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On Friday, 13th November 2020, the work of the “Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group” (AHEG4), mandated by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to examine global response options to combat marine plastic pollution was concluded. The AHEG made tremendous progress over the course of the last two years. In this final round of consultations, a majority of the State and stakeholder experts were in favour of a global treaty to address the problem. The conclusions will be detailed in the Chair’s Report and presented at UNEA5. Until such time, the positive momentum from the AHEG must be maintained and further built upon.  

Key takeaways from the week:

  • More than half oft he UN member countries support the need for a new global treaty
  • Some states, among others the U.S. remain opposed towards a binding treaty
  • The plastics industry and consumer brands are now officially in support of a new global treaty
  • Switzerland made valuable contributions to the overall positive result with critical and constructive interventions.

Plastic waste has become a curse for the planet. Ocean currents carry the floating debris to the most remote places. Our plastic footprint is now omnipresent. Microplastics can be found in the ice of Alpine glaciers, as well as on the seabed in Antarctica.

So far, the international community has been trying to address the problem mainly through voluntary and national measures. However, the problem of transboundary plastic pollution cannot be solved at national level alone. The UNEA has also recognised that the serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern requires an urgent and global response. In 2017, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) formed an Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHEG) of UN member states, industry representatives, and other stakeholder experts by resolution to take stock of existing activities, identify global response options and analyse their potential effectiveness in combating marine plastic pollution in four expert group meetings. OceanCare also participated in this expert group as an observer. The AHEG met for the fourth time from 9th to 13th November 2020 in a virtual environment.

During the past week, the broad support for a new binding global agreement has become increasingly clear – not only from member countries, but also from the plastics industry, and consumer brands which now see the added value in a global agreement. The convergence around the need for international measures to address the problem was underlined by several member countries, including Switzerland. The majority of UN member countries supported a proposal by the EU to adopt the mandate for an intergovernmental negotiating committee at UNEA5. Despite such progress, the discussion was held up by the resistance of the U.S. and some other states. Nevertheless, AHEG4 was able to fulfil its mandate and the Chair’s Summary and report will be presented for consideration of UNEA5.

As UNEA5 is now largely delayed until February 2022, the momentum from this last AHEG meeting must be maintained, the regional and global exchange promoted and the political momentum further enhanced.

One of the main questions will be what a new plastic treaty could look like in practice and how the necessary support can be gained. This report by the Environmental Investigation Agency outlines a possible architecture for such an agreement: https://eia-international.org/report/convention-on-plastic-pollution-toward-a-new-global-agreement-to-address-plastic-pollution/

To find out more about the work of AHEG4, please read the Break Free From Plastic Coalition newsletter with more information and insights from the meeting: https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Progress-on-Plastics-Update-Issue-13-AHEG4-Nov-2020.pdf

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