- From establishing a science policy panel for chemicals and waste management to agreeing to restore ecosystems, the world passed 14 resolutions at the resumed session of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (unea) held in Nairobi, Kenya, between February 28 and March 2, 2022.
- The most crucial of these was the decision to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee that will forge a legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution.
- World leaders plan to start negotiations on this resolution in June.
- If the timeline is kept, this will be the second fastest environmental agreement to move from the adoption stage into negotiations.
- The proposed committee has the ambitious task of drafting an agreement on plastics by the end of 2024, when the leaders plan to meet for the sixth Assembly.
- Of the 11 global environmental agreements either in force or under discussion, the resolution to set up the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) in the 1990s was the fastest.
A Swift move but difficult Task
- The treaty on ending plastic pollution, which includes microplastics and marine litter, will have both binding and voluntary approaches.
- The resolution indicates that the committee has to include provisions promoting national and international cooperative measures and national action plans to work
towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution.
- The resolution indicates the possibility of a global fund and invites governments and other stakeholders to provide budgetary resources.
- While the resolution calls for strict action to curb the entire lifecycle of plastics, it is silent on whether the agreement will look at the oil, gas or coal sectors that are responsible for the raw materials used to make plastics. Currently, 99% of plastics are produced from petrochemicals.
- Since the agreement invites all relevant stakeholders, including the industries, there will be attempts to insert half-baked solutions like chemical recycling (plastic to fuel)
and incineration (including co-incineration).
- Countries are also holding on to plastics for which strict policy needs to be placed on the table. Eg: A report released at the Assembly shows Australia has been dumping plastic in asean countries despite banning the export of plastic waste in 2020 by shipping plastics in the form of plastic waste fuel that contains a range of toxic additives.
- In January, India released new guidelines under its extended producer responsibility (epr) norms that introduced the concept of plastic credits for the industry.
- The Assembly passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a comprehensive and ambitious science policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste
and preventing pollution.
- There were also resolutions on minerals and metals, sustainable lake management and climate mitigation and adaptation.
- The Assembly concluded with the adoption of a ministerial declaration reflecting concerns of UN member states on future pandemics and other health risks and called for enhanced protection of habitats and wild animals in view of risks of the lethal pathogens spreading to humans.
- The world’s adoption of the resolution to end plastic pollution by 2024 is only the first step in a long battle.