At a meeting of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi (UNEA-5), nearly 200 countries have agreed to begin negotiations on a legally binding treaty to tackle plastic pollution. Conservation charity WWF has described the move as one of the world’s most ambitious environmental actions since the Montreal Protocol of 1989, which slashed ozone-depleting CFC production worldwide. Much like the Paris Agreement is the framework developed to mitigate climate change, the plastic crisis desperately needs its own legally binding treaty, say supporters.
“One country can’t deal with plastic pollution alone, no matter how good its policies are,” says Prof Steve Fletcher of the University of Portsmouth, who advises the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on plastics issues. “We need a global agreement to enable us to deal with the widespread challenges that plastic gives us as a society.”
The negotiations between UN member states aim to draw up a global treaty that will set rules for production, use and disposal of plastics. Decision-makers will have until 2024 to agreed on the plastic pollution treaty, including how the measures will be financed and which elements will be legally binding. There are calls from environmental organizations to create robust global rules and regulations, with strong penalties for damaging products and practices. “There is debate about who pays and how do we make sure that countries in the global south have got the resources to deal with the plastic pollution crisis that they face,” says Prof Fletcher.
The plastics problem is certainly a monumental challenge. Every year, the world produces over 400 million tons of plastic, 40% of which is single-use. Much of that of plastic enters the oceans—an estimated 11 million tons each year—and it takes years to break down. It is thought that there are more than five trillion pieces of plastic are in the world's oceans.
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