Over 200 countries just signed a United Nations resolution in Nairobi, Kenya to eliminate plastic waste in the world’s oceans. The resolution is an important step towards establishing a legally binding treaty that would deal with the plastic pollution problem afflicting the world’s oceans. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there will be more plastic by weight in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050 if current trends continue.
The resolution offers hope for the future: “There is very strong language in this resolution,” said Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister, in an interview with Reuters. “We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months.”
Although plastic pollution is a global problem, Norway was the country that initiated the UN resolution. “We found micro plastics inside mussels, which is something we like to eat,” said Helgesen. “In January this year, a fairly rare species of whale was stranded on a beach because of exhaustion and they simply had to kill it. In its tummy they found 30 plastic bags.” Even the most remote parts of the globe have not escaped the plastic menace. In the final episode of the acclaimed Blue Planet II, plastic pollution is documented in isolated areas of Antarctica.
China is the world’s largest producer of plastic waste and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, the world’s most populous country has taken the global lead in addressing these environmental crises. “If there is one nation changing at the moment more than anyone else, it’s China … the speed and determination of the government to change is enormous,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the resolution, which was originally intended to have legally binding targets and timetables, was weakened by the United States, after Trump Administration officials rejected the stronger language.
Current American intransigence notwithstanding, Solheim envisions a future in which products and manufacturing systems are redesigned to use as little plastic as possible. “Let’s abolish products that we do not need … if you go to tourist places like Bali, a huge amount of the plastic picked from the oceans are actually straws,” said Solheim. Although there is much work to be done before a treaty is signed, several nations are already moving ahead to protect the environment. To mark the signing of the UN resolutions, 39 countries, including Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka and South Africa, adopted new commitments to reduce plastic pollution.