Countries from around the world set their sights Monday on a pivotal deal to curb plastic waste, a source of long-term pollution and worsening contamination of the ocean’s food chain.
Thousands of delegates, business leaders and campaigners are in Nairobi for the five-day U.N. Environment Assembly, the top annual forum on the planet’s environmental crisis.
The U.N. wants individual countries to sign up to “significantly” reduce plastic production, including a phasing out of single-use plastics by 2030 – a goal inspired by the 2015 Paris Agreement on voluntary reductions of carbon emissions.
“In the field of (plastic) pollution we don’t have such agreements,” Siim Kiisler, U.N. Environment Assembly president and Estonia’s environment minister, told journalists as the gathering got underway.
“This is the first time (we have) to convince member states to make international commitments.”
A landmark report due out this week is expected to ram home the warning of the threat to ecosystems from rampant plastic and chemical waste.
The world currently produces more than 300 million tons of plastics annually, and there are at least five trillion plastic pieces floating in our oceans, scientists have estimated.
Microplastics have been found in the deepest sea trenches and high up Earth’s tallest peaks, and plastic consumption is growing year-on-year.
“Plastic is a very good material, it’s durable, flexible and light,” Kiisler said. “This means we should make the best out of it for as long as possible instead of disposing of it.”
Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, every tiny animal tested had plastic in its gut. Other scientists have also found plastic litter in the deep; just last year, one team documented a plastic bag at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. pic.twitter.com/xpEmg6D8cc
— EHHI (@EHHI) March 10, 2019
The conference started on a somber note after an Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed on Sunday, killing all 157 on board, many of whom were heading to the event.
The Nairobi meeting comes against the backdrop of a series of U.N. reports outlining in stark terms the damage mankind is doing to the planet, much of it due to reckless consumption.
“These things are all linked: climate, the environment, waste,” one delegate told AFP.
One briefing on the eve of the summit said the cost of ecosystems loss through agriculture, deforestation, and pollution was a much as $20 trillion (17.7 trillion euros) since 1995.
Acting U.N. environment chief Joyce Msuya said the world needed to “transform the way our economies work … break the link between growth and increased resource use, and end our throwaway culture.”
The One Planet Summit on Thursday will bring together heads of state including French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta to lend political clout to the process.
Kiisler said it was a “critical time for action to protect and reverse the degradation of our planet.
“We are not going fast enough,” he told reporters.
“Today we are talking about declarations and commitments but I believe in the future we need some international legislation in place.”
More on the Subject
Until recently, the “Green New Deal” was a concept only discussed in wonkish, left-wing circles of American political discourse.
All that changed on November 13, 2018, when a large group of young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in in soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. Demanding bold action to address climate change and the formation of a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, the protesters were joined by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was already a rising star in the Democratic Party.
The proposal is as much a vision as it is a set of policies. Evoking the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the resolution calls for, among many other things, major public investment in renewable infrastructure including a public works program that would guarantee a job to anyone who wants one.