UN resolution to beat plastic pollution
On 2 March at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi, representatives from 175 nations endorsed a resolution to end plastic pollution and develop an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution, titled ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument’, addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.
An Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) will now be established, which is expected to create global rules and obligations to address the full life cycle of plastics, setting standards for the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building, and scientific and technical cooperation.
The legally binding agreement is expected to be completed by 2024 and will be designed to hold nations, businesses and society accountable in eliminating plastic pollution from the environment.
“Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics. This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris Accord. It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Let it be clear that the INC’s mandate does not grant any stakeholder a two-year pause. In parallel to negotiations over an international binding agreement, UNEP will work with any willing government and business across the value chain to shift away from single-use plastics, as well as to mobilise private finance and remove barriers to investments in research and in a new circular economy,” Andersen added.
A shift to a circular economy can reduce the volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80% by 2040; reduce virgin plastic production by 55%; save governments US$70 billion by 2040; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%; and create jobs, according to UNEP.
Plastic pollution in Australia
The Australian Government developed the National Plastics Plan in 2021 to address the plastic pollution problem in Australia and voted in favour of the UN resolution for a legally binding agreement to cover the whole life cycle of plastic by 2024.
Australia now produces 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, equating to 100 kg per person. Of this, only 13% of plastic is recovered and 84% is sent to landfill. Around 130,000 tonnes of the plastic we consume leaks into the environment each year.1
Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) plastic pollution expert Shane Cucow welcomed the agreement and said it would bring benefits to the places in Australia that are prone to plastic pollution from overseas.
“While most of the plastics on our coasts originate in Australia, some of our wildest places like the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands accumulate vast amounts of plastics and lost fishing gear that originate from around the world.
“Monsoonal winds and global ocean currents carry lethal plastic pollution and fishing gear from overseas into these areas with devastating impacts on wildlife. The Gulf is a hugely important feeding and breeding ground for threatened species, including four different types of sawfish and six of the world's seven species of turtle.
“A global agreement to phase out unnecessary plastics worldwide, with financial support to manage plastic pollution in the nations who need it most, would mean less plastic polluting Australia’s remote coasts and oceans.”
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