UN Environment Assembly opens with hopes on global treaty on plastic pollution


Environment ministers and other representatives from over 150 nations gathered here on Monday to launch the three-day hybrid (in-person and online) resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2).

Amid concern over intensifying hostilities in Ukraine and a call by the UN Secretary-General for an immediate ceasefire, the Assembly kicked off with high hopes to advance a global agreement on plastic pollution, among a series of draft resolutions on biodiversity and health, green economy, and circularity.

“Our Assembly gathers at a moment of severe geopolitical turmoil. More than ever, we must demonstrate that multilateral diplomacy can deliver,” said President of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, Espen Barth Eide.

“Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic of its own. Paradoxically, plastics are among the most long-lasting products we humans have made — and frequently, we still just throw it away. Plastic is a product that can be used again, and then over and over again, if we move it into a circular economy. I am convinced that the time has come for a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution,” Eide added.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Over the last week, we have seen tremendous progress on negotiations towards an internationally legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. I have complete faith that once endorsed by the Assembly, we will have something truly historic on our hands.”

“Ambitious action to beat plastic pollution should track the lifespan of plastic products — from source to sea — should be legally binding, accompanied by support to developing countries, backed by financing mechanisms, tracked by strong monitoring mechanisms, and incentivizing all stakeholders — including the private sector,” Andersen added.

The resolution on plastic pollution, as well as the other pressing environmental issues, will be formally decided by the member states in the closing plenary meeting of the Assembly on March 2.

The UN Environment Assembly meets biennially to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law; decisions and resolutions taken by the member states at the Assembly also define the work of UNEP.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the member states agreed on a two-step approach to UNEA-5: An online session (February 22 and 23) and an in-person meeting, which is taking place between February 28 and March 2.

Attended by over 3,400 in-person and 1,500 online participants from 175 UN Member States, 79 ministers and 17 high-level officials, the theme for UNEA-5 is “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

This highlights the pivotal role nature plays in our lives and in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

The Assembly will be followed by ‘UNEP@50’, a two-day special session of the Assembly marking UNEP’s 50th anniversary where member states are expected to address how to build a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.

The 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, was the first-ever UN conference with the word “environment” in its title.

The creation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was one of the most visible outcomes of this conference of many firsts. UNEP was created as the environmental conscience of the UN and the world.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)



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