Explained | What is the upcoming global treaty on plastic pollution?

This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord: UNEP Executive Director

Published - March 18, 2022 04:08 pm IST

A worker sorts and packs used plastic bottles and bottle caps collected in exchange for city bus tickets in Surabaya.

A worker sorts and packs used plastic bottles and bottle caps collected in exchange for city bus tickets in Surabaya. | Photo Credit: AFP

The story so far: On March 2, 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) voted to formulate an international legally-binding instrument by 2024 to end plastic pollution. The decision was taken at the fifth session of the UNEA in Nairobi, Kenya, and was agreed upon by representatives from 175 nations. The resolution identifies the threat that plastic pollution poses to human health and all environments, and focuses on the need to undertake measures throughout the lifecycle of plastics in order to efficiently reduce their negative impact.

The overall theme of the UNEA session was “strengthening actions for nature to achieve the sustainable development goals” and gave the member states a platform to share their best practices for sustainability.

What is the resolution?

The UNEA resolution to end plastic pollution establishes an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) which is expected to submit its draft agreement by 2024. The instrument is expected to be legally binding in nature and would contain alternatives to the full life cycle of plastics, as well as the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for improved international collaboration for scientific and technical cooperation among member states.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is scheduled to convene a forum by the end of the year to share knowledge and best practices. The INC members will then participate in open discussions during the course of the next two years until they come up with the draft instrument. The UNEP will convene a diplomatic conference to adopt the outcome of the INC and open it for signatures in 2024.

“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,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, was quoted as saying.

The resolution also recognises the role of the private sector and stakeholders in the implementation of the treaty and promotes actions at local, regional and global levels while keeping in mind the importance of plastics for society.

What are the considerations behind the new treaty?

The treaty to end global plastics pollution will focus on elements like global objectives to tackle marine and other types of environmental pollution and their impact, and worldwide obligations and measures throughout the lifecycle of plastics, right from product design to waste management.

The plastics pollution treaty will also include mechanisms for providing scientific information relevant to the policies of the resolution, and for helping with financial support for its implementation. It also identifies the importance of indigenous communities and their age-old practices to keep the environments pollution-free and calls for the knowledge of these communities to be taken into account by the INC.

The treaty will keep in mind national action plans and national and international cooperative measures towards achieving the goal of eliminating plastic pollution. Apart from these considerations, most of which are in the pre-implementation stages, the resolution will also consider including progress assessment for member states.

What is India’s stand on the treaty?

Speaking at the special session to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2018 statement to eliminate single-use plastics.

In 2018, India’s World Environment Day celebrations were themed on beating plastic pollution. “This call of India provided the momentum leading to significant action on plastic pollution around the globe, culminating in the historic resolution and its adoption,” Mr. Yadav said.

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