The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) today agreed one of the most significant policies ever to protect the world from the plague of plastic pollution.
Meeting in Kenya, it confirmed adoption of a legally binding and ambitious mandate towards a global treaty to address the full lifecycle of plastics from creation to disposal (see below our new infographic explaining the plastics full lifecycle), securing the backing of all nations.
The resolution ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards a Legally Binding Instrument’ will trigger negotiations with a view to finalising the treaty by 2024.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been in the vanguard of the campaign to secure a plastics treaty, culminating in the process at UNEA, the highest-level decision-making body on the environment.
Virgin plastics production has risen from two million tonnes a year in 1950 to 460 million tonnes in 2020 and is projected to exceed one billion tonnes a year by 2050. Plastic leakage into the environment has also grown sharply in recent years and is projected to nearly triple from 2016-40.
Approximately seven billion of the estimated 9.2 billion tonnes of the plastics produced between 1950 and 2017 is now waste, approximately 75 per cent of which is either deposited in landfills or accumulating in terrestrial and aquatic environments and ecosystems.
EIA Deputy Ocean Campaign Lead Christina Dixon said: “This is a truly historic moment for our planet. This resolution finally recognises that we cannot begin to address plastics in our ocean and on land without intervening at source – fundamentally, the plastics tap must be turned off if we are serious about tackling the problem.
“We are just at the start of a journey towards securing a legally binding treaty on plastics throughout their lifecycle, but the mandate adopted today gives the scope to consider actions both upstream and downstream and the impacts on all environments.”
In the lead up to negotiations, EIA challenged weaker proposals for a plastics agreement which would have limited the treaty to focus primarily on marine litter and end-of-life waste management or, worse yet, a purely voluntary arrangement.
On the eve of negotiations beginning in Nairobi, EIA rallied the international scientific community to prepare a declaration on the need for evidence-based decision-making, calling for urgent action to tackle the grave threat from plastics which now pollute every corner of the Earth.
Critical inclusions in today’s final resolution include:
- plastics to now be tackled holistically for the first time in a legally binding agreement with a full lifecycle approach, proposing the consideration of measures from production through to product design and waste management. Critically, the resolution finally recognises the need for prevention as a major tool for reducing pollution;
- while noting the importance of pollution in the marine environment, the resolution provides scope to consider plastic pollution in all environments;
- all countries have now agreed to consider financial assistance, including the option of a dedicated fund to support developing countries with implementation;
- commitment to negotiate the treaty in a two-year time frame in recognition of the urgency of the crisis;
- the importance of the International Negotiating Committee (INC) – the country experts who will thrash out the terms of the final treaty – to not only consider the best available science, but also the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities;
- the first time the informal waste management sector (also called ‘waste pickers’) have been formally recognised in an international agreement. As a historically marginalised sector, their voices will be heard in the upcoming treaty negotiations.
EIA Ocean Campaigner Tom Gammage said: “Coordinated by EIA, the voice of the scientific community has been pivotal in underscoring the need for an evidence-based agreement that addresses plastic pollution in all environments and acknowledges its impact on human health and wellbeing. We also now have a mandate to consider the need for a dedicated scientific body to provide policy-relevant guidance, a key ask of almost 500 scientific experts. Now the hard work begins!”
EIA Senior Lawyer Tim Grabiel added: “This resolution is a big deal. It kickstarts with urgency negotiations on an international legally binding instrument, providing negotiators with a broad mandate to address plastic pollution in all environments with interventions across the full lifecycle of plastics to address virgin plastic production, product design and waste management.
“Rwanda and Peru were unwavering champions of ambition as co-authors of an ambitious draft resolution with more than 60 co-sponsors from countries around the world and it was their vision that won out. But no victory laps yet as we must now negotiate an agreement fit for purpose. Our work has only just begun.”