Marine plastic pollution is a threat to Pacific Islands people. At the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022 in Lisbon Portugal, Pacific leaders have taken their concerns to the global stage, calling for collective action to protect our ocean.
“In line with Sustainable Development Goal 14, our role and responsibility as ocean stewards is to protect our ocean from plastics and other pollution,” said the Prime Minister of Tonga, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, who spoke on behalf of Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) during an Interactive dialogue.
“We need to protect peoples’ cultural identity, human rights, fisheries, and tourism industries livelihoods, food security and human health through the diligent stewardship of our ecosystems.”
Residents of Large Ocean, Small Islands Developing States, the Pacific Ocean make up 98 percent of the region for which only two percent is land. The Exclusive Economic Zones make up over 10 percent of the world’s ocean, providing vital ecosystem services valued at many billions of dollars underpinning the economic sustainability of the region.
Facing the emerging threat of plastic pollution, Pacific islands welcome the decision made at the fifth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in March this year to form an internationally binding instrument by 2024 to end plastic pollution, and an agreement to establish a science-policy panel on chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution.
It was during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal that the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) stressed the need for this new instrument to cover the whole life cycle of plastics.
The first Interactive Dialogue of UNOC focused its lens on addressing marine pollution. A special panel co-chaired by New Zealand and Seychelles opened the floor to hear from countries and different organisations. Current projections indicate that plastic will outweigh fish in our ocean by 2050 unless something is done to stop the growth.
“The instrument must address the full life cycle of plastics including 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,” said Hon. Sovaleni.
“This must support the 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.”
Pacific Small Islands Developing States have demonstrated leadership when it comes to taking action to reduce and eliminate single-use and problematic plastics with many having banned single-use plastic bags and styrofoam containers over five years ago.
The Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution and its Impacts 2021, expresses the grave concern by Pacific Leaders about the environmental, social, cultural, economic, human rights, human health, and food security impacts of plastics pollution at each stage of its life cycle.
“We strongly urge support for the development of National Plastic Prevention Plans with measurable and time-bound targets and consider supporting legislation to phase out problematic plastics,” said Prime Minister Sovaleni.
“We are deeply concerned about compounding risks due to the accelerating rate of toxic plastic production and consumption. The current 368 million tonnes of virgin plastics produced annually is set to double by 2040. Ninety percent of current plastic production ends up in the environment.”
The Pacific Islands region contributes as little as 1.3 percent of global plastic pollution and does not produce plastic polymers, yet the highest recorded quantity of flowing plastics is in the South Pacific subtropical gyre. The Pacific islands region is grossly and disproportionately affected by the impacts of plastic pollution.
To help address this, the UNEA5 decision for an internationally legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution is to be done within two years, whereas global agreements such as these usually take from five to ten years of negotiation.
The race to stop the plastic tap is on, not only for the Pacific islands region but for everyone.
The Second UN Ocean Conference is hosted in Lisbon, Portugal from 27 June to 1 July 2022. The Pacific Islands are represented by a strong contingent which includes the Leaders from Fiji, Palau and Tonga. Also present are the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.