On the 2nd of March, in Nairobi, the United Nations Environmental Assembly adopted a resolution enabling an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding treaty on plastic pollution.
The fifth session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) had opened on the 28th of February with action towards a globally binding treaty on plastic pollution at the top of the agenda.
UNEA is the highest decision-making body on environmental matters in the UN system: it has 193 member states and functions as the governing body of the United Nations Environmental Programme.
The resolution, submitted by Rwanda and Peru and cosponsored by a broad coalition of countries, was endorsed by 175 countries, in a move hailed as the most significant environmental agreement since the Paris climate accord in 2015.
A global movement to control plastic pollution emerged over the past decade, consisting amongst others of the #breakfreefromplastic movement which has more than 11,000 member organisations, and the European ‘Rethink plastic’ coalition.
Similarly, the number of scientific publications on plastic pollution quadrupled between 2013 and 2017.
The problem of microplastics and marine litter was first brought to the attention of UNEA by Norway in 2014. Despite this rising awareness, however, global plastic production and disposal has continued to grow from 200 million metric tons in 2002 to 367 million tons in 2020, of which two thirds remains in the environment, notably in freshwater bodies and the oceans.
Concern has grown about the epidemic proportions of the problem, and the cause has been located in the fragmentation of the global governance of plastic throughout the life cycle as well as across states.
The intention of the current resolution is to reach agreement within the Committee within two years, such that a draft Treaty can be approved in 2024.