UN Passes Historic Resolution To End Plastic Pollution
In a historic move to deal with the global problem of plastic waste, 175 nations across the world adopted a historic resolution at the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi to forge an international "legally binding agreement” by 2024 to end plastic pollution. The landmark resolution addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal. The resolution calls for immediate collective voluntary action by countries towards the goal of ending plastic pollution. World leaders, ministers and other representatives at the United Nations environment assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, agreed to develop a treaty designed to bring an end to the scourge of plastic pollution.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), plastic pollution amounted for two million tonnes in 1950, which increased to 348 million tonnes in 2017, becoming a global industry valued at $522.6 billion. It is expected to double in capacity by 2040. The UN agency said that plastic production and pollution add to the “triple planetary crisis” of climate change, nature loss and pollution. Exposure to plastics harms human health and potentially affects fertility, hormonal, metabolic and neurological activity, while open burning of plastic contributes to air pollution. The agency said that by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics would account for 15 per cent of allowed emissions, under the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F) in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by this pollution through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers, while around 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow each year into the ocean. This could triple by 2040, the UNEP said.
The resolution, based on three initial draft resolutions from various nations, including Japan, Peru and Rwanda, establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) which will begin its work this year, aiming to complete a draft legally binding agreement by the end of 2024. The legally binding agreement would reflect diverse alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, to allow the revolutionary plan to be realised.
The resumed session of the 5th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) considered three draft resolutions to address plastic pollution. One of the draft resolutions under consideration was submitted by India that called for immediate collective voluntary action by countries. India engaged constructively with all member states in UNEA 5.2 to develop consensus on the resolution for driving global action on plastic pollution by setting up an intergovernmental negotiating committee for a new international legally binding treaty. On the insistence of India, the principle of national circumstances and capability while taking actions to address plastic pollution was included in the text of the resolution to allow developing countries to follow their development trajectories. India also stood for not mandating the intergovernmental negotiating committee with the development of targets, definitions, formats, and methodologies, at this stage, pre-judging the outcome of deliberations of the Committee. The provision for immediate collective voluntary actions by the countries was also included to address plastic pollution on an urgent and continual basis.
India has embarked on the journey to end plastic pollution by taking sound and effective measures through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) on plastic packaging as well as putting a ban on single-use plastic items having low utility and high littering potential. The single-use plastic ban coupled with extended producer responsibility guidelines provides a legal framework for addressing plastic pollution. The Government of India is aiming towards phasing out single-use plastics by 2022. In August 2021, The Central government had notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, that prohibits the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of several single-use plastic items from July 1, 2022.
India had also piloted a resolution on addressing single-use plastic products pollution during the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly held in 2019. The Government of India has already banned the import of plastic waste in the country. The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change under the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, banned the use of plastic carry bags below 50 microns. Further, many states/UTs have also banned identified single-use plastic items.