12 February 2024, Auckland NZ - As a young Pacific woman, Ms Darla Yatilman, of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) has high aspirations to help her country address one of the most pressing issues of modern time, the plastic pollution crisis.
But she knows that a small Pacific nation like hers needs all the help they can get to ensure their voice is reflected in the ongoing negotiations to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. This week, she is in Auckland to build her capacity to be able to help FSM negotiate a treaty that protects her people and addresses the full life cycle of plastics for a Cleaner Pacific Ocean.
Ms Yatilman is amongst the participants at the "Empowering our Pacific Voice as Negotiators" training held on 12 February 2024 in Auckland.
“The plastic pollution crisis has major impacts back home and we are already suffering as a result. We need a strong voice in these international treaties to help us address some of the issues we are facing,” she said.
Facilitated in partnership by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) with support from the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, the negotiations training is part of the Pacific Regional Preparatory Workshop for INC-4 from 12-15 February 2024.
“This is a very helpful training for a young negotiator like myself. This is a space that I want to grow my knowledge in and to be in the room with some of these senior negotiators is a real privilege,” said Ms Yatilman. “I’ve enjoyed listening to people like Joan Yang, whom I’ve heard a lot of and admired. She’s a very good Pacific negotiator and is someone I aspire to be like and training such as this provides me with that opportunity to build my capacity. The INC process is a very critical one for the survival of our Pacific communities and I am looking forward to more opportunities to build my capacity and learn more.”
Ms Yatilman’s sentiments are echoed by another young and first-time negotiator, Mr Tamwaiti Barekiau, of Kiribati.
“This was very helpful for myself and my home country Kiribati and I look forward to building this knowledge and making sure that my country benefits as a result,” he said.
“Plastic pollution is a major issue for our small country and we are working very hard to find some solutions. I know part of that work includes expressing our voices and opinions at the negotations of these international multilateral agreements and we need help to be able to do this and for me, this is the first step. I’m extremely grateful to SPREP, Australia and New Zealand for facilitating this meeting because it has allowed me to understand the issues a lot more and learn from my fellow Pacific negotiators.”
Both Ms Yatilman and Mr Barekiau agree that plastic pollution has a huge impact upon our Pacific Ocean and Pacific livelihoods, despite Pacific communities contributing as little as 1.3% to global plastic pollution.
“We are already facing other challenges when it comes to our isolation, size and climate change. As young people, we know if we do not become engaged and interested in this process now, we are looking at a very sad future,” said Mr Barekiau.
Ms Yatilman agrees and while she believes the international community has a responsibility to help, the work begins at home.
“I would like to see a change in the way people back home view things like the plastics crisis, I would like to see them take this issue a lot more seriously because plastic pollution has a major impact on them,” she said. “We’ve banned the use of single use plastic but we are still getting people trying to bring them in illegally. I would like to continue the work to ensure that people understand the ramifications of the plastic crisis and why we need to continue this work we are doing.”
So what did Ms Yatilman found most useful for her during the Negotiations training?
“Personally I’m very timid and shy around other people but one of the things I felt really encouraged by was the point made about the fact we are not there for ourselves, that we fly our national flags and we are there to negotiate on behalf of our communities and countries. They chose me to be at these negotiations and I have to speak on their behalf,” she said.
For Mr Barekiau, he said: “It’s about building networks and learning from the experiences of others. I think that wisdom will help me go a long way in this process.”
The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-4), is scheduled to take place from 23 to 29 April 2024 at the Shaw Center in Ottawa, Canada. The session will be preceded by regional consultations on 21 April 2024.
The "Empowering our Pacific Voice as Negotiators" training held on 12 February 2024 was facilitated in partnership by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) with support from the Governments of Australia and New Zealand.
Held in Auckland, New Zealand, participants were from Australia, The Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.