UN environment assembly resolves to end plastic pollution
Welcoming the move, India said it was on its insistence that the principle of “national circumstances and capability while taking actions to address plastic pollution” was included in the resolution text
The fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) concluded on Wednesday with the adoption of a resolution to end plastic pollution, by addressing the full life cycle of plastic – from production to disposal.
Welcoming the move, India said it was on its insistence that the principle of “national circumstances and capability while taking actions to address plastic pollution” was included in the text of the resolution to allow developing countries to follow their development trajectories.
At the three-day session at Nairobi, which began on Monday, environment ministers from 193 UN member states agreed to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee with the mandate to forge an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution.
“Further noting that plastic pollution, in marine and other environments, can be of a transboundary nature and needs to be tackled, together with its impacts through a full lifecycle approach taking into account national circumstances and capabilities,” the final resolution published on the United Nations Environment Programme said.
“Decides that the intergovernmental negotiating committee is to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment henceforth referred to as the instrument, which could include both binding and voluntary approaches, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, taking into account among other things, the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (on sustainable development), as well as national circumstances and capabilities, including provisions,” it added.
After the session, Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav tweeted: “HISTORIC STEP at UNEA 5.2... nationsendorse a resolution to #BeatPlasticPollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. Under the leadership of our PM Shri @NarendraModi ji, India has already taken resolute steps to address plastic pollution.”
“India has embarked on the journey to end plastic pollution by taking sound and effective measures through EPR on plastic packaging as well as putting a ban on single-use plastic items having low utility and high littering potential,” he added.
The ministry, in a statement, said “the draft resolution submitted by India called for immediate collective voluntary action by countries”.
“India engaged constructively with all member states in UNEA 5.2 to develop consensus on the resolution for driving global action on plastic pollution by setting up an intergovernmental negotiating committee for a new international legally binding treaty. On the insistence of India, the principle of national circumstances and capability while taking actions to address plastic pollution was included in the text of the resolution to allow developing countries to follow their development trajectories,” it said.
India also submitted against mandating the inter-governmental negotiating committee with development of targets, definitions, formats and methodologies, at this stage.
“After long protracted negotiations, the principal objectives of India’s draft resolution were sufficiently addressed in the resolution on ‘End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument’ adopted in the resumed fifth session of UNEA. The UNEA 5.2 will be remembered for agreeing for collective global action while respecting national circumstances and capabilities,” the statement added.
Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said the decision was the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the 2015 Paris climate accord.
“Having a universally agreed definition of nature-based solutions is important. When countries and companies claim that their actions are supporting nature-based solutions, we can now begin to assess whether this is accurate and what it entails. This is especially true given the just-released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the need to scale-up adaptation, for which nature-based solutions will be crucial,” Andersen said in a UNEP statement.
India had piloted a resolution on addressing single use plastic pollution in the fourth session of UNEA in 2019.
The environment ministry notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules 2021 in August last year, increasing the thickness of plastic bags from 50 to 75 microns, to 120 microns with effect from December 31, 2022. The latest guidelines also prohibit the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of products with low utility but high littering potential.
It also announced a ban on ear-buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (thermocol) for decoration, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, trays, wrapping, or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners of less than 100-micron thickness from July 1this year.
The ministry notified guidelines on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for plastic packaging, with an aim to eliminate single-use plastics and promote alternatives last month. It also laid down roles and responsibilities of producers, importers, brands generating plastic packaging waste, central and state pollution control boards, recyclers and waste processors in minimising plastic waste.
“The resolution is a timely step in the right direction as the focus would be to draft a legally binding treaty focussing on the full lifecycle of plastics - right from production to disposal. Previously, we have been merely focussing on managing the flood which is plastics waste, but by closing the tap, as is rightly showcased by artist’s Von Wong illustration (the giant plastic tap), we will also take stock of major issues such as plastic production, expected to quadruple by 2050, including focusing on material innovation and alternatives to plastics. Apart from this, another positive step has been acknowledging waste pickers and low paid workers in the resolution for the first time, a move that will allow just integration of these workers,” independent waste management expert Swati Singh Sambyal said.