• Will we get a global treaty on plastics pollution in 2024?

Microplastics Analysis

Will we get a global treaty on plastics pollution in 2024?

Apr 24 2024

As 2024 advances, the world inches closer to what could be a pivotal moment in environmental policy—a global treaty aimed at addressing the rampant problem of plastic pollution. With negotiations set to reconvene in Ottawa this week, and a final session scheduled for November in South Korea, the stakes are high and the urgency palpable. 

In March 2022, nations under the United Nations umbrella committed to forging a legally binding treaty by the end of 2024 to end the scourge of plastic pollution. This decision was met with optimism, viewed as a necessary response to a growing global crisis. The plan includes five negotiation sessions, with the upcoming Ottawa gathering marked as the penultimate meeting. As the World Wildlife Fund's global plastics policy lead Eirik Lindebjerg states, this series of talks represents a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to stem the tide of plastic waste

The core of the treaty aims to encompass the full lifecycle of plastics—from their design and production to their disposal or recycling. However, recycling alone seems insufficient given the enormity of the challenge. According to the OECD, a mere 9% of all plastics produced are recycled, with the remainder ending up in landfills, incinerated, or polluting our natural environments

The negotiations have revealed deep divisions on how best to tackle the issue. There's an ongoing debate whether to focus more on curtailing production or enhancing waste management. This conflict of interest has slowed progress, with a substantial 69-page draft treaty still on the table, needing refinement to distil core actionable points. 

Graham Forbes of Greenpeace has labelled the Ottawa meeting a "make-or-break moment," highlighting the critical need for decisive action. The treaty draft acknowledges that plastic pollution is a "serious environmental problem on a global scale," a sentiment echoed by many environmentalists and scientists. They point to the detrimental impacts of plastics on marine life, global biodiversity, and even human health, with microplastics found from the peaks of mountains to the depths of the oceans. 

While environmental NGOs push for stringent measures on plastic production, industry voices advocate for balanced solutions that also consider the economic and functional benefits of plastics. The Canadian Chemistry Industry Association emphasizes the importance of innovative product design and enhanced recycling methods to make plastics more sustainable. 

The negotiations have drawn significant global attention, with representatives from 176 countries participating. The success of these talks is seen as crucial not only for environmental preservation but also for mitigating climate change, as plastics production is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases. 

The upcoming Ottawa session is expected to be a significant event, with over 4,200 participants anticipated, making it one of the most attended sessions since the negotiations began. This reflects the global consensus on the need for a robust and effective treaty.  

As delegates gather, the hope is to finalize a treaty that will introduce global rules across the lifecycle of plastics, aiming for a substantial reduction in plastic pollution by 2040. The outcome of these negotiations could mark a historic step toward a sustainable future, addressing not only environmental concerns but also health implications for all life on Earth. 

As the world watches, the upcoming negotiations in Ottawa may well decide whether a comprehensive global plastics treaty will materialize by the year's end, offering a beacon of hope against one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. 

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