Towards a New Global Plastic Agreement
What steps are needed to take a participatory approach towards a new global agreement on marine litter and plastic pollution? This was the central issue of a Flagship Event at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5). This event, organized by the governments of Germany, Rwanda, and Peru, focused in particular on the role of stakeholders at all levels in establishing an ambitious and effective global agreement. There was also discussion about the UNEA-5 resolution to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to negotiate a legally binding global agreement to address plastic pollution. Many speakers hailed agreement on this resolution as a major achievement, and called for the INC to develop an ambitious and effective instrument. The event, which was held both in-person in Nairobi and online, was part of a series of meetings focused around the theme “Nature for Humans and Ecosystems Health.” It was hosted by Joy Doreen Biira, a Kenya-based journalist and media personality.
Panel One: Ministers and Government Officials
In the first panel discussion, ministers and officials from seven countries spoke. All highlighted their support for a legally-binding instrument and hailed agreement on an INC at UNEA-5. Many speakers also stressed the need for multi-stakeholder involvement.
In her welcoming presentation, Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, praised Kenya, Rwanda, and other African countries for taking the lead in banning plastic bags and restricting single-use plastic products. However, she also expressed concern at the urgency of the situation, noting that 11 million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans each year.
Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment of Rwanda, highlighted her country’s steps to ban plastic bags and single-use plastics. However, noting no country can solve this crisis alone, she called for an international agreement, stating that “unless all of us are resilient, none of us will be resilient.”
Ana Teresa Lecaros Terry, Environment Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Peru, described UNEA’s adoption of a resolution to create an INC for a binding treaty as an “historic moment.” She highlighted the global threat of micro-plastics and urged raising public awareness.
Steffi Lemke, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety, and Consumer Protection, Germany, said we should “gear business practices more closely to a circular economy.” She suggested the INC convene by the end of 2022 with a goal of agreeing on an outcome by UNEA-6.
Joshua Wycliffe, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Waterways and Environment, Fiji, said a future agreement should provide global consistency and accountability for businesses and governments.
Gustavo Manrique Miranda, Minister of Environment and Water, Ecuador, highlighted the very positive impact of his country’s innovative bottle recycling scheme.
Damptey Bediako Asare, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Kenya, praised UNEA-5’s success in negotiating a resolution on plastic pollution, adding that it was an honor to co-chair these discussions.
Canada’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Christine Hogan, noted her country’s role as an Ocean Plastic Charter champion and stressed the role of business, youth, Indigenous Peoples, and other stakeholders.
Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, speaking virtually, noted his country’s support for developing countries and public-private partnerships on plastic pollution initiatives.
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Rocky Dawuni performed a song urging listeners to “shine your light for a better world.” He highlighted the role musicians can play in advocating for urgent action on plastic pollution.
Panel Two: Stakeholder Discussion
Patricia Kombo, Centre for Environment Justice and Development, Kenya, said a future treaty must address the harmful toxins and chemicals in plastics, and must engage with and listen to young people.
Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, said the INC should address all plastic waste, not just plastic that ends up in the ocean. She also urged more research on the impacts of plastics on terrestrial environments and species.
Ed Shepherd, Senior Global Sustainability Manager at Unilever, said his company strongly supports an international treaty covering both upstream and downstream actions and views a treaty as “an enabler of progress.” He highlighted two challenges where he hoped an international agreement might help: the artificially low price of virgin plastic; and the need for collection and recycling targets and design standards.
Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, said the task of establishing an agreement would not be easy and would not happen without all stakeholders, from civil society to youth to the scientific community to the private sector.
Allison Lim, Vice President, Alliance to End Plastic Waste, supported an inclusive approach to the INC recognizing local and national needs and capacities. She supported steps to explore, develop, de-risk, and scale sustainable and commercially-viable models for waste management, and proposed looking beyond traditional funding models.
Suggesting a treaty should end all plastic entering nature, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, said it should have measurable targets and include upstream production and reduction of plastic, including virgin plastic. He also proposed the treaty embrace global solutions, including bans if needed. He supported Rwanda’s call for a “high ambition coalition” and anticipated “tough discussions ahead” to achieve an effective treaty.
In closing remarks, Gunnar Andreas Holm, Permanent Representative of Norway to UNEP and UN-HABITAT, welcomed the realization that plastic pollution is a common challenge for all humanity and supported the next step of achieving a binding instrument.
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