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Environment

Global action on plastics

The EU is paving the way for a global agreement on plastics, to support the global shift towards a circular economy.

Overview

Plastic pollution is an urgent and global problem. Current responses to this problem are fragmented, and can only provide a limited long-term effect on the discharge of plastics into the environment. Now, momentum is increasing to scale up global efforts.

The EU is paving the way for a global agreement on plastics, to support the global shift to a circular economy as outlined in the new circular economy action plan. Such a global agreement should address plastic pollution throughout the entire plastics lifecycle, in order to minimise the mismanagement of plastics and prevent plastic from entering the environment.

Background

There is currently no dedicated international instrument in place designed specifically to prevent plastic pollution throughout the entire plastics lifecycle. Some countries are taking action to reduce plastic consumption or increase recycling - through campaigns and awareness-raising measures for example. Other countries have specific laws in place, such as obliging producers and manufacturers to minimise waste, adopting recycling targets, or phasing out the most problematic plastic products, including single use plastics.

However, recent studies show that with the current measures, we are only able to reduce marine plastic pollution, a central element of the plastic challenge, by 7 per cent. Therefore, more than 100 countries have called to establish a global agreement on plastics, under the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The aim of this agreement would be to tackle the global discharge and mismanagement of plastics, by reducing both plastics leakage into the environment and the impact of plastic production and consumption on resources.

The need to take urgent, concrete action has been emphasized in several United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolutions since 2014. An ad-hoc open-ended expert group on marine litter (the “AHEG”) was set up in 2017 by UNEA3 to identify potential solutions. The group had concluded its work and its recommendations were considered at the second session of UNEA5 in early 2022, leading to the launch of negotiations on a legally binding global agreement to combat plastic pollution.

Objectives

An intergovernmental negotiating committee within which negotiations for the plastics agreement can take place was established at UNEA5. The EU will continue to work with its allies and other partners aiming at a rapid conclusion of the negotiations.

The agreement should aim to close the gaps that existing instruments do not address. It should also help to streamline and coordinate efforts by all stakeholders involved by providing an overarching framework for action. The mandate agreed at UNEA5.2 includes the setup of an intergovernmental negotiating committee that will develop aninternational legally bindinginstrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics. The negotiating committee should, according to its mandate, consider provisions to specify the objectives of the instrument, to promote sustainable production and consumption, implementation and update of national action plans, as well as reporting and effectiveness assessments of the new instrument.

Timeline

Key dates related to the EU’s global action on plastics

  1. 2024
    Negotiations on the legally binding global agreement expected to conclude through a diplomatic conference
  2. November 2022
    First meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to take place in second half of 2022
  3. May 2022
    Ad hoc open-ended working group (pre-meeting)

    To discuss the organization of the intergovernmental negotiating committee, expected during first half of 2022.

  4. 28 February to 4 March 2022
    UNEA5.2 took place

    Negotiations for a legally binding global agreement on plastics launched. Find out more.

  5. September 2021
    Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution

    Including Ministerial Statement where countries call for the launch of negotiations for a global agreement on plastics.

  6. February 2021
    No substantial negotiations on global agreement on plastics at UNEA5.1
  7. December 2020
    Council of the EU adopted circular economy conclusion, including support for global agreement
  8. November 2020
    AHEG finalised its work and submitted its report to UNEA5

    More than 100 countries express support for a global agreement

  9. March 2020
    The Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan, highlighting the global plastic agreement as a global priority
  10. January 2018
    The Commission adopted the plastics strategy, highlighting the need to harness global action on plastics
  11. 2017
    UNEA3 established the ad hoc open-ended expert group on marine litter and microplastics (AHEG)
  12. 2014
    First resolution on marine litter by UNEA, emphasising urgency to take concrete action

Contact

For more information on the EU’s global action on plastics, please contact us.