What is the Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution?

  March 10, 2022

On March 2, 2022, representatives from over 200 countries gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the continued fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. The assembly then created history when 175 countries unanimously agreed on a United Nations framework to fight global plastic pollution from cradle to grave. Plastic pollution has been deemed as one of the most important crises of the modern world. Studies estimate there are now 15–51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050, putting pressure on governments to find a global solution to curb the material's production.

The resolution agreed at the UN environment assembly calls for global rules, financing and enforcement mechanisms aimed at regulating plastics from manufacture through disposal, all to hopefully be hammered out by the end of 2024, with the final treaty language negotiated before 2025. This treaty will serve as a framework for an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop a legally binding agreement mandating countries to reduce, recycle, and manage plastic pollution, particularly in the oceans, through national objectives and strategies.

They will be expected to encourage regional and international cooperation as well as advocate national action plans aimed at preventing, reducing, and eliminating plastic pollution. The resolution has been described by the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as the most important multilateral environmental deal since the Paris climate accord in 2015.

Countries like India and Japan initially held firm against restrictions on production but was persuaded to go along. The UNEA resolution acknowledges that the final agreement “could include both binding and voluntary approaches,” and emphasizes the “need for a financial mechanism to support the implementation of the instrument, including the option of a dedicated multilateral fund.”

While environmentalists are expressing optimism, the plastics industry is concerned about the UN resolution. The treaty resolution, in fact, even addresses the extraction of chemicals used in production, meaning it could seriously impact the oil industry.

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