In late April 2023, the Cook Islands welcomed representatives from 12 Pacific member states to prepare for the Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee (INC2) negotiations on a legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution, which will take place in Paris from 28 May to 2 June 2023. The preparatory meeting took place at the Edgewater Resort & Spa and was chaired by Her Excellency Ilana Seid of Palau, the current Chair of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS). Sefanaia Nawadra, Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme (SPREP), provided secretarial and technical advice together with a support team from SPREP. The Cook Islands delegation was represented by Halatoa Fua and Tekura Moeka’a from NES, Sandrina Thondoo from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI), and Claytoncy Taurarii from Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI).
The main objectives of the preparatory meeting were for Pacific members to actively engage in negotiating a new binding global agreement that is consistent with the Pacific regional declaration on plastics, establish a regional position and clear negotiation strategies to assist in the global negotiations.
The group discussed possible core obligations that will form part of the global treaty to end plastic pollution. From upstream measures such as sourcing and extraction of fossil fuels for plastic production, to mid-stream measures such as designing sustainable plastics that has circularity, to downstream measures such as waste management systems at the national level. For example, should the use of problematic and avoidable plastic products be banned, phased out or reduced? Should we eliminate the release and emission of plastics to water, soil and air?
The means of implementation is important for the Cook Islands and PSIDS to ensure the treaty will provide means for financial assistance, capacity building, technical assistance and technology transfer. The Cook Islands will also prepare to meet its obligations through national action plans, national reporting, compliance and stakeholder engagement.
The Cook Islands fully supports a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution that protects the environment and human health from the impacts of plastic across its full life cycle, and to attain a safe circular economy for plastics. This is demonstrated through the development of the new Solid & Hazardous Waste bill under ICI, the Cook Islands joined the High Ambition Coalition to end plastic pollution, and NES’s GEF8 STAR Allocation on Circular Solutions to Plastic Pollution Integrated Program has been recommended to the GEF Council for review and approval. The Cook Islands is the only Pacific Islands and one of two SIDS countries recommended. This GEF project will demonstrate and scale upstream and midstream, with an enabling environment to eliminate single use plastic products and packaging, enable circular design of materials and products, and ensure circulation of materials and products in practice through reuse and refill systems.
The Cook Islands delegation travelling to Paris will include Halatoa Fua and Tekura Moeka’a from NES and Teuru Passfield from MFAI. Halatoa Fua made a statement at the preparatory meeting ‘the road to INC2 and beyond is a difficult one if we do not work together to form a clear position as a region. The road to INC2 and beyond is an easy one if we stand together as a strong region, with our voices as loud as our oceans. We call for a treaty that is firmly rooted in a human rights-based approach and our research is supported by science, and one that honours the waste hierarchy and precautionary principles. Let us be reminded of the Pacific Regional Declaration on the prevention of marine litter and plastics pollution and its impacts. The declaration calls the Pacific to support this Plastics Treaty, calls on the international community to take urgent and immediate action to protect our region and people from plastic pollution. The second-to-last point calls the Pacific to support ambitious policy implementation measures on plastic pollution. That time is now’.