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Why the INC process matters to the Kingdom of Tonga and Solomon Islands

14 February 2024, Auckland NZ - To say the impact of plastic pollution on the Kingdom of Tonga is a problem would be stating it quite mildly. 
Like most Pacific islands who are at the forefront of the impacts of the escalating plastic pollution crisis, the threat on livelihoods, social and economic growth has already taken a huge toll, on top of the existential threat of climate change.
Ms Mafileo Masi, the Deputy Director, Department of Environment, Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communication, is well aware of this. It is why her Government takes a very keen interest on the ongoing sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-4).
“I am a mother and my duties as a mother to my children is my priority,” she said. “I have also been involved in efforts to address plastic pollution for a long time, from before the INC process to where it is now, and I know that plastic pollution has ramifications on livelihoods and our health.
“As a mother, I have a responsibility to raise my children in a healthy environment. What we are seeing in terms of the plastic pollution crisis is not healthy and we cannot sit by idly and do nothing. We have a responsibility to act now, we cannot wait.”
And act she has. Ms Masi is in Auckland this week to join representatives from 13 other Pacific countries to strategise for the next round of the INC. It is the latest meeting she has attended since she engaged in the INC process from INC-1 in Uruguay and says that while there have been some positive steps, much work remains to be done.
“My goal, and I think I speak on behalf of all our Pacific officials in this process, is that we want to ensure we leave our children, grandchildren and their children with a clean and pristine Pacific ocean and environment. This is the real outcome we want from all this work being done in the INC,” she said.
She also knows the value of working together as Pacific countries.
“The global negotiations space is quite challenging and it is why the coordination of the one Pacific voice as we go into these global negotiations is extremely important. I have enjoyed listening and hearing the experiences of my fellow Pacific colleagues and I am very grateful to the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, as well as SPREP, for the opportunity.”
Back home in Tonga, Ms Mafi said the Government acknowledges the gravity of plastic pollution, made even more challenging by the recent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, and continues to actively promote actions on the ground to address it. The islands of Tonga have a combined coastline of 419 kilometres, and a recent study (Jenna et al., 2015) indicates a daily plastic waste generation of approximately 22.7 tonnes (t). 
An estimated 18.1t are mismanaged daily and are predicted to enter the marine environment through release from uncontained disposal sites or by direct littering. Approximately 6,624t of plastic waste were released in Tongan waters in 2010. If not addressed, the amount is expected to rise to 10,272t by 2025.
“We are custodians of the Pacific Ocean and we already know that plastic pollution is wreaking havoc in our ocean, our livelihoods and for me being here, this is more than just another meeting, this is dealing with an issue of security, it’s a matter of survival for my country, just like in climate change. If we don’t do anything now, we are looking into a very bleak future, one where our small island countries will suffer irreparable consequences and our children will suffer as a result.”
In March 2022, the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) decided to work towards an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.  The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was established to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, beginning its work in the second half of 2022 with the ambition of completing its work by the end of 2024.
The outcome of the negotiations needs to be a broad instrument - with obligations, measures and voluntary approaches, including a financial mechanism with stable and predictable financial resources for implementation - integrated across sectors and value chains, and one that considers the entire lifecycle of plastic. 
Further, this legally binding instrument needs to include marine, land and water plastic pollution, promote sustainable production and consumption of plastics through, among other things, product design and environmentally sound waste management, including through resource efficiency and circular economy approaches.

Dr Mataki
The next INC is scheduled from 23 to 29 April 2024 at the Shaw Center in Ottawa, Canada. The Permanent Secretary of Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management & Meteorology (MECDM), Dr. Melchior Mataki, said the work being done in Auckland to prepare Pacific countries is critical.
“Looking at INC-4, we would like to stick to the basics within the context of UNEA5.2 in that we would have to apply control measures across the lifecycle of plastics, from production right down to waste management,” said Dr. Mataki. “Upstream in terms of production, midstream in terms of the connection between the upstream and downstream, and then downstream in relation to recycling and waste management. We really need to have these control measures.”
For the Solomon Islands and the Pacific in general, Dr. Mataki acknowledged they do not have control over the upstream measures because they are not major plastics producers. 
“So what that means to us is that in order for this convention or treaty to work, we must address it right across and as a recipient of plastics, and an insignificant producer of plastics, we would like to see the treaty take measures that have targets, timelines for phase out and phase down of plastics that are not needed and can be eliminated. There must be clear targets around that as well as timelines for phasing out. 
“We will also have to deal with the issue of polymer production, and other chemicals being added to the plastics.”
For Pacific countries, it’s important that resources are provided to support waste management practises at the national level in relation to plastics, added Dr. Mataki.
“This is critical because as Pacific countries, we have been disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution both by what has been brought into our countries and what is carried through by the ocean currents.”
The Pacific Regional Preparatory Workshop for the Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) is held in Auckland, New Zealand from 13 – 15 February 2024.
Facilitated by SPREP with support from the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, this workshop is funded by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. The INC-4 Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting is attended by Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.