The importance of a global agreement to combat plastic pollution
After years of discussions, international negotiations on the global plastics agreement resumed in Nairobi, Kenya, at the UN Environment Programme Headquarters.
From today to Sunday, November 19, the third session of the UN Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution takes place.
The goal of the committee is to create a legally-binding agreement that will be finalised by 2024 to address all aspects of the plastics life cycle, including production, design, and disposal.
The treaty, which involves 175 countries, is designed to revolutionize plastic waste management by paving the path for new industries and technologies.
Plastic pollution is a problem that no one nation can handle. We need to take a global view. This approach has worked with acid Rain, the ozone, and other environmental issues. It can also work with plastic.
How we repaired the ozone layer
I am the leader of the Mission to End Plastic Waste at CSIRO, which aims to change the way that we use, recycle, and dispose of plastic. As our work is aligned with the goals of the proposed UN Plastic Treaty, I have closely followed the negotiations.
In the past, multilateral agreements helped to create important change. The Montreal Protocol has shaped global environmental and industrial landscapes. The Montreal Protocol was enacted in 1987 with the goal of phasing out substances that cause ozone destruction.
Everyone got on board. The countries adhered to the changes. The ongoing work not only has contributed to the recovery of the ozone, but it also has prevented millions of cases of skin cancers and cataracts .
The protocol was also responsible for a lot of innovation in the chemical industry. The industry had to switch from substances that deplete the ozone, such as CFCs and chlorofluorocarbons, to alternatives with a more eco-friendly effect.
Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, were the first to be identified as being a powerful greenhouse gas . This led to the Kigali Amendment of 2016 to the Protocol to phase out these chemicals and replace them with climate-friendly alternatives. This global process has led to safer chemicals being used in air conditioning and refrigeration.
Global legislation can deliver real change.
Another example is clean air legislation. Acid Rain was a major environmental concern during the second half of the 20th Century. Acid Rain occurs when sulphur oxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxides are released in the atmosphere. This is usually due to industrial processes or the burning of fossil fuels.
As soon as these pollutants reach the air, they react with water vapor and produce sulphuric and nitric acids. Acidity levels are high when they mix with snow or Rain and fall to the earth. This can harm aquatic ecosystems, forest structures, and even artificial structures.
In response, various countries enacted clean air legislation. The United States Clean Air Act of 1993, which was amended many times over the years, led to changes in the automotive and industrial sectors.
The laws forced the industries to invest in pollution-control equipment and transition to cleaner technologies. The laws paved the road for the widespread adoption of fuel-efficient engines and catalytic converters.
Read more: Air pollution: your exposure and health risk could depend on your class, ethnicity or gender.
How multilateral agreements can force change
Regulatory tools, such as multilateral agreements, introduce restrictions. These restrictions encourage cleaner and more sustainable business practices. These restrictions combine environmental responsibility and business imperatives. The regulatory changes have opened up new markets as a result.
These agreements also encourage global collaborations that often promote the transfer of technology across borders. It accelerates the adoption of cleaner technology.
Multilateral environmental agreements are a powerful tool for industrial and technological innovation. These agreements combine environmental stewardship and industrial evolution by establishing high standards, fostering global cooperation, and encouraging international collaboration.