By Sharon Atieno

As the three-day United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting concluded, it brought the world closer to beating plastic pollution with nations endorsing a resolution to deal with the issue while committing to develop a legally binding document by 2024.

The historic resolution, titled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument” is made up of 14 resolutions drawn from the three initial draft resolutions which had been presented for negotiations during the Assembly.

Key priority of the resolution is the establishment of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), to develop the internationally legal binding agreement on plastic pollution.

The more than 170 World Ministers of the environment also agreed to establish a comprehensive and ambitious science policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste and preventing pollution.

In the spirit of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, a third key resolution agreed by the Assembly focuses on nature-based solutions: actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage ecosystems. The resolution calls on UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to support the implementation of such solutions, which safeguard the rights of communities and indigenous peoples.

Three resolutions prioritize ecosystem restoration, biodiversity protection, resource efficiency, consumption and production patterns, climate mitigation and adaptation, job creation and poverty reduction

While there is a resolution on minerals and metals which calls for the development of proposals to enhance their environmental sustainability along their full lifecycle, another resolution on sustainable lake management calls on Member States to protect, conserve, and restore, as well as sustainably use lakes, while integrating lakes into national and regional development plans.

Another resolution is on sustainable and resilient infrastructure which encourages Member States to integrate environmental considerations in all their infrastructure plans.

A concluding Ministerial Declaration recognised the risk for future pandemics and other health risks if humanity doesn’t overhaul its patterns of interaction with nature by adopting a holistic approach such as One Health.

In this context, a resolution on animal welfare calls on Member States to protect animals, protecting their habitats and meeting their welfare requirements.

Additionally, another resolution on biodiversity and health urges Member States to reduce health risks associated with trade in live wildlife captured for the purposes of food, captive breeding, medicines and the pet trade, through regulation and sanitary controls.

The Ministerial Declaration stressed the urgent need to halt the global decline of biodiversity and the fragmentation of habitats, unprecedented in human history and driven by changes in land and sea use, exploitation of nature, unsustainable consumption and production patterns, climate change, invasive alien species and pollution of ocean and fresh water, air and soil.

In this context, the Assembly adopted a resolution to accelerate actions to significantly reduce nitrogen waste from all sources, especially through agricultural practices, and saving US$ 100 billion annually.

To increase investments to advance environmental goals, the world’s environment ministers committed to promoting an inclusive and sustainable recovery, a green and just transition, by incorporating biodiversity, climate change and pollution concerns into all policies and tools.

Accordingly, the Assembly adopted a “resolution on the environmental dimension of a sustainable, resilient and inclusive post COVID-19 recovery” to strengthen measures to achieve a sustainable, resilient and inclusive global recovery.

Welcoming the resolution, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP said: “Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics. This is 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.”

However, she noted that INC’s mandate does not grant any stakeholder a two-year pause (2022-2024) adding that parallel to negotiations over an international binding agreement, UNEP will work with any willing government and business across the value chain to shift away from single-use plastics, as well as to mobilise private finance and remove barriers to investments in research and in a new circular economy.

“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best,” said Espen Barth Eide, the 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.”

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, added: “Today, no area on the planet is left untouched by plastic pollution, from deep-sea sediment to Mount Everest. The planet deserves a multilateral solution that speaks from source to sea. A legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution will be a truly welcome first step.”

The Assembly will be followed by “UNEP@50,” a two-day Special Session of the Assembly marking UNEP’s 50th anniversary where Member States are expected to address how to build a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.