Reducing use of plastic, made from oil and gas, has implications for the climate as well as pollution levels, Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has said.
More than 100 nations convening in Nairobi are expected to take the first steps toward establishing a historic global treaty to tackle the plastic crisis afflicting the planet. This week, negotiators are looking at two main resolutions at the fifth UN environment assembly, one from Rwanda and Peru, which addresses the full lifecycle of plastics and has the backing of more than 70 countries, including 27 from the EU. The other, from Japan, backed by Cambodia, Palau and Sri Lanka, prioritises waste management interventions and limits its scope to marine litter. “If we manage to land it [an agreement], it will be the biggest thing we have done as a global community in a new multilateral environment agreement. We haven’t dealt with this issue with this degree of focus before. It is a very significant moment, and it is absolutely critical” Andersen continued.
Nat Geographic has reported that even as public awareness about plastic pollution grows, fossil fuel companies and their petrochemical subsidiaries are ramping up to make more plastic than ever in the years to come, the Oil & Gas Industries plan B. The industry—anticipating that action on climate change may reduce demand for oil and gas—sees plastic as a promising source of revenue growth. Similar stories have been posted and it has been reported in the Financial Times [paywall] and Reuters that manufacturers have been lobbying to weaken UN global plastics treaty proposal. As Reuters put it, a ‘U.N. pact may restrict plastic production. Big Oil aims to stop it’.
In the run up to the meeting there have been numerous announcements, endorsements, and report releases. A group of leading UK marine scientists have welcomed the move towards a global plastics pact ahead of the UNEA 5 conference in Nairobi. Also, more than 300 scientists and research organisations are calling on all UN member states to accept nothing less than the key elements of the stronger Rwanda-Peru resolution.
Tesco has announced it is to stop selling baby wipes that contain plastic in first for UK supermarkets and environmental groups have been putting the case for ‘why we urgently need a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution.
“This is a big moment. This is one for the history books,” Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told AFP this week. The exact scope of the treaty remains to be defined. “Public impatience is something that is very powerful,” Andersen told the Guardian. “The public has had enough. We are all dependent on plastic, but they obviously want to see some resolution of this issue.” Andersen, said an agreement at the UN environment assembly could be the most important multilateral pact since the Paris climate accord in 2015.
If the UN does not agree on a treaty to curb production and use of plastic, ocean plastic pollution could quadruple by 2050 and there will be widespread ecological damage, according to a WWF report earlier this month, and ocean plastic pollution threatens marine extinction.