plastic waste-UNEP

The Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme known as ‘SPREP’, is honoured to be part of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. As the inter-governmental organisation responsible for biodiversity, climate change coordination, waste management and pollution control, and environmental monitoring and governance in the Pacific islands region, SPREP works to support its 21 Pacific island Members’ and 5 metropolitan states by provision of environmental advice and support. SPREP is also the Secretariat of the Noumea Convention – the Pacific’s Regional Seas Convention.

We would like to draw attention to the impact of COVID-19 in restricting the full, effective and meaningful participation of Pacific Island nations particularly in person, and the challenges of virtual participation in these negotiations and call for effort to be made to enable the voices of Pacific nations to be heard. We would like to fully engaged and represented on the Committee of Permanent Representatives and welcome discussions with UNEP and other SIDS regions on ways to enable our effective participation. This would also enable our effective participation in the International Negotiating Committee to negotiate the new binding agreement on plastics.

The importance of the region’s natural environment to the health, prosperity, cultural identity, and well-being of Pacific communities and beyond is undisputed as clearly outlined in the Nouméa Convention. Pacific Island Members are large ocean, small island developing states. The ocean makes up 98% of the region. Our Exclusive Economic Zone’s comprise over 10% of the world’s ocean providing vital ecosystem services valued in many billions of dollars and underpinning economic sustainability in the region.

We are acutely aware of the pervasive and persistent nature of plastics pollution, and the impact that it has on the health and well-being of our communities and the environment.

The Pacific region contributes as little as 1.3% of global plastic pollution, yet we in the Pacific region are grossly and disproportionately affected by its impacts. The Second World Ocean Assessment states that the highest recorded quantity of floating plastics are in the South Pacific subtropical gyre.

We are deeply concerned about the accelerating rate of toxic plastics production and consumption.  The current 368 million metric tonnes of virgin plastics produced annually is set to double by 2040. Ninety percent of current plastics production ends up in the environment.

We are concerned for migratory marine species such as seabirds, marine turtles, sharks, and whales as they are especially vulnerable to the impacts of marine plastics through entanglement and ingestion of plastic and reaffirming many of these species as important cultural icons for Pacific peoples.

We recognise that Climate Change disproportionately impacts the Pacific Islands Region, that plastics and climate change are inextricably linked, and we are working to address them in an integrated manner to achieve a resilient Blue Pacific in line with UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration.

The Pacific region has acted to reduce and eliminate single use and problematic plastics, prevent chemicals hazardous waste and pollution, and to protect and conserve ecosystems, but there is a great need for more ambitious action and global and regional policy frameworks.

We welcome and support the draft resolution “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument”. It aligns incorporates our concerns and commitments as outlined in the Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution and its Impacts

We support the establishment of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to negotiate a new binding global agreement covering the whole life cycle of plastics, covering extraction, production, trade, manufacturing, consumption and waste management and environmental legacy, and recognises the need for global intervention and support for pollution prevention at each stage.

We support the incorporation of Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge Systems, Practices, and Innovations with their free prior and informed consent as an integral part to ending the plastic pollution crisis and ensuring a sustainable development through nature-based solutions.

We recognise the need for the reduction of virgin plastic production, the phasing out of toxic and avoidable plastics, problematic and single-use plastic products and additives and the harmonisation of design and labelling standards, to support transition to a safe circular global economy and to find alternatives to allow for our continued economic development and to support human and biodiversity health. 

We recognise that our ability to address plastic pollution collaboratively, to craft co-operative and sustainable solutions, build on the opportunities provided by ecosystems services and secure political commitment, will determine the future, not only for Pacific islands people, but for the planet.

We call on the international community to take urgent and immediate action to agree on the establishment of the International Negotiating Committee to negotiate a new global agreement to ultimately eliminate plastic pollution and thereby help us protect our region and peoples from further pollution impacts that threaten our marine ecosystems, marine species, our food security, and our health.