Joining hands on a global approach to plastic pollution

September 23, 2022 Sir Molwyn Joseph, Environment Minister – Antigua and Barbuda Download PDF

Topic: Oceans

Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to welcome you to this High-Level Roundtable on policy solutions to tackle plastic pollution. In a week of many plastic pollution events, we are hopeful that this event will move the discussion forward by talking about concrete solutions to this problem. As was noted at the launch of the High Ambition Business Coalition earlier this week, there is no time to waste. While we rightfully celebrate the agreement in Nairobi to negotiate a new international instrument, we must move quickly to successfully negotiate this instrument and then implement it. As the small islands are already feeling the significant effects of marine plastic pollution, there really is no time to waste.

We are joined today by an excellent group of speakers and I would very much like to thank each one of them. I would also like to thank our partners at The Pew Charitable Trusts for organizing this event with the Government of Antigua & Barbuda and AOSIS

In the spirit of wasting no time, let me get straight to the point: we need a creative international instrument that deals effectively with complexity of the plastic pollution crisis. A crisis that is both environmental and economic. A problem that is not always under the jurisdiction of national governments. Our old models of international agreements are likely not up to the task of solving this crisis.

We have faced complexity before. We have faced incomplete science. We have faced the tension between environmental protection and economic development. In climate change, in the ozone layer, in endangered species protection. And in each we have created successful international agreements.

So, we can solve this crisis, but we must be smart about it. We must have our international solution fit the complexity of both the environmental and economic aspects of this problem.

I certainly do not have all the answers, but this morning I wish to highlight four of the considerations of the small island developing states as we approach this new international instrument: urgency, equity, effectiveness and evolution.

The first consideration is urgency. At the UN Ocean Conference earlier this year, I highlighted some of the specific ways that existing plastic pollution is already having an impact on our countries: on our tourism economies, on our fisheries, on our health and on our culture. These impacts are already happening. It is not just about quickly negotiating a new agreement, but perhaps more importantly setting urgent, near-term goals. It has been suggested this week that a 2040 target to eliminate new plastic pollution is ambitious. But what the means for small islands is 17 more years of pollution entering the environment, joining the decades of plastic pollution that is currently swimming around in our oceans. We must set ambitious, achievable, measurable goals that allow us to clearly track our trajectory to zero plastic pollution.

The second consideration is equity. As has been highlighted repeatedly this week, it is senseless to just talk about recycling or waste management, while leaving the tap of plastic pollution fully open. We must control, reduce and eliminate the leakage of waste plastic and microplastics into our environment. But as I have said before, we also must recognize that there are decades of plastic that are already polluting our environment. And unfortunately, the effect of that existing pollution is disproportionately falling on small island developing states.

Like many environmental problems, we have contributed little to the creation of the problem. The Yale Environmental Performance Indicator report released in June included a new indicator on ocean plastic pollution. Of the 10 states that create the least ocean plastic pollution, 9 of them were small islands. In the next 10 states, 5 of them were small islands.

We know that currently the remediation of existing pollution is difficult and expensive. But if the Pacific tuna fisheries collapse or even become less valuable because of bioaccumulation of plastics, it will be difficult, expensive, and unjust. Remediation is an essential element of the new agreement.

And this brings me to the third consideration, which is effectiveness. The multilateral environmental agreements of the past that have been the most effective are those that have addressed both the environmental problem, but also countries’ interests in solving the problem. For small islands, we have little engagement in the production of raw materials, or production and design of plastics—most upstream activities. Where our greater contribution to solving this problem can be is in waste management and recycling. There are very few recycling opportunities in the small islands. The cost to ship waste plastics abroad for recycling makes our waste economically unviable.

And the fourth is evolution. We will get one kick at the can to negotiate this international instrument. History tells us that we almost never amend international environmental agreements. So, we must make sure that this agreement is able to evolve over time, to confront changing science and economic realities. Therefore, it is essential that we include all relevant actors in the development of this agreement and in its implementation. While governments will need to play an essential role, we know that business, industry, and civil society have knowledge, expertise and finance that government doesn’t have. An agreement that includes these actors is one that will be durable over time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies and Distinguished Panelists: I have laid out some of the considerations that we have as small islands as we approach these negotiations. We need help in constructing the solutions that accomplish what we need to do as a global community. I look to you for these solutions.

Sub Topic: Marine Plastic Pollution