US and France push for global deal on plastic pollution

About 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans each year, European researchers say

A plastic-filled wave on a beach in Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. AFP
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The US and France announced support on Friday for a global deal on cutting plastic pollution, as the world's ecosystems become increasingly clogged with millions of tonnes of synthetic waste that take many centuries to break down.

The two countries stressed in a joint statement the “importance of curbing” plastic pollution “at its source” through an international accord to be negotiated at a UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, this month.

They called for a “global agreement to address the full lifecycle of plastics and promote a circular economy”.

It should feature “binding and non-binding commitments, call on countries to develop and implement ambitious national action plans and foster robust engagement of stakeholders to contribute towards the agreement’s objectives”, the statement said.

Negotiations in Nairobi represent one of the most ambitious efforts in environmental diplomacy since the climate change agreement struck in Paris in 2015.

About 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans every year, most of it discarded on land or washed into rivers, said the Clean Oceans Initiative, which is led by European development banks.

This week, the environmental group World Wildlife Fund said that vast marine areas could have dangerous levels of microplastic concentration by the end of the century unless humankind cuts down on waste and pollution.

The French-American statement was released as leaders met at the One Ocean Summit on France’s Atlantic coast to discuss protecting the planet’s oceans from overfishing, pollution and other threats.

At the talks, mayors and politicians from maritime cities signed the Sea’ties initiative, a pact to fight the erosion of coastal cities, a problem that is worsening due to climate change.

The conference came as European authorities investigated a mass fish dumping in the Bay of Biscay which environmental activists are calling an example of abuses by huge trawlers that wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems.

Talks were attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, whose country will host the UN’s annual climate summit this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, US climate envoy John Kerry and others.

Nicolas Imbert, executive director of the environmental group Green Cross, said the health of oceans – which cover more than 70 per cent of the planet’s surface – is “at risk”.

“We are already late, so we need a shock in order to have strong new commitments and also in order to meet past commitments,” Mr Imbert told PA.

Updated: February 11, 2022, 4:35 PM