The United Nations is due to launch formal negotiations on Wednesday on a global treaty to tackle an “epidemic” of plastic litter that supporters say is a historic moment for the planet.
The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), meeting in Nairobi, is set to adopt a resolution establishing an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalize a legally binding agreement by 2024.
The amount of plastic waste entering the oceans is expected to triple by 2040, and governments have come under pressure to unite behind a global response to the crisis.
The framework for a comprehensive treaty has been endorsed by UN member states, including major plastic producers like the United States and China, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
Officials say this gives negotiators a broad and strong mandate to consider new rules that target plastic pollution from its inception as a raw material to its design, use and safe disposal.
This could include limits on the manufacture of new plastic, derived from oil and gas, although policy details will only be determined in further discussions.
The mandate includes the negotiation of binding global goals with monitoring mechanisms, the development of national plans and funding for the poorest countries.
Negotiators also have the ability to look at all aspects of pollution – not just plastic in the ocean, but also tiny particles in the air, soil and food chain – a key requirement of many countries.
“One for the History Books“
“We are 100% satisfied with the result,” said Ana Teresa Lecaros, environment director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru, the country which co-signed one of the draft resolutions.
Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, said a plastics treaty would be “one for the history books” and the most important pact for the planet since the Paris agreement on the weather.
The production rate of plastic has grown faster than any other material and is expected to double within two decades, according to the UN.
But less than 10% is recycled, with most ending up in landfills or the oceans.
According to some estimates, the value of a plastic garbage truck is dumped into the sea every minute.
“Plastic pollution has become an epidemic in its own right,” said Norwegian climate and environment minister Espen Barth Eide, who chairs UNEA.
He said he was “rather optimistic” about dropping the hammer on a strong resolution in Nairobi.
Environmental groups are also backed by the outcome of the talks, but like officials and diplomats, warn that the strength of any treaty will only be determined by rigorous negotiations ahead.
The first round of talks is scheduled for May, according to sources involved in the process.
Big business has expressed support for a treaty that creates a common set of rules around plastic and a level playing field for competition.
Major plastic makers highlighted the importance of plastic in construction, medicine and other vital industries and warned that banning certain materials would lead to supply chain disruptions.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)