Support mounts for a global treaty to combat plastic pollution– but much work remains to secure it

Last week, the ‘ad hoc expert group’ (AHEG) tasked by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to explore global options to combat plastic waste was concluded.

The fulfilment of its mandate marks two years of consultations between countries and observers to take stock of existing activities, identify potential global actions and analyse their potential effectiveness in tackling plastic pollution.

Despite a transition to an online virtual platform, the meeting yielded fervent discussions and deliberations on the best route forwards.

Over the lifetime of the AHEG, appetite for a new binding global treaty has become increasingly apparent – not just from countries, regions and civil society organisations, but also the business community which now see the added value in a global agreement. Nowhere has this support been more apparent than at last week’s fourth and final AHEG meeting.

More than half of all countries have now expressed their support for a new legally binding global treaty, with the Pacific island countries and the African group, among others, more visible and engaged than in previous sessions.

Furthermore, the groups representing both indigenous peoples and the plastics industry have voiced support for a treaty for the very first time.

EIA has played a critical role in the AHEG to date, developing proposals for the design and elements of a potential treaty and working closely with allies around the world to provide technical support and strategic advice as the process has moved along. At AHEG-4, our Ocean campaigners also gave two strategic presentations to augment and bolster the discussions.

Plastic pollution in Bali, Indonesia

Despite this progress, the tyranny of the minority has, sadly, continued to hold up discussions. The US, for example, at the behest of the fracking and petrochemical industry and against significant citizen support for addressing plastic pollution, is leading efforts to sabotage this vision.

This is indeed disheartening, but the AHEG fulfilling its mandate provides opportunity for the continuation of other processes on which countries can build the future global framework to stop plastic pollution.

With UNEA now mostly delayed until 2022, the energy from the final session of AHEG must be captured, with this ‘intermittent period’ continuing to build on political momentum.

The AHEG is over, but there now exist opportunities to foster cross-regional and global exchanges, open to all countries wanting to discuss what a new treaty on plastic pollution might actually look like in practice, how to garner more support and how to get there.

To find out more, please check out the Break Free From Plastics movement newsletter with more information, stories and insights from the meeting!