Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, Workers and Trade Unions, Youth, Women’s Organizations Urge UN Member States to Negotiate a Global Legally Binding Agreement to Address the Plastics Crisis.

over 700 groups from 113 countries called upon United Nations Member States to agree to establish a legally binding global instrument — a plastics treaty — at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5.2). During an event titled “Public Call to Action: A New Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution,” groups discussed a treaty that should establish a global framework to enable countries to address the ongoing threat to the environment effectively, biodiversity, the global climate, and human health from plastics.

The announcement from civil society organizations builds on to a majority of UN Member States and growing momentum from business and industry voices calling for the negotiation of a new international agreement to address the plastics crisis. The joint statement comes as many governments and corporations prepare for the upcoming UN Environment Assembly — currently scheduled for February 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya — when UN Member States will decide if there is a need for negotiations for a treaty on plastics.

Despite a doubling of voluntary initiatives and national regulations over the last five years, plastic continues to leak into the environment at alarming rates. There is an urgent need to amplify current efforts through a more coordinated and ambitious approach. In their call to action, 740 civil society, Indigenous Peoples, workers and trade unions, children and youth, women’s organizations have called for the urgent negotiation of UN treaty on plastic pollution to address the fragmented landscape of regulation and complement existing voluntary measures, supporting the existing call from 89 businesses and more than 2.150.000 individuals for this important international agreement.

By establishing a common structure, global goals, and binding targets, the treaty will significantly accelerate progress to close the tap of plastics flowing in our environment, harming both nature and people. The agreement should be designed to be consistent and complementary with national and regional action plans to harmonize policy efforts. It should also enhance investment planning, stimulate innovation, build capacity and structure to support compliance with the treaty’s targets, and coordinate infrastructure development. 

The call to action boldly states, “Governments should agree to a mandate coming out of UNEA5.2 to negotiate and adopt such an ambitious new agreement, with specific legally-binding provisions and obligations to prevent and remediate plastic pollution and its toxic impacts.” 

“We are in a plastics crisis, and we must move to end that crisis now. The complex global supply chain of plastic harms health, the climate, and the environment, yet solutions to those harms have often focused on waste management programs. The science is clear: what is needed to curb the plastic crisis is the adoption of an internationally binding agreement that includes preventative measures along the full life cycle of plastics. We must act together from the extraction of raw materials to the production of plastics products to legacy plastic pollution,” said Jane Patton, Campaign Manager for Plastics and Petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

“While the full impacts of plastics are still being quantified, it’s clear that plastics have harmful effects at each stage of the lifecycle. We see those harms to human health — from the toxic plastic production emissions released into the air breathed by frontline communities, to the often unwitting exposure of consumers to hormone disruptors and other chemicals leaching into their bodies from plastic products and packaging,” she added. “A treaty is a much-needed push for the world to re-imagine and re-design entire systems in a manner that prioritizes human and environmental health and fundamentally respects human rights.”

Momentum is growing. In May 2021, two countries — Peru and Rwanda — announced their intention to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee to begin the process of developing the framework to attain “sustainable levels of plastic production and consumption” at UNEA 5.2. More recently, the subject has emerged in a declaration from 81 countries and in conversations at the World Trade Organization. Still, some Member States have yet to take a position regarding the treaty and its binding nature. 

The Call to Action calls upon UN Member States to urgently negotiate a new legally binding instrument to end plastics’ ongoing threat to human, animal, and environmental health.  Now more than ever, after having seen the outcomes of the recent climate talks in Glasgow — where civil society has been excluded from many conversations — this process must be predicated on a just and robust system for ensuring all stakeholder meaningful participation and implementation at all levels under a human rights-based approach.

“The world’s inability to manage plastic waste results in one-third of plastic, or 100 million metric tons of plastic waste, becoming land or marine pollution. People are fed up with seeing the pollution wash up on shores, contaminating our food and water supplies, and causing countless detrimental effects. The time is now for a UN treaty on plastic pollution that establishes the necessary common rules and regulations and stops the leakage of plastic pollution into the oceans by 2030,” commented Eirik S. Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Manager at World Wide Fund for Nature.

 “Awareness about the plastic crisis has never been so high and we are seeing an unprecedented momentum at multiple levels attempting to solve it.” — said Christina Dixon, Deputy Campaign Lead for Oceans at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “But, history has proved again and again that without globally coordinated efforts, such as a treaty, short-sighted attempts to respond to the crisis will be insufficient and will ultimately fail to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment and in our bodies. There is no excuse for further delays to negotiations or attempts to downgrade ambition.”

Read the Civil Society Call to Action for a Plastics Treaty.

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