World leaders on Wednesday endorsed a resolution at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi to end plastic pollution and create an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution, titled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument,” was adopted at the conclusion of the three-day UNEA-5.2 meeting and addresses the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal.
The resolution establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which will complete a draft of the agreement by the end of 2024. It is expected to present a legally binding instrument, which would reflect alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building, and scientific and technical cooperation.
“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best,” said Espen Barth Eide, president of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment. “Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure.”
Plastic production soared to 348 million tons in 2017 from 2 million tons in 1950, becoming a global industry valued at $522.6 billion. It is expected to double in capacity by 2040. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production, use, and disposal would account for 15% of allowed emissions, under the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F).
The UN Environment Program will convene a forum by the end of 2022 open to all stakeholders in conjunction with the first session of the INC, to share knowledge and best practices in different parts of the world. It will facilitate open discussions and ensure they are informed by science, reporting on progress throughout the next two years. UNEP will assemble a diplomatic conference to adopt its outcome and open it for signatures once the INC’s work is done.
Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, called this resolution “the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord.”
“It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it,” Andersen said, adding that “the INC’s mandate does not grant any stakeholder a two-year pause.”
In addition to negotiating an international binding agreement, Andersen said that UNEP will also “work with any willing government and business across the value chain to shift away from single-use plastics, as well as to mobilize private finance and remove barriers to investments in research and in a new circular economy.”
This move could have huge implications for State Street Global Advisors’ ESG-focused ETFs, including the SPDR MSCI Emerging Markets Fossil Fuel Reserves Free ETF (EEMX), the SPDR MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (LOWC ) (which is changing its name and ticker to the SPDR MSCI ACWI Climate Paris Aligned ETF (NZAC) effective Friday, April 22), and the SPDR MSCI EAFE Fossil Fuel Free ETF (EFAX).
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