Towards a Global Plastic Pollution Treaty by 2024

The world’s highest level decision-making body on environmental concerns has just agreed to start negotiations for a new global legally binding instrument that will address plastic pollution, a huge problem threatening our planet’s health and humanity’s future. The ambition is to have the instrument ready for adoption and signing by 2024.

At the just concluded biennial United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) held on February 28 to March 2 in Nairobi, Kenya, governments adopted a resolution whose title undoubtedly reflects the global consensus to act: “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument.”

As noted in the preamble section, “the high and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution represent a serious environmental problem at a global scale, negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.” Plastic pollution, as agreed by delegates, includes micro plastics, or the miniscule plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size that pose a serious threat to marine life.

The resolution made emphasis on “the urgent need to strengthen the science-policy interface at all levels, improve understanding of the global impact of plastic pollution on the environment, and promote effective and progressive actions at the local, regional and global level, recognizing the important role of plastics for society.”

It likewise underscored “the importance of promoting sustainable design of products and materials so that they can be reused, remanufactured or recycled and therefore retained in the economy for as long as possible along with the resources they are made of, as well as minimizing the generation of waste, which can significantly contribute to sustainable production and consumption of plastics.”

Governments agreed about the importance of tackling the impacts of plastic pollution through a full lifecycle approach and requested the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) that will start its work during the second half of 2022 through the ad hoc open-ended working group (OEWG) to discuss and agree on the timetable and organization of the INC, with the goal of completing INC’s work by the end of 2024.

The resolution also gave due recognition to “the significant contribution made by workers under informal and cooperative settings to collecting, sorting and recycling plastics in many countries.” It further directed the INC to consider in its deliberations the lessons learned and best practices, including those from the informal and cooperative waste workers.

The INC has been given the mandate “to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, taking into account among other things, the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, as well as national circumstances and capabilities, including provisions.”

Among the INC’s long list of assigned tasks include:

To specify the objectives of the instrument;

To promote sustainable production and consumption of plastics, including, among others, product design, and environmentally sound waste management, including through resource efficiency and circular economy approaches;

To promote national and international cooperative measures to reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment, including existing plastic pollution;

To develop, implement and update national action plans reflecting country-driven approaches to contribute to the objectives of the instrument;

To promote national action plans to work towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution, and to support regional and international cooperation;

To specify national reporting, as appropriate;

To periodically assess the progress of implementation of the instrument;

To periodically assess the effectiveness of the instrument in achieving its objectives;

To provide scientific and socio-economic assessments related to plastic pollution; and

To increase knowledge through awareness-raising, education and exchange.

The resolution also pointed to the importance of ensuring the widest possible and effective participation in the ad-hoc OEWG meeting and the INC meeting, stressing that such meetings should be open to governments, UN specialized agencies, regional economic integration organizations, as well as relevant stakeholders, consistent with applicable UN rules.

The Eco Waste Coalition, a partner group of the Laban Konsyumer Inc. has welcomed UNEA’s decision as it can serve as a solid basis for negotiators to craft an agreement addressing the impacts of plastic throughout its lifecycle. “UNEA has given negotiators the green light to craft a global legally binding instrument that is absolutely needed to end plastic pollution and its adverse and toxic impacts on the environment. It’s a big win for Mother Earth, but this colossal fight is far from over” the group said.

The roadmap towards a strong plastic treaty has been set. It is now up to the world’s governments and stakeholders to engage and ensure that the final treaty will be strong or even stronger to truly beat the plastic pollution.

Atty.Vic Dimagiba

President, Laban Konsyumer Inc.

Email at [email protected]

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