mechanism should include provisions to fund programmes for capacity building, policy development, research and development, including access to the latest science. It should also provide funding for programmes to remediate the environment from the plastic waste and marine litter that is already polluting our Ocean.”

The people of the Pacific are stewards of the world’s largest ocean basin, which is big enough to fit fit earth’s landmass. While Pacific nations are not producers of plastics and their additives, the south Pacific subtropical gyre is home to the highest recorded quantity of floating plastics. 

“We are deeply concerned about the impacts of plastics and microplastics pollution in our region. The climate, environmental, social, cultural, economic, human health and food security impacts of plastic pollution occur at each stage of Plastics’ full life cycle. These impacts undermine our right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for present and future generations,” Mr Fua said.

“Our Pacific Ocean provides the global community, as well as our peoples, with vital ecosystem services.  In our role and responsibility as Ocean stewards to guard our Ocean from plastics pollution, and to protect our peoples’ cultural identity, we urge all of you at this first session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee to support us, stewards of the world’s largest Ocean basin, by taking seriously our requests for the objectives, scope, and structure of the instrument – without it, not only do we in the Pacific have much to lose, the global community have a lot to lose.”

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 Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, University of Newcastle, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.