The United Nations is urged to make a bold promise and set a target of zero for new plastic pollution by 2040 in its upcoming Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution. Plastic production and subsequent pollution are key drivers of climate change, the focus of discussion at COP27 in Egypt this week.
call for zero plastic pollution
In an article published today in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, Professor Steve Fletcher, Director of the Global Plastics Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth, sets out his rationale for the ambitious target. The University team has advised the United Nations Environment Programme, the G20 and the World Bank on plastic policy, including the possible structure and content of the global agreement to tackle plastic pollution.
Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth, has set an ambitious goal. The university team has advised the United Nations Environment Programme, the G20 and the World Bank on plastic policy, including the possible structure and content of a global agreement to combat plastic pollution.
The goal of the treaty should be ambitious and meaningful, says Professor Steve Fletcher, adding that we are calling on the United Nations to reduce new plastic pollution to zero per cent by 2040. To achieve this, policymakers, businesses, researchers and the wider society must be involved, he said.
Plastic pollution grew from 2 million to 348 million tons
According to the study, the metrics to measure progress must be aligned with a strict goal and international policies must be implemented through cohesive action at the national level. It is believed that the combination of these three things should lead to the systemic change necessary to eliminate plastic pollution.
Some 200 countries have pledged to go ahead with the treaty. With each country facing different financial, social and political priorities and constraints, the University of Portsmouth team believes governments need to be more proactive in their work to eliminate plastic pollution.
Professor Fletcher and the team at the Global Plastics Police Center say that current national policies on plastics address only part of plastic pollution. They believe that ambition is limited and that policies often only extend the time before plastic becomes polluted, rather than addressing the root cause of the problem.
Between 1950 and 2017, plastic pollution grew from 2 million tons to 348 million tons, according to UN figures. This situation has turned plastic into a global industry valued at $522.6bn (£456.1bn), expected to double in capacity by 2040.
One of the main challenges of ending plastic pollution has been the ambiguity surrounding what this effort actually entails. According to the team, although 200 nations are committed to the development of the treaty, each country has different priorities and financial, social and political obstacles.
Global pollution crisis
For this reason, experts from the University of Hampshire have stressed the need for a “single objective and an agreed strategy”.
"Plastic is extremely useful, but mismanagement has led to a global pollution crisis that is exacerbating climate change," said lead author Antaya March. “A complete transformation to a circular plastics economy is needed to radically reduce or eliminate plastic pollution while supporting necessary use.”
March explained how plastic value chains often pass through multiple jurisdictions with different laws, rules and regulations.
"At best, country-specific policies, such as bans on specific plastic products, do not have the scope to significantly affect the global drivers of plastic pollution," she said. “At worst, they create international legal and policy inconsistencies that push plastic waste to places with the least capacity to manage it safely.”
In a worst-case scenario, they create international legal and policy discrepancies that push plastic waste to places with the least capacity to safely dispose of it.
It is estimated that current promises to combat plastic pollution will reduce plastics entering the environment by about 7 per cent by 2040, compared to business as usual. This is why we need an ambitious goal for which all nations can work.
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