Why we urgently need a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution

This month could be critical in our journey towards a healthy Ocean, free from plastic.

Between 28th February and 2 March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) will meet in Nairobi, Kenya. Amongst the many issues on their crowded agenda, the world’s most senior environmental policymaking body will decide whether the United Nations should develop a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution.

The case for a robust Global Treaty is clear: without action, plastic pollution is forecast to quadruple within the next 19 years. As an organisation, we're committed to ensuring a legally binding treaty is in place, and supporting ten countries to build knowledge and evidence today that will enable them to become exemplar signatories to a future Treaty.

As a complex issue with many elements, we’ve pulled out the key points so you can quickly get to grips with what’s being discussed, why it’s important and how our Plastic Drawdown programme is here to support countries who need the most help.

Want to learn more? Join our event to find out how Common Seas are supporting governments to take ambitious steps towards a plastic free ocean.

Alternatively, please feel free to contact us directly at [email protected].

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What is UNEA 5.2?

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the United Nation’s most senior decision-making body on environmental policy. It was set up following the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, and meets every two years. Due to COVID-19, its fifth meeting was split in two, with the first part (UNEA 5.1) taking place virtually on 22 and 23 February 2021. UNEA 5.2 is the postponed second half of this meeting, and will take place in person between 28 February and 2 March 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya.

What is on the agenda at UNEA 5.2?

The UNEA 5.2 meeting will cover many aspects of global environmental policy, including the sustainable development goals, climate change, biodiversity, chemicals and a green recovery from COVID. Most relevant to us, the meeting will debate and decide whether or not the United Nations should develop a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution.

Why do we need a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution?

  • Current international policy on plastics is disjointed and uncoordinated, sitting across several different UN Conventions.
  • However, the world has come to recognise that plastic pollution is a serious and wide-ranging problem which needs urgent action.
  • Many countries and stakeholders are therefore calling for a dedicated UN Convention or Treaty. When well designed and well implemented, global treaties can enable rapid and coordinated action to tackle a serious environmental problem – as, for example, the Montreal Protocol did for the hole in the ozone layer in the 1990s.
  • Environmental NGOs are of the view that no global environmental issue of magnitude and urgency has ever been properly addressed without a legally binding international treaty.
  • An ambitious Global Treaty would drive coordinated and rapid action to eliminate plastic pollution by addressing the whole lifecycle of plastics.
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Common Seas’ position on the Treaty.

We strongly support the calls for a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution. To this end, we were proud to sign a global Call to Action, published by CIEL in December 2021, which was endorsed by over 750 groups from more than 120 countries.

We think the Treaty should:

  1. Be legal and timebound. Why? The problem of plastic pollution is urgent, and it's getting worse. We need the Treaty to commit all signatories to taking action to a timetable, and there needs to be the possibility of enforcement if they don't follow through.
  2. Cover the entire lifecycle of plastic. Why? Many of the environmental impacts of plastic occur at the very beginning of its lifecycle (e.g. the carbon impacts of the fossil fuel-based chemicals from which plastics are made). We need to address all stages of the lifecycle, including production, design and manufacture. Addressing ocean plastic pollution solely through measures focused on the end-of-life phase will never tackle the fundamental problem.
  3. Emphasise upstream action. Why? The production of single-use plastic items like coffee cups and takeaway boxes is a waste of resources, as well as leading to plastic pollution. It is much better to eliminate the problem all together through upstream action rather than just clearing up the pollution after it has happened.
  4. Require National Action Plans (NAPs). Why? We need this Treaty to deliver action, not words. So each country that signs up should be required to produce an NAP, setting out clearly what they will do to achieve all the objectives of the Treaty — plus how and when.
  5. Introduce common monitoring and reporting that requires baseline setting and regular reports. Why? It's vital that progress is demonstrated. To be able to measure change, countries need to set a baseline at the start of their journey, monitor the impacts their actions are having, and report their progress publicly on a regular basis.
  6. Recognise the need for a varied approach. Why? Countries start from very different places, both in terms of the size of their plastic pollution problems, and their abilities to solve this without external support. We need to see the global north trailblaze the solutions, whilst allowing countries with a lower capacity to act on a longer timeframe with financial support.

Click here to read our position statement in full.

How Common Seas can help.

We want to support countries — particularly low and middle-income countries (LMIC) which have plastic leakage and high ambitions but limited capacity to tackle plastic pollution — to make early progress towards the likely requirements of the Global Treaty.

Drawing on our experience of working with over 20 countries, we will support ten new countries to build the knowledge and evidence to announce policy. To do this we will use our Plastic Drawdown tool — a rapid, cost-effective, and user-friendly approach that is adaptable to low-data environments, and has proven effective in supporting ambitious policy action to address plastic pollution.

Click here to read our recent case study with the Maldives. Working with government, we used Plastic Drawdown to develop a roadmap that could reduce ocean-bound plastic waste by some 85% by 2030.

Throughout 2022 and beyond, we're scaling Plastic Drawdown to 10 new countries. Chosen partners will have access to Common Seas’ proven policy, circular economy and modelling expertise, as well as proven tools to help bring about a circular economy for plastics that engage and support businesses, communities and the next generation.

If you are committed to addressing plastic pollution in your country, but lack the baseline data, technical skills, or framework needed to develop a holistic policy response then please get in touch.

"Plastic Drawdown was critical in building the case for phasing out single-use plastics across the Maldives" … "Common Seas delivered not only solid evidence for what we could achieve, but also practical advice on how to achieve it" A spokesman for the President of the Maldives.

Interested in finding out more?

Join our free, online UN Ocean Decade event 'How to create national policy that will solve plastic pollution' on March 11th, 9:00-10:15am CET.

Part of the official UN 'Laboratory' event series, we'll be discussing how you can demonstrate leadership on plastic pollution using Plastic Drawdown, and what 'getting ready' for a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution looks like.

Register your interest here. Alternatively, please feel free to contact us directly at [email protected].

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