A new international plastics treaty is being hailed as the biggest climate deal since the Paris Agreement. The historic decision was taken at a United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi this week where UN member states agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastics.
World leaders, environment ministers and other representatives from 173 countries agreed to adopt the mandate for an International Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop a legally binding UN Treaty on plastic pollution. This is the first time the UNEA has adopted a negotiation mandate for a legally binding multilateral environment agreement.
"The resolution 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 the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said.
The resolution calls for a legally binding instrument that addresses the "full lifecycle" of plastics, from production to disposal. It names circular economy approaches, product design, resource efficiency and environmentally sound waste management as objectives of the instrument. It also highlights "the importance of promoting sustainable design of products and materials so that they can be reused, remanufactured or recycled and therefore retained in the economy for as long as possible".
The resolution calls on all stakeholders, including UN member states and the private sector, to ramp up activities to reduce plastic waste and pollution. Treaty negotiations will take place over the next two years.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has applauded the decision, calling it a historic moment in the fight against plastic pollution and waste.
"This is a key moment in the effort to eliminate plastic waste and pollution on a global scale. The mandate agreed by UN member states opens the door to a legally binding treaty that deals with the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms," Ellen MacArthur said.
"Critically, this includes measures considering the entire lifecycle of plastics, from its production, to product design, to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created as part of a thriving circular economy."