Last month, I sat in the front row participating in the largest international effort yet to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution. On March 2, 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) agreed on a resolution titled “Ending Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument”. Even in the midst of geopolitical turmoil, this historic resolution is a victory for international cooperation. This is the first step in tackling the plastic pollution emergency.

Getting to this point is no small thing. Many believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, to meet the needs and aspirations of the world’s nations in one text. There are many questions on the table, such as whether the agreement will be legally binding or voluntary, and whether it will address plastic production and design or be limited to improving waste management and recycling. The agreement fully reflects the great work done by all negotiators and the spirit of cooperation and compromise shown by all parties.

What does this resolution do?

The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been tasked with convening a committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. They will use a holistic approach to address the entire life cycle of plastics. The committee will begin work in 2022, with the goal of finalizing a draft legally binding instrument by the end of 2024.

The tool will take into account national realities and allow for a country-driven approach to the problem, with flexibility to adapt to local circumstances. It is expected to include a national action plan to prevent, reduce and eliminate plastic pollution.

What is the United Nations Environment Assembly?

UNEA was established in 2012 to promote and create an international system of environmental governance. It is the highest environmental decision-making body in the world, with universal membership of all 193 member states of the United Nations. UNEA sets global environmental policy priorities and develops international environmental law. The General Assembly meets every two years to provide leadership, promote intergovernmental environmental action, and contribute to the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.To quote the former executive director of UN Environment, UN Environment is “World Environment Council.”

UNEA brings together scientists, business leaders, community members and other environmental leaders to highlight the most pressing environmental problems and develop global solutions. The conference aims to put the environment at the centre of the international community’s attention, placing it on the same level as issues of peace, poverty, health and security. The establishment of UNEP began in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. So this year the world is celebrating 50 years of UN Environment Engagement.

What does “legally binding instrument” mean?

A legally binding instrument is an enforceable agreement between countries. It is an important tool in tackling global challenges such as plastic pollution. In this context, tools are being developed to inform national environmental laws and policies governing the production, use and recycling of plastic products in countries around the world. Companies that manufacture, use or manage plastics and their waste could also be affected by the agreement.

There were a number of considerations when developing this protocol. For example, some aspects of plastic pollution are already addressed in other international treaties or conventions, so this must apply to all these agreements and organisations. The committee must consider what plastic is and how to address microplastics. They must also consider which parts are best addressed by binding obligations, voluntary measures or through national action plans.

Once the legally binding instrument has been adopted, the further evolution of the agreement, its obligations, evaluation and implementation will take place through the Conference of the Parties after its entry into force.

The private sector and other environmental stakeholders, such as the Marine Conservation Society, will have the opportunity to participate as observers to develop, inform and advise on the plastics protocol. Over the years, we have been involved in this process as a constructive partner to help bridge the gap between government, community organisations and the private sector. As an organization dedicated to protecting the environment, caring for our oceans and tackling climate change, we remain committed to this process.

This is a historic opportunity to tackle plastic pollution once and for all. Ocean Conservancy is excited to work with countries around the world on an agreement to create a healthier future for our oceans. There is no time to waste on solving the ocean plastic crisis. Our planet needs it, our children need it, our oceans need it.

The article Global Instrument to End Plastic Pollution first appeared on Ocean Conservancy.