UN urged to set target of zero new plastic pollution by 2040

A team of UK experts who advise the United Nations, G20 and World Bank have called for setting a zero target for new plastic pollution by 2040.

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth, has argued for the UN to make a “bold pledge” in its upcoming Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution.

The call comes as leaders discuss plastic pollution and its role in climate change at the Cop27 summit in Egypt.

The University of Hampshire team advised the United Nations Environment Programme, the G20 and the World Bank on plastics policy, including the possible structure and content of a global agreement to tackle against plastic pollution.

Writing in the journal Nature Reviews Earth And Environment, Professor Fletcher said: “The treaty target must be ambitious and meaningful, we call on the UN to aim for a minimum target of 0% new plastic pollution by 2040.

“To achieve this, policymakers, businesses, researchers and society at large must go beyond the best available technologies and practices and be radical in their thinking to develop a coordinated global strategy to tackle plastic pollution” .

He added: “The Global Plastics Treaty needs a clearly defined goal. Right now, there is ambiguity about what ‘ending plastic pollution’ actually means. For the treaty to work, it is vital that there is a single objective and an agreed strategy.

Lead author Antaya March said: “Plastic is hugely useful, but mismanagement has led to a global pollution crisis that is exacerbating climate change.

“A comprehensive transformation towards a circular plastics economy is needed to radically reduce or eliminate plastic pollution while supporting needed use.”

The team says that while nearly 200 nations have signed up to the treaty, each country has different financial, social and political priorities and obstacles.

Ms March added: “Plastics value chains typically run through multiple jurisdictions with different laws, rules and standards.

“At best, country-specific policies, such as banning certain plastic products, do not have the capacity to significantly affect global drivers of plastic pollution.

“At worst, they create international legal and policy inconsistencies that push plastic waste to places least able to deal with it safely.

“It is estimated that current commitments to tackle plastic pollution will only reduce plastic entering the environment by around 7% by 2040 compared to the status quo. This is why we need an ambitious goal towards which all nations can work.

Professor Fletcher added: “It is a huge achievement that the development of a legally binding global treaty by the UN to end plastic pollution is underway.

“But to be effective, the global treaty requires new levels of transparency, disclosure and cooperation to support evidence-based policymaking that avoids the fragmented and reactionary policies of the past.

“A system change must occur that fundamentally alters the way we behave and interact with plastic.”

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