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The Global Treaty - how is it shaping up?


Since the UNEA resolution in March 2022, activity has been gathering pace in the development of a Global Treaty on plastics pollution. The original resolution gives a sense for some of the key themes that will form part of the negotiations:

  • Measures to promote the sustainable consumption and production of plastics
  • National and international co-operation
  • Monitoring and reporting of progress
  • Knowledge, awareness-raising, education and exchange of information.

However, wider issues are coming to the fore as part of the early stage preparations and negotiations.

Firstly, the importance of ensuring a fair and inclusive treaty that protects human rights has been highlighted and recognised by many parties. The role of the informal sector - a key driving force in current global recycling efforts - will be key here. This is an area where the University of Leeds team has conducted much work (e.g. SOCO), helping to explore and promote the important - but often unrecognised -  role that waste pickers play in tackling plastics pollution, collecting waste materials and serving as the foundation of the plastics recycling value chain in the majority of countries around the world.

The global informal sector is the foundation of the plastics recycling value chain. It can be argued that they have taken more action on plastics pollution to-date than any group of national governments and international agencies.

Secondly, what balance will be struck between core international objectives and the role of National Action Plans in meeting any global treaty targets? Ambitious and strong international targets will be critical if this global challenge is to be solved, but a top-down approach may not be effective if it isn't linked to action at a national level.

However, a National Action Plan approach has limitations. It could dilute the effect of the Treaty, moving the focus from core international elements,  delegating responsibility to national governments. This will be particularly challenging for many low and lower-middle income country governments who have little influence on the plastic supply chain and little capacity to develop effective National Action Plans. International co-operation will be key here in supporting governments to build capacity on plastic pollution issues and make effective investments and policy interventions, based on good evidence and science.

Thirdly, in a world where an estimated 2 billion people do not have access to solid waste management, action and investment to build these systems will be key. But waste management is typically a local government service. Linking national ambitions and policies on plastics pollution to action at a local government level will be essential if we are to eliminate plastics pollution.

In almost every jurisdiction in the world, solid waste management is the responsibility of local government. An international instrument on plastics pollution will not succeed if we fail to put support for local government at the centre of any agreement.

As we approach INC2, these issues and the specific elements that will form part of the International Instrument will begin to take shape.

The Research Team at University of Leeds is working hard to help develop and apply effective tools and capacity-building efforts, particularly in low and middle income countries and at both local and national levels.