A new global agreement to address the ocean plastic pollution crisis is a crucial step closer to reality, potentially saving Australia’s ocean wildlife from drowning in plastic, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the representatives of 175 nations endorsed a historic resolution at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi, to begin negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution.
Critically, the treaty will include legally binding elements that require countries to meet set pollution reduction targets or action plans. It will address the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.
The Australian government has been an active supporter of the move to create a treaty, voting in favour of the resolution and joining calls from pacific nations for the treaty to binding and cover the whole lifecycle of plastic.
AMCS plastic pollution expert Shane Cucow welcomed the agreement and said it would bring benefits to the places in Australia that are prone to plastic pollution from overseas.
“This plastics treaty has the potential to be the most significant global environmental accord since the Paris agreement,” he said.
“While most of the plastics on our coasts originate in Australia, some of our wildest places like the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands accumulate vast amounts of plastics and lost fishing gear that originate from around the world.
“Monsoonal winds and global ocean currents carry lethal plastic pollution and fishing gear from overseas into these areas with devastating impacts on wildlife. The Gulf is a hugely important feeding and breeding ground for threatened species, including four different types of sawfish and six of the world’s seven species of turtle.
“A global agreement to phase out unnecessary plastics worldwide, with financial support to manage plastic pollution in the nations who need it most, would mean less plastic polluting Australia’s remote coasts and oceans.”
The landmark UN resolution establishes a negotiating committee to agree on the details of the treaty, with the ambitious task of having an agreement ready for ratification by the end of 2024.
The committee has been given a mandate that covers the entire lifecycle of plastic, from what kinds of products can be produced, how countries manage waste and recycling, to coordinated efforts to clean up our oceans.
“With plastic pollution of the oceans projected to triple by 2040, it’s critical that a global agreement is secured quickly, so that we can get on with the task of ending plastic pollution,” added Mr Cucow.
“This is just the beginning of the road. It is critical that Australia now takes a leading role in negotiations, fighting for the targets and conditions of the final treaty to be both ambitious and binding.”