Earth Day 2022
UN Environment Assembly Passes Resolution to End Plastic Pollution
On March 2, 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a resolution at its fifth session in Nairobi, Kenya to pave the way for establishment, by 2024, of a legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution.
Almost 5,000 participants from 175 UN member states attended the session both in-person and virtually. The session also discussed other challenges such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity, but the resolution on plastic pollution took centre stage. The resolution was proposed by Rwanda, Peru, Japan and India and received unanimous support from participants.
Estimates vary about the extent of plastic pollution in the world, but the UN Environment Program (UNEP) calculates that plastic production has skyrocketed from 2 million tons in 1950 to 348 million tons in 2017 with 11 million tons of plastic waste being dumped into the ocean every year, threatening marine species and the food security and livelihoods of coastal communities.
Inger Andersen, the executive director of UNEP, says that the resolution was a triumph of multilateralism and humanity’s quest to live on a clean and healthy planet. In her opinion, “today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics. This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord” and “is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it.”
According to some figures, “the shift to a circular economy will reduce plastics entering oceans by over 80 per cent by 2040, reduce virgin plastic production by 55 per cent and save governments 70 billion dollars by 2040.”
The website Global Initiative praises the proposed treaty for not simply intending to “cure” the symptoms of pollution. Instead, the goal is “to address the entire plastic lifestyle, from production to disposal, and to shift the focus from recycling to promoting a circular economy approach to plastics and eliminating single-use plastic.”
However, the adoption of the resolution has not gone unopposed. For example, leading up to the UNEP Kenya meeting, American oil and chemical interests lobbied the U.S. government to stop the imposition of limits in the resolution on both the production and use of plastic. Going against the entire thrust of the resolution, these big business interests are expected to continue their efforts to stop any binding measures being installed in the final 2024 global treaty. Nonetheless, the passing of the resolution at the Kenya meeting was an important step forward.
(With files from Xinhua and Global Initiative. Photo: Xinhua)