• A historic resolution on plastic pollution is adopted at UNEA 5.2.
    A historic resolution on plastic pollution is adopted at UNEA 5.2.

Leadership on tackling plastic pollution got a boost at the UN Ocean Conference when 21 new governments announced they will join the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Established in 2018 and led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Commitment brings together stakeholders across the plastics value chain to drive the transition towards a circular economy for plastic.

All business and government signatories set ambitious actions and targets across the lifecycle to address plastic pollution and report annually on progress. 

On the eve of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, at a side event co-hosted by Kenya and France, the governments of Australia, Belgium, Kenya, Mexico and Thailand announced their intention to join the Global Commitment. 

Three of Mexico’s state-level governments (Baja, California, Baja California Sur and Sinaloa); as well as the cities of Queretaro, Ensenada and San Miguel de Allende; and 10 states from Brazil including Sao Paolo and the nine states of the Concorcio Nordeste (which includes Alagoas, Bahia, Ceara, Maranhao, Paraiba, Pernambuco and Sergipe) all announced they would become signatories.

During the opening of the UN Ocean Conference, president Nana Akufo-Addo announced Ghana would also be joining.

Growing momentum

The new governments follow 11 other governments (including Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Norway, Korea, Spain and Uganda) who announced they were becoming signatories of the Global Commitment at the French-led One Ocean Summit in February 2022. 

They joined other signatory governments and 500+ signatories from across the plastics value chain. 

In March this year, a historic resolution was adopted by countries at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), which calls for the convening of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop (by the end of 2024) an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. 

At a recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal, to prepare for the work of the Committee, governments agreed to participate in five meetings, with the ambition to finalise the work of the Committee within two years. 

“Joining the Global Commitment is a way to keep the momentum, while negotiations are ongoing,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of UNEP’s Economy Division. 

“It allows governments to try different approaches and measure, and report on progress in a voluntary, supportive environment.”

Widespread benefits

Aggarwal-Khan emphasised the benefits of transitioning to a circular economy for plastic. 

She cited a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which found that moving towards a circular economy not only reduces the annual volume of plastics entering our oceans by 80 per cent, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent, generates savings of US$200 billion, and creates an additional 700,000 net additional jobs, mostly in the global south. 

“So, let’s keep our foot on the accelerator and turn this plastic pollution tap off in a way that transforms how we consume and produce plastic, for everyone’s benefit and our environment,” she continued.

Urgent solutions

“Working with countries and businesses to address plastic pollution at its source is essential to stem the flow of plastics into the environment, to protect our oceans and the biodiversity they support,” said Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s minister for the environment. 

Ricardo Mourinho Felix, vice-president of the European Investment Bank, said that oceans must not continue to be a reservoir for our plastic waste.

“It’s vital to find solutions now to ensure our marine ecosystems do not continue to suffer from the scourge of pollution,” Felix said. 

“With close to 75 per cent of all plastic produced since 1950 ending up as waste, and often spilling into our waterways, there is an urgent need for action. We should never be in the situation where there may be more plastic than fish in our rivers and oceans.”

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