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Tuvalu negotiator optimistic about ongoing plastic treaty negotiations

02 June 2023, Paris France - Slow progress is better than no progress at all.

That’s the view of the Director of Tuvalu’s Department of Waste Management, Mr Epu Falega, as negotiations at the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2) wind down in Paris, France.

Since Monday, Mr Falega and his delegation have been amplifying our Pacific’s voice and priorities for a global treaty on plastic pollution, which negotiators hope could be finalised by 2024. Five days later at UNESCO’s Headquarters where delegates have been working late night hours to wrap up the latest round of negotiations, Mr Falega said he is optimistic.

“From Tuvalu’s standpoint, we want this treaty to become effective as soon as possible and given the seriousness of the situation our islands are confronted by, we don’t want any delays,” he said. “From INC-1 to INC-2, I believe we are making progress but it is very slow. I’m optimistic about the work that has started, I know while some views differ and there are disagreements but there is a general consensus that we must end plastic pollution. As a delegate, I take comfort from that.”

Part of the frustration for Mr Falega and many delegates in Paris was the impact of a procedural impasse which derailed delays on the discussion of the more substantive matters of the proposed treaty.

“Procedures are important but for Tuvalu, procedures pale into comparison because this is about our survival. Plastics are killing our environment, our biodiversity, our corals, our fish and it is hurting us. We need to act now because if we don’t we might not have anything to give our future generations.”

Research shows that humanity produces around 460 million metric tonnes of plastic a year, and without urgent action, this will triple by 2060. According to one UNEP study, over 14 million metric tonnes of plastic enter and damages aquatic ecosystems annually, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to account for 15 per cent of the total emissions allowable by 2050 if humanity is to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Pacific countries like Tuvalu are at the forefront of the impacts from the escalating crisis. Tuvalu’s limited landmass makes waste and plastic management even more difficult, a challenge Mr Falega is trying to find a solution for at these international meetings.

“The reality for us is that whatever plastic is brought into Tuvalu, whether it is imported or washed onto our shores from other regions, it doesn’t go out again. There is no means to ship it out, recycle or to eliminate it, we are stuck with it. Tuvalu is like a dumping site for all the plastics and so we are working on ways to address this,” said Mr Falega.

On the margins of INC-2, and apart from amplifying the Pacific’s priorities from the conference room floor, the Director of Tuvalu’s Department of Waste Management has been holding bilateral meetings.

“I’ve been meeting with potential donors and partners, like Japan, where we’ve been looking at ways to minimise the volume of plastics at home. We know we’re not going to get rid of it so all we can do is minimise the volume. We have all sorts of plastics, bags, bottles, water tanks, buckets, fishing gear and all sorts of plastics piling up so we are looking for potential partners to help us get rid of it.”

Since INC-1, Tuvalu has been sounding the alarm bells to more than 190 countries, reminding that plastic pollution 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 climate crisis.

“Our situation is dire. As I have said time and time again, this is about our survival.”

But Mr Falega remains hopeful, as the work of INC-2 in Paris ends.

“We captured a lot of items given in our timeframes and I believe that our time here in Paris has been very productive. Our agenda was very specific in certain areas and activities but I believe we have managed to at least address and touch on them here in INC-2,” he said.

Looking to INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr Falega said negotiators should draw on the experiences of other Multilateral Environment Agreements to guide the way forward.

“The INC process has just started but I see linkages with other multilateral environment agreements which we can draw upon to try and speed up the process. All these MEAs, including the work we are doing here in Paris, is about protecting our environment and ensuring our future generations are well looked after.

“I believe we also cannot be too frustrated even if the progress seems slow, it is the way these things work. Look at climate change for example, it has taken them decades of hard work to get to where it is today so we have to allow the process to take its course. We started the work in Uruguay and here at INC-2, I feel we have a baseline to build upon for INC-3.”

The second Intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment is taking place in Paris France from 29 May to 2 June 2023.  

The Pacific Islands are represented by the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu 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), working with partners the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Environmental Investigation Agency, Centre for International Environmental Law, University of Wollongong, WWF and Massey University.

For more information on the POLP project, visit www.sprep.org/polp

For more information on INC-2, visit: https://www.unep.org/events/conference/second-session-intergovernmental-negotiating-committee-develop-international