Get all your news in one place
100’s of premium titles. One news app. Zero ads. Just $10 per month.

UN to take first step towards 'historic' plastic treaty

The amount of plastic trash entering the oceans is forecast to triple by 2040. ©AFP

Nairobi (AFP) - The United Nations is to launch formal negotiations on Wednesday for a global treaty to address the planet's "epidemic" of plastic trash, a moment that supporters describe as historic.

The UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), convening in Nairobi, is poised to adopt a resolution creating an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalise a legally binding agreement by 2024.

"This is a day for the history books," said Norway's climate and environment minister, Espen Barth Eide, who chairs UNEA.

"We are about to embark on an extremely important process of negotiating a solid treaty to ban plastic pollution." 

The framework for a comprehensive accord also has the approval of major plastic-producing nations, including the US and China.

Officials say it gives negotiators a strong and broad mandate to consider new rules to target plastic pollution, ranging from the phase of raw material to product design and use and, finally, disposal.

This could include limits on making new plastic, which is mainly derived from oil and gas, although policy specifics will only be determined during later talks.

The mandate provides for the negotiation of binding global targets with monitoring mechanisms, the development of national plans and financing for poorer countries. 

Negotiators also have the scope to consider all aspects of pollution -- not just plastic in the ocean but tiny particles in the air, soil and food chain -- a key demand of many countries.

'Monumental decisions'

The amount of plastic trash entering the oceans is forecast to triple by 2040, and governments have been under pressure to unite behind a global response to the crisis.

"Today, no area on the planet is left untouched by plastic pollution –- from deep sea sediment, to Mount Everest," said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. 

"The planet deserves a truly multilateral solution to this scourge that affects us all."

The rate of plastic production has grown faster than any other material and is expected to double within two decades, the UN says.

But less than 10 percent is recycled and most winds up in landfill or oceans creating what Eide called an "epidemic" of plastic trash.

By some estimates, a garbage truck's worth of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute.

Large pieces of plastic are a notorious peril for sea birds, whales and other marine animals.But at the microscopic level, particles of plastic can also enter the food chain, eventually joining the human diet.

"The world is demanding action on plastic pollution," said Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which is hosting the talks.

"Decisions that you take today will be monumental."

But she cautioned that after this "crucial step" would come the hard work of negotiating a strong and binding treaty.

Environment groups are buoyed by the broad scope given to negotiators but say the strength of the treaty is yet to be determined.

The first round of negotiations is set for the second half of this year, according to sources involved in the process. 

Big corporations have expressed support for a treaty that creates a common set of rules around plastic and a level playing field for competition.

Big plastic makers have underscored the importance of plastic in construction, medicine and other vital industries and warned that banning certain materials would cause supply chain disruptions.

Related Stories
UN takes 'historic' step toward global treaty on plastic trash
Nairobi (AFP) - The United Nations on Wednesday agreed to start negotiating a world-first global treaty on plastic pollution in…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
UN agrees to create 'historic' global treaty on plastic trash
Nairobi (AFP) - The United Nations on Wednesday agreed to start negotiating a world-first global treaty on plastic pollution in…
World leaders agree to draw up ‘historic’ treaty on plastic waste
UN environment assembly resolution is being hailed as biggest climate deal since 2015 Paris accord
UN environment meeting in Kenya: a chance to finally act?
The United Nations Environment Assembly is gathering for three days in Kenya’s capital to find holistic solutions to today’s environmental…
Global and grassroots come together as landmark plastics agreement signed in Nairobi
Tired of the poor improper plastic waste disposal in Nairobi, Kenya, Nzambi Matee, 29, took it upon herself to solve…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
UN panel votes to create treaty to fight plastic pollution
A United Nations panel has agreed to create a legally binding global treaty to address plastic pollution in the world’s…