Plastic pollution has infiltrated every corner of the earth, from the depths of our oceans to the most sacred of spaces, a mother’s womb.

As the world grapples with the plastic crisis, international efforts are underway towards a legally binding treaty to address this global issue across five International Negotiating Committee (INC) meetings.

The first two INCs were held in Uruguay in November 2022 and France in May 2023. More than 190 countries will gather in Kenya next month for the third session. To prepare for this, the Pacific region is meeting this week in Koror, Palau to further discuss Pacific strategies and seek endorsement on the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) positions for the INC-3 including enhancing PSIDS coordination as well as commitment to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Asia Pacific processes.

The Pacific Regional Preparatory Workshop is convened by the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme (SPREP) with funding support from the Government of Australia. Pacific Island nations of Palau and Samoa are the current chairs of PSIDS and AOSIS respectively.

“As big ocean states we need to come together to ensure that our voices are heard and reflected in the future instrument,” said the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment of Palau, Steven Victor as he opened the three-day meeting.

“We must strive for a paradigm-shift to effectively end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment and to achieve such an ambition, we need adequate provisions of means of implementation, in particular for small island developing states as well as the flexibility for SIDS to be considered because of our special circumstances and limited capabilities,” the Minister added.

Worldwide plastic production has grown from approximately 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to an estimated 275 million metric tons by 2010, and then approximately 359 million metric tons by 2018.

Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans each year. For the Pacific Islands region, custodians of the world’s largest ocean this is a cause of grave concern.

“Plastic pollution, including in our ocean, has repercussions far beyond debris-ravaged beaches or dramatic pictures of the great Pacific garbage patch. It represents tremendous public costs in terms of waste management, and potentially undermines critical economic sectors of our societies, including tourism or fisheries. Most importantly, plastic pollution in the ocean, in the water, in the soil and the air is a threat to human health,” said the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Dr Filimon Manoni.

The INC was formed during the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2022, when over 190 governments agreed to the resolution to “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument” on plastic pollution including in the marine environment.

This resolution is in line with the Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution and its Impacts, which has expressed grave concerns from our Pacific leaders about environmental, social, cultural, economic, human rights and other impacts of plastics pollution at every stage of its life cycle.

“The INC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end plastic pollution and the instrument under negotiation has enormous potential to create economic opportunities and alleviate poverty through new business models, new jobs, new market opportunities and new designs, materials, and products,” said the Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific for the UN Environment Programme, Dechen Tsering at the opening.

“The next three INC’s will define how the world makes, use and dispose of plastics for generations to come. We need to remind ourselves where we are in the process, right now we are in the negotiation stage, and the implementation stage will follow. Do not let the eagerness of implementation colour your negotiations. I urge you all to use this chance to raise the ambition as this opportunity will not come again,” said the Director General of SPREP, Sefanaia Nawadra.

The Pacific Regional Preparatory Workshop for the Third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) meeting is held in Koror, Palau from 18—20 October 2023.