Common Seas asks for an Ambitious Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution that Safeguards our Oceans, our Climate and our Health

In March, the world took a decisive step forward in the fight against plastic pollution, when 175 nations agreed at the United Nations Environment Assembly to develop a legally-binding Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution.

The stakes are high. Our world creates 220 million tonnes of plastic waste every year – and without action ocean plastic pollution is on track to quadruple by 2040. By this point, plastic production will take up almost a fifth of the global carbon budget. Earlier this year Common Seas announced a study that found pieces of plastic in 77% of people tested.

Next week, a United Nations Environment Programme meeting in Uruguay will start to negotiate the terms of the Global Treaty. It’s the start of a multi-year process, so won’t be able to cover off all the issues in just one week. But we want it to set high expectations from the start, to ensure that ultimately governments deliver an ambitious Treaty that will safeguard our oceans, our climate and our health.

That’s why we’re calling for:

  1. Urgency
  2. Legality
  3. Upstream Action
  4. Accountability

Here’s why…

Urgency: we want to see clear evidence that this Treaty is going to be negotiated and finalised by 2024. With everything else that’s going on in the world at the moment, there may be a temptation for some countries or industrial sectors to suggest that we push the Treaty into the long grass, or to rush though a weak Treaty that will not be effective. That can’t be allowed to happen.

We agree with the 37 governments, including the UK Government, that joined the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, who want to phase out plastic pollution by 2040. If we delay the Treaty, this target will slip out of reach.

Legality: we want the Treaty to include legally binding measures on all countries.

Some people have suggested that the Treaty should leave it down to individual countries to decide how much they do, while others are pushing for voluntary approaches to be at the heart of the Treaty. We don’t think either approach is right.

Voluntary approaches may have a part to play, but they won’t deliver the change we need. If we want to eliminate plastic pollution by 2040, we need all countries, not just some, to take ambitious action.

Upstream action: we need a Treaty that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics, from extraction of the raw materials out of the ground right through to disposal of plastic waste.

Prioritising actions at the start of this lifecycle is crucial to stop plastic pollution at source, rather than just trying to manage the problem once it has been created.

This means we need controls on the overall production of plastic, as we’re never going to solve the problem if the amount of plastic that’s produced every year continues to increase exponentially.

It means the Treaty must focus on the elimination of single-use plastics and the move towards reusable and refillable alternatives; not just downstream actions like recycling and beach clean.

Accountability: we want every country accountable for addressing their share of the global plastic pollution problem. This means developing an ambitious National Action Plan setting out what they’re going to do, and then carrying out effective monitoring and reporting to show the plan is being properly implemented.

Common Seas works with Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to help them understand their county’s plastic pollution problem and set an ambitious national strategy. SIDS depend on healthy seas to survive, but their circumstances are often very different from the large, developed countries who tend to dominate the negotiation of international Treaties like this one. For example, they often lack the infrastructure needed for proper waste management. The treaty needs to recognise these specific needs and circumstances. We need to see the global north trailblazing the solutions, whilst also supporting countries with lower capacity to act.

Common Seas looks forward to playing our part in next week’s INC-1 meeting, based on these four priorities. We’ll let you know how it goes afterwards!

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