Member States of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) continued preparations for the Resumed Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2), with a sharp focus on using the global platform to advance the fight against marine and plastic pollution.

Last Wednesday, a virtual preparatory workshop co-facilitated by SPREP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), provided critical updates to assist SPREP Members in preparing for the global meeting, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 28 February – 02 March 2022. The Director General of SPREP, Kosi Latu, reminded of the many environmental issues, and the toll they have on the health of Pacific communities and the environment.

“The importance of the region’s natural environment to the health, prosperity and well-being of Pacific communities is undisputed. The Pacific islands are large ocean states where the ocean makes up 98% of the region and our region comprises over 10% of the world’s ocean,” said Latu.

“The Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of SPREP Members cover over 30 million square kilometres and the ecosystem services that this area provides to the entire planet are valued in many billions of dollars. Only 2% of the Pacific islands is land.”

UNEA brings together representatives of the 193 Member States of the UN, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders to agree on policies to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. In light of the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided that UNEA-5 would take place in a two-step approach. The first session, UNEA-5.1, was held online focusing on urgent and procedural decisions while substantive matters requiring in-depth negotiations were deferred to a Resumed UNEA 5.2 in hybrid format.

For the Pacific, these substantive matters cover marine and plastic pollution; nature-based solutions and biodiversity; chemicals and minerals; green recovery and circular economy; and organisational and administrative matters. Among the region’s priorities, the SPREP Director General pointed to marine and plastic pollution as a key issue, referring to the Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution and Its Impacts.

“Of the two resolutions being proposed for your consideration, the Rwanda-Peru and Japan, it is of our view that the Rwanda-Peru resolution best aligns and lends itself to achieving the aspirations as outlined in the Pacific Regional Declaration on Plastics,” Latu said.

“The Rwanda-Peru draft resolution contains more specific guidance on the elements and design of a treaty that is captured in the Pacific regional declaration such as addressing plastic pollution, promotion of a full lifecycle approach with interventions on production (upstream), product design (midstream) and waste management (downstream), inclusion of strong institutional framework including a financial mechanism and scientific and socio-economic body to support the implementation of the treaty. This is not included in the Japan draft resolution.

“SPREP will collaborate with Member States and partners to actively support these initiatives and include these activities into the Secretariat’s workplan. We also hope that this preparatory meeting will not only help in the UNEA5.2 preparations but also in the other upcoming international meetings such as the One Ocean Summit, Our Ocean Conference, as well as the BBNJ OGC4.”

The Regional Director and Representative of UNEP in Asia and the Pacific, Dr Dechen Tsering, reiterated why it is important to focus on marine litter and waste management.

“Dealing with waste issues assists Pacific Island Countries to meet their SDGs, as waste minimisation aids achievement of all 17 SDGs. Approaches such as the circular economy and cleaner production enable tourist operators to induce significant improvements on the environmental impacts of accommodation, food, packaging and wastewater associated totheir business,” she said.

A Pacific Declaration on Marine Litter has already been endorsed. While I thank you for your leadership in this area, in addition to resolutions on marine litter, I invite you to also consider the resolutions under the remaining four thematic clusters – nature-based solutions and biodiversity; chemicals and minerals; green recovery and circular economy, and organisational and administrative matters.

“In the global environmental agenda and negotiations, Pacific countries have had their voices loud and clear with the identification of issues such as loss and damage. Such leadership from Pacific countries at UNEA 5.2 and in highlighting needs to deliver the Glasgow Climate Pact will be highly appreciated.”

She also invited Pacific Member States to the Special Session of the Assembly on 3 to 4 March 2022, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNEP in 1972.

“COVID-19 has heavily impacted the way we used to work, with international meeting modalities having to adapt to the different situations faced by countries around the world,” said Dr Tsering.

“Nevertheless, I would like to encourage all countries to continue to engage in this important process and meeting, in order to ensure that the unique concerns and priorities from the region, especially those of small island developing states (SIDS) are addressed.”

The overall theme for UNEA-5.2 is “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.