From February 28 to March 2, at the United Nations Environment Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, governments around the world will discuss ways to formulate the first global treaty to deal with plastic pollution.
The United Nations Environment Conference in the Kenyan capital could authorize an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to promote an agreement requiring all countries to eliminate plastic spills through national goals and plans, especially to reduce plastic spills into the sea, and recycle and manage them.
The amount of plastic in the ocean is difficult to understand - there are as many as 51 trillion pieces of plastic in surface water alone. Marine plastic pollution will harm animals, which will ingest it, and the risk to humans of eating seafood contaminated by it is still unknown.
Most of the plastic entering the ocean comes from rivers: a report found that up to 95% of the plastic comes from only 10 river systems, eight of which are in Asia. A large part of it comes from developed countries, which have exported it to developing countries for recycling or disposal.
In addition to a large number of floating plastic deposits, such as the Pacific Garbage belt, which is three times the size of France, scientists are also worried about micro plastics less than 5mm, which can be found everywhere from the far south pole to the deepest trench.
Plastic pollution is not limited to water. Plastic has been found in every corner of the earth from the Arctic to Mount Everest. In addition, plastic production is the main driving force of climate change. If the whole plastic life cycle is a country, it will be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Although technical solutions to clean up plastic waste have proved successful and attempts to limit the use of disposable plastics are welcome, the challenge remains to limit the production of materials first. Only a global agreement can achieve this goal.
Existing global treaties cover the elements of the issue: the Basel Convention regulates the trade in wastes, including plastics; IMO is responsible for the disposal of marine plastic waste on ships; The Stockholm Convention protects humans from plastic products. However, there is no overall tool representing problem-solving at the global level.
The United Nations put forward the idea of global response to plastic pollution at the third environmental conference in 2017. It established an open-ended ad hoc expert group on marine litter and microplastics to consider the form of a global agreement.
Momentum has been building up ahead of this month's negotiations, with 154 countries supporting negotiations on a new global agreement. At the end of last year, Peter Thomson, the UN special envoy on oceans, said at the cop26 climate summit that a treaty in Nairobi was crucial to maintaining marine health. More than 70 consumer brands, including Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Unilever and IKEA, issued a joint statement in January and formulated plans to reduce the production and use of plastics. It is worth noting that the United States, the world's largest producer of plastic waste, announced at the end of last year that it would participate in the negotiations.
In order to begin negotiations on a global treaty, a resolution defining its scope and mandate must first be adopted at this month's environment conference. At present, three such resolutions have been proposed and will be discussed at this meeting.
One of the resolutions, proposed by Rwanda and Peru and co sponsored by about 50 countries including Norway, Chile, Pakistan and the European Union, is considered the most ambitious. It proposes an "open mandate" for the negotiating committee, which means that negotiators can work on a wide range of issues related to plastic pollution as the discussion progresses. It proposes to adopt a "full life cycle" approach to plastics to solve the problems of plastic production and waste management. Its wording aims to solve the problem of plastic pollution in any environment, not just the ocean.
The second resolution was proposed by Japan and supported by Antigua and Barbuda, Cambodia, Palau and Sri Lanka. The resolution specifically targets "marine plastic pollution", focuses on the management of plastic waste (rather than production), and puts forward a closed mandate, which means that negotiators can only address this aspect of plastic pollution when trying to reach an agreement.
The third resolution is an alternative resolution on disposable plastics issued by India on January 31. Unlike other proposals, India's document focuses on a voluntary framework rather than a mandate to create a legally binding global agreement.