UN-Led Effort to Draft Plastics Treaty to Address Ocean/Land Pollution

plastics treaty
Treaty would seek to address the growing amounts of plastic trash on land and in the oceans (file photo)

Published Jun 5, 2023 5:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Efforts are underway to tackle the problems of plastic pollution by developing a legally binding international that seeks to eliminate or reduce the global dependence on plastics which are piling up both on land and in the world’s oceans. As the globe marks World Environment Day, negotiators meeting in France over the past week resolved to prepare a draft resolution on plastic pollution setting in motion the process to develop a Global Plastics Treaty that could be adopted as soon as the end of next year.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is spearheading the push for a binding treaty, urging all stakeholders including governments, companies, and consumers to break the world’s addiction to plastics. It is part of his initiatives championing zero waste to build a truly circular economy. “Together, let us shape a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all,” he said to mark World Environment Day.

At the Paris meeting during the second session of the UN’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), delegates mandated the INC chair to come up with a draft treaty that will be subjected to discussions in the next INC session in November. The second session attended by 1,700 participants follows INC-1 which was held in Uruguay in November last year.

“I am encouraged by progress at INC-2 and the mandate to prepare a draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. The world is calling for an agreement that is broad, innovative, inclusive, and transparent, one that leans on science and learns from stakeholders, and one that ensures support for developing nations,” said Inger Andersen, UN Environment Program Executive Director.

Despite delegates reaching a consensus on the development of a draft deal, divisions abound with concerns that top economies including the U.S., Russia, and China together with oil-producing countries and the fossil fuel industry are determined to water down the treaty.

Greenpeace International is pushing for a strong global plastics treaty. The environmentalist group contends that oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry are opposed to a binding instrument on the basis that it will keep oil and gas that is used to produce plastic in the ground and cripple their relentless plastic production factories.

“Time is running out and it is clear from this week’s negotiations that oil-producing countries and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process,” said Greenpeace in a statement. The NGO added that considering that plastic pollution and the climate crisis are two sides of the same coin, the world needs a strong treaty to tackle plastic production head-on, thus aligning with the need to stay within 1.5? climate targets.

The push for a globally binding treaty comes as mounting volumes of plastics is worsening. UN research shows that over 430 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste. Every day, the equivalent of over 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. While the social and economic costs of plastic pollution range between $300 million to $600 billion per year, the world could save a staggering $4.5 trillion by 2040 by redesigning the production, use, recovery, and disposal of plastics and products.

“We must redesign products and packaging to use less plastic. We must reuse, recycle, reorient, and diversify our systems. This is how we keep plastic out of the ecosystems and in the economy,” noted Andersen.

Negotiations to develop the first international legally binding treaty to address the whole lifecycle of plastics began in February last year with a target of having a deal in place by the end of 2024. A global treaty on plastics is seen as the most significant multilateral environmental agreement since the 2015 Paris Agreement because it has the potential to put the world on a path toward a plastic-free future. At the Paris meeting, delegates agreed that the zero draft should reflect the discussions of INC-2 and should be all-inclusive with contributions and views from all member states. The next INC session will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, in November.