The WWF commends United Nations member states for taking a huge step towards fighting plastic pollution at the UN Environment Assembly on March 2, 2022, while remaining cautious about the roadmap ahead.
United Nations member states gathered in Nairobi, Kenya at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) to discuss a legally binding treaty to fight plastic pollution. The treaty, according to WWF, is one of the world’s most ambitious environmental actions since the 1989 Montreal Protocol – which effectively phased out ozone-depleting substances.
“[This meeting] is a critical milestone,” says John Duncan, No Plastics in Nature Initiative Lead, WWF International.
“Plastic pollution has been so widespread and also difficult to clean up that we need to address the problem at the source – at the level of production, consumption and trade,” he adds in an email interview with TRT World. “The patchwork of national and regional initiatives we currently have – mostly voluntary – aren’t adequate to effectively and efficiently tackle the problem of plastic pollution.”
Duncan believes that if done right, a new treaty can “help countries and other stakeholders overcome the urgent collective action problem posed by plastic pollution.” He notes that by setting a common standard of action, it would accelerate industry transformation and existing voluntary initiatives.
According to Duncan, everyone needs to work together to eliminate “unnecessary and problematic” plastic, shift to reuse models, radically increase recycling levels and stop the leakages in the current system. He notes that these would all fall into place as long as a strong global plastics treaty is implemented.
“Delaying such a global plastics treaty,” Duncan says, “will mean we continue to pollute ecosystems, resulting in significant ecological, social, and economic harm.”
Asked about the severity of the plastic pollution problem across the globe, Duncan explains that almost every species group in the ocean has encountered plastic pollution, with scientists observing negative effects in almost 90 percent of assessed species.
“Not only has plastic pollution entered the marine food web, it is significantly affecting the productivity of some of the world’s most important marine ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves,” he adds.
That’s not the extent of the plastic pollution; according to Duncan, several key global regions – including the Mediterranean, the East China and Yellow Seas and Arctic sea ice – have already exceeded plastic pollution thresholds beyond which significant ecological risks can occur. Duncan says “several more regions are expected to follow suit” in the coming years.
Duncan warns that even if all plastic pollution inputs were to stop today, marine microplastic levels would still more than double by 2050, noting that “some scenarios project a 50-fold increase by 2100.”
Duncan heralds the arrival of a new legally binding treaty on plastic pollution. The adopted resolution ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards a legally binding instrument’ establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee that will develop the specific content of the new treaty with the aim of completing its work by the end of 2024, he writes.
While the specific elements of the treaty are still to be negotiated in the next two years, the UN member states have decided, he says, that the following elements should be considered:
- Global objectives to tackle plastic pollution in marine and other environments and its impacts
- Global obligations and measures along the full lifecycle of plastics, including on product design, consumption and waste management
- A mechanism for providing policy-relevant scientific information and assessment
- A mechanism for providing financial support to the treaty implementation
- National and international cooperative measures
- National action plans and reporting towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution
- Treaty implementation progress assessment
Duncan emphasises the resolution’s recognition of plastic pollution constituting a threat to all environments and posing risks to human health. He says that it holds the private sector, and all stakeholders, responsible in developing and implementing the treaty, solving the problem through measures along the full life cycle.
Duncan repeats that the resolution adopted today, March 2, 2022 in Nairobi, is a “historic milestone” because it leads the way for nations to start negotiating “an ambitious and effective treaty” for plastic pollution. Yet, he says, the resolution is just the beginning, and that “we need to continue pushing governments to now negotiate and ratify the treaty as quickly as possible.”