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UNEA5: towards an international treaty on plastics?

Last February 22nd and 23rd, more than 150 States, hundreds of NGOs, international companies, and civil society representatives were virtually gathering for UNEA5. Strongly expected, this fifth United Nation Assembly for the Environment aimed at reflecting on efficient and tangible measures to ensure multilateral protection of our Planet Earth. While the pandemic has pushed back to 2022 the vote on new resolutions on an international treaty on plastic, Surfrider Europe welcomes progress made in this direction.  

UNEA, an international summit in favor of the environment

Created in 1972 with the objective of coordinating the actions of United Nations members regarding nature protection and sustainable development, UNEA appears today as the main global authority on environmental topics; gathering heads of States, multinational, NGOs and even ecological activists, its fifth summit went on virtually for the first time in its history. Health context pushed for a two-part summit: UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022, and discussions engaged this year will continue next year in person.

As an environmental organization, Surfrider Europe broadly contributed to make discussions progress by rooting for the adoption of an international treaty on plastic.

International treaty on plastic: no new resolution but a lot of progress

During last summits, two new resolutions – one on marine litter and microplastics, and the other on single-use plastics – were passed, opening the way to the negotiation of such a treaty. If these resolutions do not imply necessarily the adoption of such a treaty, they laid the groundworkfor futher developments : by putting the topic on the agenda and pushing for the creation of an expert dedicated group on marine litter, they should allow to increase worldwide knowledge on the subject, make progress in opening the discussion and lead to a joint action.

If this year, no new resolutions were voted towards a specific international treaty dedicated to plastic, microplastic and marine litter, several participants did reaffirm, during discussions, their will to adopt such text. While the agenda was more focused on new administrative, budgetary and governance strategies to adopt in the short and mid-terms facing the specific health context, this summit finally appeared as a strong occasion to better prepare for UNEA 5.2.

Indeed, by creating an intergovernmental committee dedicated to plastic lifecycle or by establishing intergovernmental discussions and committees, such as the group fighting for plastic pollution or the conference between ministers on marine litter and plastic pollution, participants all called for a “building a better future” at the next summit, on which Surfrider Europe places high hopes. The organization wishes that it will give the mandate to the assembly to start the negotiations towards a treaty: a first formal but key step, in a long process, leading hopefully to the adoption of the treaty.

A fundamental treaty Surfrider Europe is fighting for

Such an international treaty is of fundamental importance as it would introduce the first worldwide measures on plastics, the global scale being necessary to act efficiently against plastic pollution.

That is why after providing recommendations related to both resolutions enumerated earlier, and pushing for their adoption, Surfrider Europe keeps acting within Break Free From Plastic Movement, to support this treaty ; by pushing certain European member states authorities to support the strong position of the European Union in favor of such an international initiative, by taking part in regional consultations for major European groups regarding UNEA priorities, or also by calling out UNEA members to increase their efforts.