UN pushes for global treaty on plastics as world leaders to meet this month in Nairobi

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Worldwide, at least 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the sea every minute.

If plastic production continues at its current rate, the plastic polluting oceans is due to triple by 2040 and could outweigh all fish in the ocean.

New Delhi: After years of largely ignoring the accumulation of plastic waste in the Earth’s environment, the world’s leaders will hold a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, on February 22 and March 2, to address the most daunting issue confronting humanity and the marine ecosystem.

The UN Environment Programme will host the meeting, which will bring together representatives from the UN’s 193 member states, businesses, civil society, and other stakeholders to agree on a “global treaty” to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Last October, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report citing the urgent need for a “waste treaty.”

“Plastics are the largest, most harmful, and the most persistent fraction of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 percent of total marine waste,” it said, adding that “while we have the know-how [to dispose of plastics properly], we need the government’s political will and urgent action to address the looming crisis.”

To arrive at a framework, the UNEA will consider two competing drafts. A more comprehensive one, sponsored by Rwanda and Peru, would attempt to address plastic pollution from production to disposal on a global scale. The other, sponsored by Japan, is more focused on the oceans and end-of-life issues.

According to the WWF Global Plastic Navigator, approximately 161 countries have expressed interest in a “global treaty” to address the plastic crisis.

So far, most nations have agreed to participate, but determining the scope, timeline, and details of such an unprecedented treaty will be difficult.

The United Nations has previously stated the need for political action to address the increasing plastic production and waste. So, from February 28 to March 2, the United Nations Environment Assembly will convene in Nairobi to draft a treaty framework, hammering out what will and will not be included.

Secretary-General of UN Antonio Guterres

The plastics industry is on board in some ways, but companies are working to change the treaty in a way that still benefits them.

At a ministerial conference last September, the European Union and 48 countries signed an agreement endorsing the need for a plastics control treaty, stating that “no country can adequately address the various aspects of this challenge alone; thus, there is a need to commit to establishing a balanced framework for international cooperation that includes coordinated actions to address the negative impacts of plastic along its life cycle and taking into account local complexities.”

At the time of writing, 81 countries had signed on, including the United Kingdom and all EU members, but not the United States or China. Despite the fact that the United States has not signed this United Nations document, President Joe Biden’s administration has agreed to participate in the treaty’s creation, reversing the Trump administration’s position.

According to a December report from the United States’ National Academy of Sciences (NAS), “at least 8.8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year, the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the sea every minute.”.

According to the report, the United States generated more plastic waste than any other country in 2016, exceeding that of all European Union (EU) member states combined.

According to a UN report released in October, humanity uses 500 billion plastic bags and 17 million plastic oil barrels each year. Every year, 13 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, and plastic kills 100,000 marine animals.

According to another UN report, “plastic production has increased exponentially in the last decades.” It is now around 400 million tonnes per year. Despite this, it is estimated that only about 12% of plastics produced are incinerated, and only about 9% are recycled. The rest was either disposed of in landfills or dumped into the environment, including the oceans.

“Without meaningful action,” the report said, “flows of plastic waste into aquatic ecosystems are expected to nearly triple from around 11 million tonnes in 2016 to around 29 million tonnes in 2040.”

According to a report by the Environment Investigation Agency (EIA), if current rates of plastic production continue, the amount of plastic polluting the oceans will triple by 2040 and could outweigh all fish in the ocean, declaring this a “global emergency.”

If this tidal wave of pollution continues unabated, the estimated 646 million tonnes of plastic in the seas by 2040 could outweigh the total weight of all fish in the ocean, according to EIA Ocean Campaigner Tom Gammage.

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