Beat Plastic Pollution

At the UN Ocean Conference, new governments commit to circular economy for plastics

Leadership on tackling plastic pollution got a boost at the UN Ocean Conference when twenty-one new governments announced they will join the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Established in 2018 and led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Global Commitment brings together stakeholders across the plastics value chain to drive the transition towards a circular economy for plastic, where plastic never becomes waste. All business and government signatories set ambitious actions and targets across the life cycle to address plastic pollution and report annually on progress.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pedro Nunes/Reuters

On the eve of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, at a side event co-hosted by Kenya and France; the Governments of Australia, Belgium, Kenya, Mexico, and Thailand announced their intention to join the Global Commitment. Three of Mexico’s state-level governments, Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sinaloa as well as the cities of Querétaro, Ensenada, and San Miguel de Allende and ten States from Brazil including São Paulo and the nine States of the Consórcio Nordeste: Alagoas , Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, and Sergipe, covering almost 50% of the population of Brazil, also announced they would become signatories. On Monday morning, at the opening of the UN Ocean Conference, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that Ghana would also be joining.

Growing momentum

The new governments follow 11 other governments who announced they were becoming signatories of the Global Commitment at the French-led ‘One Ocean Summit’ in February 2022. They joined other signatory governments and 500+ signatories from across the plastics value chain.

People clapping
A historic resolution on plastic pollution is adopted at UNEA 5.2. Photo: UNEP

In March this year, a historic resolution was adopted by countries at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2). It calls for the convening of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop – by the end of 2024 – an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. At a recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal, to prepare for the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, governments agreed to participate in five meetings, with the ambition to finalize the work of the Committee within two years.

“Joining the Global Commitment is a way to keep the momentum while negotiations are ongoing,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Economy Division. “It allows governments to try different approaches and measure and report on progress in a voluntary, supportive environment.”

Widespread benefits

Aggarwal-Khan emphasized the benefits of transitioning to a circular economy for plastic. She cited a recent report which found that moving towards a circular economy not only reduces the annual volume of plastics entering our oceans by 80% but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, generates savings of USD 200 bn and creates an additional 700,000 net additional jobs, mostly in the global south.

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