In Post-Trump Reversal, U.S. Joins Call for Global Plastics Treaty

Politics
A plastic bag in the Indian Ocean
A plastic bag drifts past the Indian Ocean reef near Ahangama in Weligama on Dec. 31, 2021. OLIVIER MORIN / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and France have joined forces to call for an international treaty to control plastic pollution

They issued their joint statement on the last day of the One Ocean Summit from February 9 to 11 convened by France in its port city of Brest. 

“The United States and France are committed to protecting our environment for future generations,” the statement read. “Recognizing the transboundary aspects of plastic pollution and the importance of curbing it at its source, the United States and France support launching negotiations at the upcoming 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) on a global agreement to address the full lifecycle of plastics and promote a circular economy.”

The treaty would be designed to limit the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans and would be modeled on the 2015 Paris agreement, CBS News reported. The United Nations also supports a new treaty, and staffing and an agenda for the deal will start being discussed at UNEA, which will take place in Nairobi from February 28 to March 2. 

“The agreement should include binding and non-binding commitments, call on countries to develop and implement ambitious national action plans, and foster robust engagement of stakeholders to contribute toward the agreement’s objectives while complementing national government contributions,” France and the U.S. said.

Greenpeace responded positively to news of a potential treaty, but expressed concerns over some details of the statement.

“The U.S. has come a long way. It is one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters and a major exporter of plastics to the Global South,” Greenpeace USA’s ocean campaign director John Hocevar said in response. “After being one of a handful of countries actively opposing a plastic treaty under the Trump administration, it is very encouraging to see this turnaround. Though it is worrying to see the U.S. mention the inclusion of non-binding commitments in the treaty mandate. Binding commitments are needed in order to ensure government and corporate accountability.”

2022 is emerging as an important year for the world’s oceans and the fight to preserve them. After UNEA, the U.S. and the Republic of Palau are hosting the coral-reef focused “Our Ocean” conference from April 13-14, while the UN Ocean Conference will take place in Lisbon, Portugal in late June and early July, CBS News reported.

“The ‘One Ocean Summit’ in France is the first in a series of ocean action meetings in 2022 that we hope will stop the decline in the ocean’s health this year… urgent action is required,” UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson told CBS News. 

The UN hopes the final plastics treaty will be negotiated within two years, which would be a record-breaking pace.

In addition to the call for a new treaty, other commitments emerged at the One Ocean Summit, The Guardian reported. These included:

  1. Twenty-seven EU states and 16 other countries said they would reach an agreement by the end of the year for sustainable use of the high seas, which no country controls.
  2. Thirty more countries agreed to protect 30 percent of their land and sea by 2030.
  3. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the French, German, Italian and Spanish development banks pledged four billion euros by 2025 to decrease the nine million tonnes (approximately 9.9 million U.S. tons) of plastics that enter the oceans yearly. 
  4. Six more countries joined the International Maritime Organization’s Cape Town agreement to better regulate fishing boat safety standards and therefore reduce illegal fishing. 
  5. Twenty-two European shipowners said they would reduce underwater noise and pollution. 

“[W]e should take here, in Brest, clear and firm commitments,” French French president Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the summit, said Friday, as The Guardian reported. 

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