In March, there was a collective cheer when United Nations member states adopted a landmark resolution to end plastic pollution during the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Governments have agreed to begin work on a legally binding global agreement covering the full life cycle of plastics that will come into force in 2024. The decision has been called ambitious, revolutionary and historic.
The resolution established an intergovernmental negotiating committee to compile the text of the agreement. Its first meeting will begin on November 28 in Uruguay.
Thinking about the upcoming plastics treaty negotiations made me oscillate between high hopes and anxiety. I can see how the Plastics Treaty could finally end the era of plastic elimination. The world has an opportunity to craft an ambitious global plastics treaty – a solution that can match the scale of this global crisis.
On the other hand, I’ve seen how promising policies can go awry when big corporate interests are threatened. Corporations are pouring millions into obstructing, delaying, and undermining legislative efforts and global agreements. At the same time, major brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Nestlé pledge to cut plastic use but consistently fall short of their public commitments.
Worldwide, plastic regulations have been enacted, but much more needs to be done. Frontline communities are still grappling with plastic pollution in all its forms. The Global South bears the largest social and environmental costs of bag production, waste trading and waste incineration.
In the Philippines – one of the largest recipients of plastic waste from around the world – our communities bear disproportionately the brunt of the environmental degradation caused by plastic pollution. We are in danger because plastic production remains unchecked and corporations, united with big oil, continue to carry their disposable packaging that harms our health and the climate just so they can maximize their profits.
This is why it is imperative that the Global Plastics Treaty immediately limits and reduces total plastic production and use. Reducing the amount of plastic companies make and use is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, as 99 percent of plastic is made from fossil fuels. Ending corporate addiction to single-use plastic is a vital step toward tackling climate change and protecting communities.
The global plastics treaty we need must stop the overproduction of plastic, it must keep oil and gas in the earth, and it must generalize refill and reuse systems.
We must ensure not only justice, but a just transition for affected groups and the most vulnerable stakeholders, such as fence communities in ‘sacrifice zones’ near plastic production facilities, fishermen and workers across the plastics supply chain.
For this treaty to lead to meaningful change, the voices of affected communities, waste collectors and populations displaced by plastic pollution must be heard. Their experience and knowledge are invaluable in ensuring that no one is left behind. Most importantly, their genuine and empowered participation in this process is essential to achieving environmental and climate justice.
Achieving all of these challenges will be difficult, but solving the plastic pollution crisis is really possible and key to tackling climate change. The reuse revolution is blossoming with scalable solutions from all over the world – from reusable cups in convenience stores and refill systems in community stores, to the return of returnable bottles in the beverage sector.
Policies such as plastic bans and extended producer responsibility measures that focus on upstream are paving the way for systemic change at the local and national levels. These are what I call pockets of hope and change.
During treaty negotiations, we must get the word out louder than the big brands, the big oil, and the politicians who please them. We must make sure the treaty puts people’s interests, environmental justice and our climate at its center. The Global Plastics Treaty has the potential to be one of the most important environmental agreements in history – and we need to make sure it does not live up to its promises.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.