Cook Islands Delegation at the Fourth Session INC-4 in Ottawa, Canada

Cook Islands Delegation at the Fourth Session INC-4 in Ottawa, Canada

The Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) and the National Environment Services (NES) formed a strong delegation at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastics pollution, including the marine environment.

Plastic Pollution is at the center of the triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. For the Pacific, plastic pollution stems from unsustainable production and consumption, and continues to be a significant challenge to our environment and human health.

In recent years, global attention had turned towards the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which spanned over 1.6 million square kilometers, as being one of the world's largest concentrations of marine debris predominantly composed of plastic waste. Plastic waste is transboundary and given the vast spread of the Pacific ocean, it will continue to be a dumping ground of plastic debris including from other regions.

Ms. Sandrina Thondoo attended the session on behalf of the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) in her capacity as Director of Treaties, Multilateral, and Oceans Division (MFAI). Ms. Thondoo remarked, “the negotiation of a new treaty allowed countries to come together to address global challenges by fostering cooperation and strengthening global governance that could facilitate long-term planning and cross-border collaboration.”

During the session, several key outcomes emerged. Firstly, a proposal from Norway, Cook Islands, and Rwanda set a foundation for regulating chemicals and polymers of concern in the treaty, noting that about 16,000 chemicals are involved in plastic production. Secondly, the Cook Islands emphasized the importance of global rules due to limited capacity in analysing chemical composition of products before entering our borders, a challenge faced by most Small Islands Developing States. Thirdly, the urgent need for an ambitious treaty to combat plastic pollution was underscored, given projections that business as usual will lead to more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Lastly, member states worked towards compromise to address diverging views and develop a treaty that reflects the concerns of all parties involved. The Cook Islands delegation participated in preparatory meetings and daily briefings throughout the negotiations, including with the fourteeen Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS), chaired by Vanuatu, and the thirty nine Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) chaired by Samoa.

The Director of National Environment Service, Halatoa Fua, emphasized the immense effort required by technical agencies and negotiations to address the key elements required to restrain plastic production and pollution. The treaty needs to address five main areas to make it effective: production, chemicals, products, design and means of implementation to finance and provide capacity building. Should one of these key elements not make it to the final agreement draft, the treaty will fail to meet the problem and narratives built by Government and non-state actors to address the plastic crisis and end plastic pollution. He underscored the pivotal role of the Pacific region as a moral compass in advocating for these concerns to be amplified in international treaties.

The session took place at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa, Canada, from the 23rd to the 29th of April 2024 and welcomed delegates from over 170 Governments. The Cook Islands Government would like to thank the Government of Canada for hosting INC4 and the opportunity for the Cook Islands to actively contribute to discussions on such key issues. We look forward to INC5, with hope and determination to see the fruition of an ambitious treaty to end plastic pollution once and for all.

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