A historic step forwards for the global effort to tackle plastic pollution

The countries of the UN took a historic step forwards this week, agreeing a strong negotiating mandate for a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution. Common Seas has been calling for an ambitious mandate and we’re delighted by what was agreed in Nairobi, Kenya at the UNEA 5.2 meeting.

It was amazing to see the energy in the room when the document was finally agreed, and we’d like to thank our many NGO friends – particularly colleagues from the Center for International Environmental Law and the Environmental Investigation Agency – who played such a key role in pushing for a comprehensive mandate.

Ahead of the negotiations, Common Seas set out six key points we wanted included in the mandate for the future Global Treaty. Here’s how the final mandate stacks up against our demands:

• Legally binding and timebound.

We’re very pleased to see that the mandate calls for a legally binding treaty. However, it will need compliance mechanisms that are strong enough to deal with those who choose not to play their part, and at the moment, they’re a bit weak. Although specific timings aren’t in the mandate, it does say that the implementation of the treaty, and its effectiveness, should be reviewed regularly. So if progress is limited, we’ll find out and be able to demand improvements.

• Cover the entire lifecycle of plastic.

This was agreed, and it’s great news as it should mean that the treaty takes into consideration the huge environmental impacts of creating plastics from fossil fuels, and forces improvements in the production, design and manufacture of plastic products.

• Require National Action Plans.

We’re really pleased with how this turned out. The mandate doesn’t just call for countries to develop National Action Plans, but also for them to be implemented and periodically updated. So these won’t just be documents that gather dust on a shelf somewhere after they’re written, but that lead to real-world action, and that are reviewed and improved from time to time.

• Emphasize upstream action.

Another win, because the agreed mandate calls for a treaty that will incentivise plastic reduction, eco-design and circular economy approaches, rather than just focusing on the traditional end-of-pipe solutions that don’t tackle the fundamental problem. Further, it calls for National Action Plans to promote work towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution. The aim to eliminate plastic pollution over time is really important, and having it written down in black and white in the mandate is a huge success.

• Introduce common monitoring and reporting that requires baseline setting and regular reports.

There’s a more mixed picture here. The mandate calls for national reporting, but only stipulates ‘as appropriate’. As the saying goes, ‘What gets measured gets managed’, so we think this is a must! Common Seas will be keeping a close eye on this issue as the treaty is negotiated and will push for sensible reporting requirements that everyone can sign up to, so we can monitor the progress of all countries, not just the best performers.

• Recognise the need for a varied approach.

There is a clear recognition in the mandate that we need to take account of national circumstances and capabilities – because countries start from very different places, both in the size of their plastic pollution problem and their ability to solve it.

The mandate makes a clear call for all UN Member States to step up activities to combat plastic pollution TODAY.

We heartily agree, given the years of negotiation ahead before a treaty is enacted. You can find out how Common Seas is it's bit at a virtual event we’re hosting on Friday 11 March. We’ll be discussing with an international panel of guests the question of ‘How to create national policy that will solve plastic pollution’. If you’d like to know the answer, do please join us! Full details of the event can be found here.

This has been a momentous week in our journey towards a cleaner and healthier world, free from plastic pollution. Common Seas is delighted with the strength of ambition that has been shown by the countries of the world. Of course, this is only the first step, and the Treaty itself still has to be negotiated over the next two years. In the meantime, we at Common Seas look forward to supporting countries to set baselines, formulate and implement action plans and ultimately eliminate the scourge of plastic pollution.

Sign up to our Newsletter to hear about the latest updates from the Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution, Common Seas' policy work and to access resources that can help your country progress towards a healthy Ocean, free from plastic.

Header image source: www.TurnOffThePlasticTap.com. To find out more about the Giant Plastic Tap installation pictured, which was created by international artist and activist Benjamin Von Wong.

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