The United Nations approved a landmark agreement to create the world's first ever global plastic pollution treaty on Wednesday, describing it as the most significant environmental deal since the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Member states held talks for more than a week in Nairobi to agree the outline of a pact to rein in soaring plastic pollution, an environmental crisis that extends from ocean trenches to mountain tops.
Government officials cheered and punched the air after the adoption of a resolution to create a legally binding plastic pollution treaty, which is due to be finalized by 2024.
"We're making history today and you should all be proud," said Espen Barth Eide, President of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). "Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today's resolution we are officially on track for a cure."
The resolution, which UNEA calls "the most significant environmental deal since the Paris accord," is written in broad strokes and an intergovernmental committee is now tasked with negotiating a binding treaty that will have ripple effects on businesses and economies around the world.
Any treaty that puts restrictions on plastic production, use or design would impact oil and chemicals companies that make raw plastic, as well as consumer goods giants that sell thousands of products in single-use packaging.
This would also have a significant impact on the economies of major plastic-producing countries, including the United States, India, China and Japan.
Although U.N. officials were united in celebrating the agreement to have a plastic treaty, there remain disagreements over what should be include in a final pact, Switzerland's ambassador for the environment Franz Perrez said.
"This is a division between those who are ambitious and want to find a solution and those who don't want to find a solution for whatever reasons," he told a news conference in Nairobi on Tuesday.
There is overwhelming public support for a U.N. treaty on plastic pollution, according to an IPSOS poll released this month, and delegates were swift to celebrate what they had achieved in Nairobi.
"This is only the end of the beginning, we have a lot of work ahead of us," said a tearful Monica Medina, the head of the United States delegation. "But it is the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastic waste for this planet."
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