30 November 2022, Punta del Este - Tuvalu, a tiny atoll nation with limited landmass in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, has made its presence felt at the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC1) to frame a global legally binding instrument, covering the whole life cycle of plastics.
In amplifying our Pacific’s voice for a new global treaty on plastic pollution, Tuvalu reminded the 190 countries present in Punta del Este that the plastic pollution crisis is yet another burden on the shoulders of a nation of 11,000 people who are facing the risk of total destruction due to the impacts of global warming and the climate crisis.
On Monday, the Director of Tuvalu’s Department of Waste Management, Mr Epu Falenga, added Tuvalu’s voice to support the creation of a legally binding instrument to combat plastic pollution, when he addressed the INC1 plenary. “I travelled thousands of miles and through sixteen time-zones, over two days to be here because I trust and have faith in this international cooperation,” Mr Falenga said.
Every year, some 11 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean and more than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by marine plastics through ingestion, entanglement, and habitat change. Every year, more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals are killed by plastic debris.
Said Mr Falenga: “The increasing marine litter and plastic pollution crisis and the lack of proper treatment and management of wastes leading to pollution is a concern for Tuvalu. Plastic pollution adversely affects the health of the people of Tuvalu and the biodiversity of marine and ecosystem of Tuvalu. As one of the Small Island Development States, Tuvalu is highly impacted by plastic pollution given that we highly depend on the ocean for food, transport, traditional practices, and economic opportunity.”
The atoll’s limited landmass makes waste and plastic management even more difficult. What’s worse is the fact that micro plastics are now found in the fish and seafood Tuvaluans depend upon for daily survival. Mr Falenga said this is not acceptable and it is why now is the time to provide global leadership to develop global norms, practices, and meaningful changes to end plastic pollution.
“As stewards of the World’s largest Ocean basin, Tuvalu reaffirms the critical urgency of the plastic pollution and crisis facing Tuvalu, and the world. We urge World Leaders to similarly affirm the critical urgency of this crisis. Tuvalu wished to raise concern regarding the continued production and use of unnecessary or harmful plastics, especially single-use plastic products, and open burning and dumping of plastic wastes,” Mr Falenga said.
Tuvalu advocated that the agreement must address all stages of the plastic life cycle in an Environmentally Sound Management (ESM), include Circular Economy to support plastic wastes ESM, include financial and technical assistance and support to Developing countries to implement ESM for plastic wastes, identify the sustainable alternatives and technologies available to address the full life cycle of plastics and have mechanism in place to control aggregate primary production, phase-outs of problematic or hazardous polymers and other constituent chemicals.
The atoll nation also encouraged the promotion of sustainable design of products and materials so that they can be reused, remanufactured, or recycled, harmonization 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 for ambitious action and global and regional policy frameworks such as extended producer responsibility, container deposit systems, and consumer awareness and responsibility.
“This legally binding instrument will be a primary Instrument to combat the plastic pollution crisis,” Mr Falenga said. “Although Tuvalu has implemented strict policies and practices to eliminate single use plastics, and to implement environmentally sound Waste Management, we now implore our global community to take the same action, and further support our efforts. As a global family, it is time to take action to reduce plastic pollution and its impacts on our people and environment.”
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.