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UNEA to talk plastics, nature-based remedies Feb 28 – Mar 2

Pollution 2022-02-25, 7:21pm


Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit. Eleonora de Sabata - Clean Sea LIFE

Penang, 24 Feb (S. Mageswari) – Part two of the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) is resuming in Nairobi, Kenya from 28 February to 2 March, in a hybrid format, with a combination of in-person presence and online participation, to consider the remaining substantive matters on its agenda, as well as a Ministerial Declaration under the theme of the Assembly, “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The first session of UNEA-5 (UNEA-5.1) was held online on 22-23 February 2021.

The Nairobi meeting next week will focus on issues such as marine and plastic pollution, nature-based solutions, green recovery and chemical waste management.

Various proposals have been submitted by some member states, including to agree on a mandate for a global treaty on plastics.

UNEA, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, is where representatives of the 193 countries who are member states of the UN come together to set policies on matters relating to the environment.

Prior to the convening of the Assembly next week, the Open-ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR-5.2), have been meeting from 21-25 February to prepare the meetings of the UNEA and review the implementation of its decisions.

Among the issues to be considered are as follows:

1. Marine and plastic pollution

Under the marine and plastic pollution cluster, the main focus will be on discussing a mandate to start negotiations on a global treaty on plastics.

If agreed, the mandate would include the convening of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the negotiations on the global treaty.

Under this cluster, three draft resolutions will be discussed:

(i) a draft resolution from Rwanda and Peru on an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution;

(ii) a draft resolution from Japan on an international legally binding instrument on marine plastic pollution; and

(iii) a draft resolution from India calling for a framework for addressing plastic product pollution including single- use plastic product pollution.

The Rwanda and Peru draft resolution, which has the backing of more than 50 countries, including 27 from the European Union, addresses the life-cycle of plastics and calls for reduction in plastic production and to address chemical additives.

This resolution contains more specific guidance on the elements and design of a treaty, while also containing an open mandate, whereby the INC may “consider any other aspects that the committee may consider relevant.”

The Japan draft resolution narrowly focuses on marine litter and waste management and has three co-sponsors: Cambodia, Palau and Sri Lanka.

Civil society groups engaged in the process say that a mandate that focuses on waste management or is narrowly framed around marine litter, would not address the problem of plastic pollution because it will not include production, design of plastics, and use of toxic chemicals.

The Indian resolution does not propose to start negotiations on a treaty but to reduce plastic use at the national level, adopt extended producer responsibility (EPR) programmes, and design plastics for their recyclability.

2. Nature-Based Solutions and Biodiversity

In the second cluster on Nature-Based Solutions and Biodiversity, the following draft resolutions will be discussed:

(i) a draft resolution from Indonesia on sustainable lake management;

(ii) a draft resolution from the European Union (EU) on Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for supporting sustainable development;

(iii) a draft resolution from Ghana on animal welfare, environment – sustainable development nexus; and

(iv) a draft resolution sponsored by the Africa Group on biodiversity and health.

The draft resolution on sustainable lake management submitted by Indonesia is co-sponsored by Pakistan.

Indonesia’s draft resolution calls on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to facilitate the mainstreaming of sustainable lake management in the global agenda, facilitate collaboration among member states, and to designate a World Lake Day to highlight lakes’ important roles in maintaining the well-being of humanity and nature.

On the EU draft resolution, Major Groups and other stakeholders (MGoS) that includes civil society engaged in the process, have expressed concerns on how the resolution on NBS may be interpreted and what kind of activities may be supported.

The MGoS have called for the resolution to be either fundamentally reconsidered or withdrawn.

The draft resolution, they said, may be interpreted in a way to contribute to the further financialization of nature, to provide a renewed justification for intensive agriculture and so-called “sustainable intensification”, including new gene technologies and a massive growth in carbon markets and offsetting schemes that do not reduce carbon emissions but may harm communities.

The draft resolution on animal welfare tabled by Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Pakistan requests UNEP’s Executive Director to carry out an analysis and report on the inter-linkages between animal welfare, the environment and sustainable development.

