‘I hope they open their ears and listen to us’: Tuvalu at INC1 Forum


Pacific delegates attending the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC1) to negotiate a global legally binding instrument on plastics, have embraced the opportunity to share perspectives with different global stakeholders, as they negotiate an ambitious treaty covering the whole life cycle of plastics.

Epu Falenga, of Tuvalu had travelled three days to get to Uruguay and said he has not come all this way to be passive about the issues and the discussions.

“The Pacific voice must be heard in this big arena,” he said. “I know we are small but together we are a strong group of ocean states with a lot to lose if we stay silent on this matter. We need to be vocal here, we need to be at the table to tell our story, I hope they open their ears and listen to us.”

Falenga was among a strong Pacific representation at the Multi Stakeholder Forum at the Punta del Este Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday, which was opened by Uruguay’s Minister of Environment, Hon. Adrian Pena Robaina and the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger.

During the forum, stakeholders discussed the challenges and looked at the opportunities a plastic treaty could offer. For the Director of Tuvalu’s Department of Waste Management, he identified funding as a critical issue.

“Plastics and micro plastics are killing us, so this is an urgent matter that requires urgent attention. We are here to find ways where the international community can help us. As a representative of Tuvalu, my goal, and I speak on behalf of my people, is to see a total ban on all harmful plastics and encourage the production of goods that are environmentally friendly,” he said.

“We from the Pacific are the ones who are worst affected by the impact of waste pollution and the plastics a lot of these big companies make, so here in this forum our message to them is that they manufactured the rubbish, they should also deal with their rubbish responsibly.

“Although we’ve already banned eight plastic items in Tuvalu, and are looking at other alternatives, we cannot fix this mess ourselves. We don’t have recycling facilities or any other way to take this trash out of the country, so we are faced with an enormous challenge of dealing with this as the rubbish keeps piling up. We need funding to help us.”

Tuvalu’s concerns are shared by Veari Kula from Papua New Guinea’s Ministry of Environment and Conservation. He has also had to travel for several days, like all Pacific delegates, to be in Punta del Este for the discussions.

“If we want to develop a new instrument, let’s give more support to countries in terms of finance and technical support, those are key things that countries are looking at, if they are going to help countries address the issue of waste pollution,” Kula said.

“I think we are all coming here with good aspirations but it’s quite early in the process, so for me it’s about trying to grasp the issues and getting a good understanding of what is happening and how we can move this forward to benefit our countries and people.

“We’ve got a big problem in our country when it comes to waste. We’ve just developed a regulation on the ban of plastics, and we’ve had a few problems with the implementation, the regulation and the position of industry, so this discussion here is very useful for us.”

The Forum took place in conjunction with the first session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC-1), set to develop the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. More than 2000 delegates from 196 countries have registered for the Nov 28-Dec 2 meeting.

“This is a very important meeting,” Falenga added. “We are starting the negotiations for a treaty that is going to be very important for Tuvalu and the Pacific, so it’s important to be here, we have to be specific about what we need to come out of this for our countries, we want to ensure our voices are represented in these conversations.

“The multi stakeholder forum is quite critical because this is where we get to hear from everyone, the manufacturers, the private sector, the scientists and all the people who have a say in this process.” In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) unanimously endorsed in Nairobi a historic resolution to End Plastic Pollution (resolution 5/14), which gives the mandate to forge an international legally binding instrument by 2024 to prevent and reduce global plastic pollution.   The instrument is to follow a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic.