The UN plastics resolution is a big step forward, but on biodiversity and climate, we’re falling far behind, argues Marco Magrini
This column often (and regrettably) deals with bad news. Yet, sometimes good news happens. In March, the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution titled ‘End Plastic Pollution’. The world’s governments agreed to draft a legally binding agreement by 2024, which is due to address the full lifecycle of plastics, including production, design, and disposal.
Global plastics production is forecasted to double by 2050, up to 756 million tonnes a year. The flow of synthetic polymers into the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes is expected to reach 29 million tons annually. Microplastics, tiny bits measuring from millimetres to nanometres, are found in air, water and foods. We already know that they enter into our body through respiration and ingestion. A recent study, however, identified polyethene and many other nasty, alien polymers in the human bloodstream.
Albeit too late, the international community has at least agreed that the level of plastics pollution is well beyond reasonable. It will be hard to draft a treaty in just two years, yet, according to UNEA President Espen Barth Eide, the recent agreement puts the world ‘on track for a cure to the plastic pollution epidemic’. It also creates a science-policy panel that ‘will ensure informed scientific input on all three aspects of the triple planetary crisis’ – plastics, climate change and biodiversity.
So far so good, but sorry to say, here comes the bad news. Last March, delegates from 195 countries totally failed to agree on a ’post-2020 global biodiversity framework,’ from increasing protected areas to holding back extinctions of entire species. As a result, the long-awaited UN Biodiversity Summit to be held in Kunming, China, will be postponed for the fourth time.
Currently, around eight per cent of seas and 17 per cent of land globally are officially protected. The goal is to cover 30 per cent of both by 2030. We are losing living species at unprecedented rates. Because of life’s interconnectedness, as more species die out ecosystem services and food security are threatened. The loss of biodiversity is just as critical as plastics contamination.
As for the remaining ‘planetary crisis’ – the climatic one – the outcome of negotiations hangs on COP27, to be held in Egypt in November. With the current state of international relations in tatters, it’s hard to expect much good news. Yet we can’t help but root for it. Last March, Antarctic temperatures were 40°C above normal.