This draft resolution calls on member states to protect animals, protecting their habitats and meeting their animal welfare requirements, in the context of halting biodiversity loss, restoring ecosystems, mitigating climate change, preventing pollution, reducing the risk of new emerging infectious zoonotic diseases, moving to sustainable and agroecological food systems, and achieving sustainable development.

The draft resolution on biodiversity and health sponsored by the Africa Group suggests that, in this era of COVID- 19, UNEP should (i) raise greater international awareness on the linkages between biodiversity loss and the increase in zoonotic diseases; (ii) support member states to mitigate the risks posed to human, animal and environmental health; and (iii) carry out a global assessment of the linkages between biodiversity and health drawing on the relevant evidence and best available science-based knowledge.

3. Chemicals and waste

The cluster on chemicals and waste will be discussing the following draft resolutions:

(i) a revised draft resolution from Sri Lanka on Sustainable Nitrogen Management;

(ii) a draft resolution from Switzerland on the sound management of chemicals and waste; and

(iii) a draft resolution from Switzerland on a Science Policy Panel on chemicals, waste and pollution.

The draft resolution on sustainable nitrogen management from Sri Lanka and co-sponsored by the Philippines has the ambition to halve nitrogen waste by 2030 by covering all the spheres of the nitrogen cycle, supported through the establishment of an Inter-Convention Nitrogen Coordination Mechanism (INCOM) to address nitrogen pollution.

The draft resolution suggests operational dimensions and elements to define the mandate of the INCOM, to be negotiated at UNEA 5.2.

The Swiss omnibus resolution on the sound management of chemicals and waste, among others called on governments, the private sector and in particular manufacturers and users of chemicals, non-governmental public health and environmental organizations, trade unions, academic institutions, and other civil society organizations to put in place a comprehensive and ambitious new instrument to promote and support the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, including effective means of implementation.

The draft resolution for a Science Policy Panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution was submitted by Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

This resolution provides the Terms of Reference of the Open-ended Working Group on a Science Policy Panel to support action on chemicals, waste and pollution.

4. Recovery and the circular economy

The cluster on recovery and the circular economy will be discussing four draft resolutions as follows: (i) a draft resolution from Mongolia on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure; (ii) a draft resolution from Eritrea on behalf of the African Group on green recovery; (iii) a draft resolution from Eritrea on behalf of the African Group on the circular economy; and (iv) a draft resolution from Switzerland on mineral resource governance.

The draft resolution on sustainable and resilient infrastructure submitted by Mongolia encourages member states to align infrastructure planning and investments with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement (on climate change) to advance green recoveries from the COVID-19 crisis.

The resolution builds on the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, which is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and calls for financial and technical support to global South countries to invest in sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including transport, energy, water and sanitation as a prerequisite to achieving the SDGs and as a potential for inclusive and sustainable job creation and poverty eradication.

It also acknowledges the financial shortages arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasizes the need for adapting investment strategies to implement the SDGs and sees the need for international cooperation to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable recovery.

The draft resolution on green approaches for a sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery sponsored by the Africa Group provides a framework to support implementation of environment and sustainable development recovery initiatives, whilst identifying new areas requiring strategic interventions.

The draft resolution from the Africa Group on enhancing circular economy highlights the importance of ensuring that the world continues to develop practical solutions on circularity of the economy as one of the sustainable development pathways, address the full life cycle of materials from design, production to waste prevention and management and ensure coherence and coordination of activities at national, regional and international levels.

The resolution also gives due consideration to the centrality of the means of implementation, including finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

The draft resolution on mineral resource governance is co-sponsored by Argentina, Ghana, Senegal, Switzerland and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The draft resolution notes with concern that the demand for minerals, including sand and gravels, is expected to significantly increase in the coming decades, posing serious supply risks, as well as environmental, economic and social challenges at local, regional and global scales.

The draft resolution among others encourages member states and relevant stakeholders active along the mineral supply chain, including the financial sector and international financial institutions, to align mining practices and investments in mining with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the Minamata Convention and other relevant multilateral environmental agreements, and “build back better” following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outcomes of UNEA 5.2 will be keenly watched, to see how the governments continue to tackle some of the major environmental issues of our time, including that of plastics.

[S. Mageswari is a Senior Research Officer at the Consumers Association of Penang and Friends of the Earth Malaysia.]

- Third World Network