EU helps launch negotiations on landmark global agreement on plastic pollution

(Source: European Commission)

The United Nations Environment Assembly, meeting in Nairobi, has just agreed to launch negotiations on a legally binding global agreement to combat plastic pollution. EU diplomacy has played a key role in securing the support of the global community coming together in Nairobi for this agreement, which aims at reducing and eventually eliminating plastic pollution in all environments.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans said: “It is encouraging to see the global community come together at this time of crisis. Ever since the European plastics strategy was presented in 2018, the European Union has been a driving force to tackle plastic pollution. We are determined to keep pushing for ambitious global action, as the fight against the climate and biodiversity crises must involve all of us.” 

Speaking from Nairobi, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius welcomed the agreement: “About 11 million tonnes of plastic currently enter the ocean every year and this amount will triple in the next 20 years without an effective international response. Thus I am glad that with EU input the global community today stepped up to fight plastics pollution. We will engage actively in the discussions of a legally binding agreement that looks at all stages of the plastics life cycle from product design to waste.” 

The future agreement will aim to close the gaps that existing initiatives and agreements do not address, especially at the design and production phases of the plastics life cycle. It should bring together all stakeholders to achieve the overall goal to eliminate the leakage of plastic into the environment. The EU has put significant efforts throughout the years in outreach activities, working with partners and building support for a legally binding global agreement on plastics. The EU played a key role in bringing together the coalition of countries that spearheaded efforts towards today’s decision in Nairobi.

Key steps towards a global agreement on plastics

As outlined in the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU has emphasised the need for circular, life-cycle approach to plastics as a basis for a new legally binding global agreement. The solution lies in prevention, proper design and production of plastics, and their resource-efficient use, followed by sound management when it becomes waste. Commissioner Sinkevičius advocated this approach as a global priority in Nairobi.

The EU and its Member States believe that a global instrument needs to promote action at the national, regional and global levels and in particular enable countries to adopt implementation policies according to national specific circumstances, while applying a circular approach to plastics.

The future agreement could further identify the need for standards as well as measurable goals, and strengthen monitoring of plastic pollution, including marine plastic pollution, and assessment of their impacts in all environmental compartments. This would enable the adjustment of measures, both at the national and regional specific levels.

Next steps

The decision mandates the holding of the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in the second semester of 2022 and establishes the ambition to conclude negotiations by 2024. The EU will continue to work with its allies and other partners aiming at a rapid conclusion of the negotiations.

Background

Plastics can be a threat to the health and the environment if not treated properly. Approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste (an amount equivalent to the weight of the human population) are produced every year. However, only 9% is recycled; the vast majority of the rest accumulates in landfills or the natural environment. Over time, these materials break down into microplastics that ease additional pollutants into the human food chain, freshwater systems, and air.

Even with all commitments, efforts and actions that countries and regions are taking today, the world would see a limited reduction of plastic discharge into the oceans, of only 7% annually within 2040, if we continue with business as usual.

Despite a global momentum around the problem of plastic pollution, there is no dedicated international agreement specifically designed to prevent plastic pollution throughout the plastics lifecycle. The absence of agreed global response has hampered the ability of countries to implement effective measures, particularly those with trade implications and/or related to product standards.

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