The resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) wrapped up on Wednesday with delegates adopting a resolution, which will pave the way for the establishment of a legally binding global treaty by 2024 to end plastic pollution.
More than 3,400 in-person and 1,500 virtual participants from 175 UN member states who attended the three-day global environment forum resolved to back legal tools that would revitalize action on the plastic menace.
Espen Barth Eide, the outgoing president of UNEA-5 and Norway’s minister for Climate and Environment, hailed the unanimous endorsement of a resolution to eliminate plastic pollution, terming it a milestone in the transition from linear to a circular economy that promises jobs, human and ecological health.
“Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution, we are officially on track for a cure,” Eide said, adding that the treaty would address plastic pollution from the source to end-users.
Proposed by Rwanda, Peru, Japan, and India, the resolution to end plastic pollution took center stage during discussions at the global environment forum, alongside other pressing ecological challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss.
Billed as the most important global environmental accord since the Paris climate deal of 2015, the resolution to end plastic pollution will open a new chapter in circularity.
The historic resolution titled “End plastic pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument” establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) that begins its work in 2022 with the aim of finalizing a global legally binding agreement by 2024.
With the endorsement of a legally binding global treaty, UN member states will be mandated to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, even as they foster technology transfer and knowledge sharing to boost the adoption of eco-friendly alternatives.
Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said the endorsement of a resolution to boost action on plastic waste was a triumph of multilateralism and humanity’s quest to live on a clean and healthy planet.
“Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics. This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord,” Andersen said. “It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it.”
Andersen said that as negotiations lead to the establishment of a global treaty on ending plastic pollution gathers steam, multilateral institutions will partner with governments and industry to explore financing and technological tools that can hasten the transition to a circular economy.
Statistics from UNEP indicate that plastic production soared from 2 million tons in 1950 to 348 million tons in 2017, hence becoming a formidable industry valued at 522.6 billion U.S. dollars.
An estimated 11 million tons of plastic waste flow into global oceans annually, threatening the survival of marine species, food security, and livelihoods of coastal communities, according to UNEP.
The shift to a circular economy will reduce plastics entering oceans by over 80 percent by 2040, reduce virgin plastic production by 55 percent, and save governments 70 billion dollars by 2040.
In addition, eliminating plastics will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent besides creating an additional 700,000 jobs in the global south, UNEP said. (PNA)