Your Excellency Abdou Karim Sall, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Senegal,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to first express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Senegal for hosting and for the excellent arrangements made to welcome the ad hoc Open Ended Working Group to beautiful Dakar.
I also wish to extend a warm welcome to all delegates who made the journey here, and to those who are participating virtually in this meeting. Your participation is deeply appreciated.
Delegates, as you know, this meeting will lay the ground work for the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
The resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly delivered a historic result by deciding on the need for a global agreement to end plastic pollution. This outcome made headlines across the world. This was a result that has been years in the making. Today, there is global consensus that this issue must be tackled urgently. Indeed, the resolution provides under three years for the negotiation process, signalling an impatience with the time lost and a clear desire to move this issue forward expeditiously, efficiently, and meaningfully.
And so, I salute everyone present. Because this ad hoc meeting is critical to getting us moving. Given the huge interest and backing for a global deal that will end plastic pollution, this meeting and all the work that you, the negotiators, will be doing will be under a global spotlight. But Nairobi’s UNEA 5.2 showed what determined environmental multilateralism can deliver when in the hands of committed diplomats and negotiators. And I have every faith that the “Nairobi spirit” of consensus-based diplomacy, as well as that dogged determination that we saw in UNEA 5.2, will continue to guide us in the months ahead.
How, then, do we ensure that this deal, when ready, takes flight?
What are my hopes for an agreement to end plastic pollution? Well, as I see it, the deal must be ambitious, well-designed, and inclusive. The deal should identify clear, defined, and monitorable targets – against which Member States can measure progress as they engage the entire value chain to end plastic pollution. The deal needs to be inclusive and address the concerns of the entire spectrum of countries, irrespective of where they are in the global plastics economy.
The deal should recognise that plastics is a product on which our societies and economies depend, but also a product that should generally not be for single use. People are increasingly paying a hefty price as a result of the throwaway culture. The deal should address the chemical contents in the plastics we use to enable safe reuse and recycling. The deal must take into account the realities and complexities of the market – hear and understand the voices of the plastics dependent industries, while also hearing the voices of grassroots communities, including waste pickers and others, who work within the plastics economy. And of course, the deal should be in synergy with already established instruments, build on these and not duplicate them. But also, importantly the deal needs to learn from the good, the bad, and the difficult in other environmental agreements.
So, how do we land this ambitious vision? Here are my five recommendations.
One, build a broad instrument so that it is not just tinkering around the edges of the problem.
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 new and innovative reuse models. Design products that keep the highest value when recycling plastic. Eliminate residual waste along the value chain. Develop safe and environmentally sound waste management.
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.
Three, have close engagement and with the involvement of stakeholders.
It is good news that multi-stakeholder dialogues are already underway. We have governments, the private sector, research and development communities, indigenous peoples, the informal sector, youth, civil society organizations and consumer-based organizations. We will need all these groups 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 behaviour changes in actions of different stakeholders along the plastics life cycle.
Five, learn from other multilateral agreements and instruments, but also be ready and willing to embrace new and bold innovations in the multilateral environmental space.
There is much experience that can be learned from existing instruments. From the Montreal Protocol to the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Minamata Conventions. And that is important. But we should also innovate. We can find new pathways for modern, inclusive, networked multilateralism to give a broader set of stakeholders a voice. To give industry a chance to commit and measure themselves or be measured against the targets you will agree.
Yes, change is difficult. But it is also exciting. And it will be in your hands. What you do will have a real and lasting positive impact on this planet and every person and creature who lives on this planet.
A deal, done right, will boost the chances of a safe and circular plastics economy. One which creates jobs, opportunities, health, and enhances human and planetary wellbeing. Hydrocarbons that we take out from the belly of the earth and turn into plastics will stay in circulation. People will be healthier. Nature will be healthier. The oceans will be healthier.
Few people get the chance to be involved in something so large, so critical, so real, and so meaningful. This is a rare opportunity to build an instrument that can change our world, at scale, for the better.