Yesterday, March 2nd, UNEA’s president brought the gavel down on a historic resolution at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2). With a new mandate, UNEA now seeks to negotiate an international legally binding plastics agreement by 2024.

UNEA reports that the landmark agreement will address the full lifecycle of plastic, “from source to sea.” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), said the agreement is “the most important international multilateral environmental deal since the Paris climate accord.”

“But our work is far from over,” Andersen added. “World leaders must now show even more resolve in developing and implementing a treaty which addresses our current plastic pollution crisis and enables an effective transition to a circular economy for plastic.”

A more detailed breakdown of the resolution is soon to follow, but some of the key hinge points in the mandate for the treaty negotiations include:

The recognition of waste pickers’ part in cleaning up plastic pollution
The first international negotiating committee is to take place very soon, in the second half of 2022
The agreement to have a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.
“Microplastics” included in scope of plastic pollution
Language mentioning the role of design and considering the full life cycle of plastics

OPLN’s Managing Director Erin McCluskey had this to say after the resolution was passed:
“We hope our forum has provided a space for stakeholders who disagreed with each other to hear each other out on issues that are a part of the plastic pollution crisis. This moment came about because of the countless dedicated voices that have kept up the energy, disagreed in constructive and meaningful ways, and still kept momentum growing to the point that governments saw only one way forward.

Through our Country Dialogues, we will keep ensuring stakeholders from around the globe are included as negotiations move forward. We need deep participation – now more than ever – to bring an effective treaty to the table.”

Early Reactions from Around the World

-Rwanda’s UNEA representative and Minister of Environment, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, said. “We look forward to working with the INC and are optimistic about the opportunity to create a legally binding treaty as a framework for national ambition-setting, monitoring, investment and knowledge transfer to end plastic pollution,” she added.

-Though the resolution drew more heavily from Rwanda/Peru’s language, Japan’s delegate, Yutaka Shoda, hailed the agreement. “The important thing, is that we are united in developing an international, legally binding instrument.”

-The US representative in Nairobi, Monica Medina, fought back tears as she gave a statement in support of the mandate. “This is only the end of the beginning, we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Medina, the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. “But it is the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastic waste for this planet… I think we will look back on this as a day for our children and grandchildren.”

News Digest
OPLN news recommendations are a composite pulse of the most important stories coming out about the oceans plastics crisis. They are informational for our activist-to-industry network, not endorsements.
Nations sign up to end global scourge of plastic pollution
UN News | 3.2.2022

“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best,” said President of the Assembly, and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, Espen Barth Eide. “Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure.”
We Need a Global Plastics Treaty to Stop an Environmental Disaster

Dave Ford and Henry Englert, Scientific American | 2.22.2022

So while the U.N. is gathered in Nairobi, discussing, among other things, what it will take to stem the flow of plastics waste, we want to urge national leaders to support dialogues accessible to everyone, to quickly expand the scope of who is at the negotiating table in this global agreement.

Participation will be the lifeblood of the solution, and an unpopular treaty is sure to stall. Let’s set ourselves up for every holder of every stake to get involved as soon as possible—because there is no time to waste

Thanks for reading!