Ending plastic pollution; protecting our blue planet

 Ending plastic pollution;  protecting our blue planet


Mr. Pascal Canfin, Chair of the ENVI committee,

Honorable Members of the European Parliament,

It is a pleasure to be here with you today.

The triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste is upon us and bearing down harder every year. If we do not act strongly, this crisis will crush our chances of delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals. We can forget about ending hunger and poverty, delivering peace and equity, and living in harmony with the natural world.

This year, however, the international community has demonstrated the will to act with the force and speed needed to halt the triple planetary crisis. Stockholm+50 showed that the world is ready for system-wide transformations that place human well-being at the center of a healthy planet. And, a few months earlier, in March, the Nairobi spirit of consensus-based diplomacy delivered high-impact outcomes at the fifth United Nations Environment Assemblygold UNEA 5.2.

The political declaration in Nairobi stressed the urgent need to halt the decline of biodiversity and the fragmentation of habitats – while four resolutions on nature covered issues from biodiversity and health to nature-based solutions. Resolutions on the circular economy reinforced plans to make infrastructure resilient, to push for a greener recovery from COVID-19 and to deal with the environmental aspects of minerals and metals management.

Big strides were made on chemicals, waste and pollution. The resolution to establish a science-policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste and preventing pollution could be a game-changer. This panel will give the third prong of the triple planetary crisis a scientific body on a par with those for climate and biodiversity.

And, of course, we had a milestone moment with the adoption of the resolution to create, by 2024, an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. This resolution is a testament to global coordination, cooperation and meaningful multistakeholder engagement. My appreciation to the European Union for your support in arriving at these positive outcomes.

Friends,

You all know the damage plastic pollution is causing, particularly to the blue planet. And you all know the benefits a comprehensive circular economy approach to plastics would bring – slashing the volume of plastics entering the oceans, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving money and creating jobs. So, allow me to drill down on the critical elements that I believe are necessary for the final agreement to be meaningful, impactful and effective – and therefore – be able to stop plastic pollution.

As I see it, at the top level, the deal must be ambitious, well-designed, and inclusive. The deal should include clear, defined, and monitorable targets – against which Member States can measure progress. The deal should recognize that our societies and economies depend on plastics, but that it is a product that should generally not be for single-use. The deal needs to be inclusive and address the concerns of all countries and those that work within the plastics economy.

But let us talk specifics. Here are my five key recommendations.

One, build a broad instrument that does not just tinker around the edges.

The deal must cover the full life cycle of plastics use. Consider different types of polymers and plastic products. Prioritize sustainable consumption and production, including the uptake of secondary and alternative raw materials. Deploy innovative reuse models. Design products that keep the highest value when recycling plastic. Address the chemical contents in the plastics we use to enable safe reuse and recycling. Develop safe and environmentally sound waste management. Eliminate residual waste along the value chain.

We aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but we do need to ensure that the plastics industry rolls in the right direction. And that means a radical transformation.

Two, be informed by science.

The deal must rely on science to identify hotspots for action along the value chain – looking at the most impactful polymers, products, sectors, geographic locations and waste systems.

Science has laid out the full scale of plastic pollution problem. It must be our guide as we fix the problem.

Three, bring everyone under the action umbrella.

The deal must account for the realities and complexities of the market – hear and understand the voices of plastic-dependent industries and grassroots communities, including waste pickers and others. In this regard, I was pleased to see that multi-stakeholder dialogues were part and parcel of the adhoc Open Ended Working Group discussions to end plastic pollution which was held last month in Dakar, Senegal. We will need governments, the private sector, research and development communities, indigenous peoples, the informal sector, youth, civil society organizations and consumer-based organizations.

We will need everyone to land and implement the deal.

Four, spur solutions for a new economy.

It is important to remember that this is not just about ending an environmental threat. It is about creating new economic opportunities and alleviating poverty. We are talking about new business models, new jobs. New market opportunities for recycling. New and alternative designs, materials, and products. Social and policy innovation to nudge behavior changes in actions of different stakeholders along the plastics life cycle.

Let’s view this as creating a new economy, not destroying an old one.

Five, learn from other multilateral agreements and instruments, but embrace innovations in the multilateral environmental space.

We can learn a lot from, and build upon, existing instruments – from the Montreal Protocol to the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Minamata Conventions. But we should also innovate. We can find new pathways for modern, inclusive and networked multilateralism to give a broader set of stakeholders a voice – and give industry a chance to commit and measure themselves or be measured against agreed targets.

We need something old, something new, something borrowed to protect the blue ie the oceans on which we all depend.

Friends, we have two years to get this deal agreed and running, but the process is already in motion.

At the open-ended working group in Dakar, progress was made on nominating bureau members for regions, and the first of five planned sessions of the International Negotiating Committee is to be held in Uruguay, tentatively in November. The support of the European Union will be crucial – both politically and in terms of action to combat plastic pollution until the deal is up-and-running.

We are living through difficult times. But what I have seen this year – in terms of UNEA, in terms of the progress on plastic pollution, in terms of the growing societal movement for a healthy environment – ​​reassures me that we can turn things around.

The European Union, and you on the ENVI Committee, have played an integral part in these signs of hope. My thanks for your efforts so far. Now I urge you to keep up the momentum.

It is crucial that the European Union maintains high ambition on the triple planetary crisis, in the interests of not only European citizens, but the rest of the planet. I ask members of the European Parliament, through ongoing discussions on elements of the Fit for 55 package, to take the right decisions for planet and people, based on science.

I look forward to working with you to shift the needle even further into the green.

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