Global governance of plastics and associated chemicals

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted resolution 5/14 entitled “End plastic pollution: towards an international legally binding instrument” and requested the Executive Director of UNEP to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The resolution reaffirmed the importance of cooperation, coordination and complementarity among relevant regional and international conventions and instruments, with due respect for their respective mandates to prevent plastic pollution and its related risks to human health and adverse effects on human well-being and the environment.

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Global governance of plastics and associated chemicals (Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, 2023. UNEP/CHW.16/INF/58–UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.11/INF/41–UNEP/POPS/COP.11/INF/59)

The global governance of plastics and associated chemicals spans numerous multilateral agreements. This report provides the first comprehensive mapping of the existing global governance landscape for plastics and associated chemicals. The mapping includes both binding and voluntary measures adopted at the global level that explicitly refer to plastics and chemicals known to be found in plastics, as well as those measures that may encompass plastics and associated chemicals by inference. Opportunities to strengthen the governance of plastics based on globally agreed principles and approaches are discussed, in particular those agreed in UNEA Resolutions.

The report highlights that the current governance landscape is insufficient for meeting the ambition for ending plastic pollution. Suggestions are provided for potential mechanisms to close the governance gaps across the full life cycle of plastics and associated chemicals, including by strengthening existing MEAs and by including new measures in the global plastics agreement. The role of possible criteria to be used as control measures to close the governance gap are discussed. This includes criteria for elimination of chemicals and polymers of concern used in plastics based on examples from existing frameworks as well as a novel idea of introducing criteria for sustainable design of plastics that needs to feature non-toxicity as a central criterion.

This independent report was commissioned by the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and produced by the University of Wollongong, Australia. The report has benefitted from valuable expert input from governments, academia, non-governmental organizations, secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements, UN bodies and the private sector. The report was made possible by the generous support of the Government of Norway.