| 19 April 2024, Friday |

A global treaty to curb plastic pollution

More than 100 United Nations member nations will meet this month to draft the first-ever worldwide accord to combat plastic pollution. According to the United Nations, it might be the most important environmental agreement since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Why is it happening and what’s at stake?

– The globe is inundated with plastic garbage, which is difficult to recycle, slow to decompose, and expensive to bury and burn. It is causing harm to wildlife and poisoning the food chain. Multiple scientific studies suggest that 11 million metric tons of garbage wind up in the ocean each year, a figure that is anticipated to quadruple by 2040 unless manufacturing and consumption of throwaway plastics such as drinks bottles, delivery boxes, and supermarket bags are decreased.

– If the U.N. cannot agree on a deal to put the brakes on plastic pollution, there will be widespread ecological damage in coming decades, putting some marine species at risk of extinction and destroying sensitive ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves, according to a World Wildlife Fund study released this month.

– Fast-growing plastic production, which is forecast to double over the next 20 years, also poses a major climate-change threat, since plastic is largely derived from fossil fuels.

What’s the process?

– The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) will take place – in person and online – at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya from Feb. 28 to March 2.

– The primary goal is to hammer out broad terms for a global agreement on plastic pollution and form an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to broker a final deal.

– If member states can agree on a basic framework, the INC would then spend at least two years negotiating a final treaty to be signed.

What could be in a plastics treaty?

– Possible elements could include: caps on plastic production, commitments by member countries to phase out single-use and hard-to-recycle plastics, and targets to increase waste collection and recycling rates.

– There is a wide spectrum of potential outcomes. A key issue is whether provisions in any deal would end up being voluntary or legally binding.

What’s at risk for big business?

– Plastic-making oil and chemical companies, including Dow, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, have the most to lose from an ambitious treaty that would limit plastic production or phase out single-use packaging.

– Big consumer goods brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Unilever, which sell a myriad of products in throwaway plastic packaging, would also be impacted if the treaty places restrictions on the manufacturing or design of plastics.

  • Reuters