The Giant Plastic Tap, co-created by Artist Benjamin Von Wong, the Human Needs Project and the residents of Kibera, welcomed participants to UNEA5.2, reminding them of 1) the urgent need to #TurnOffThePlasticTap, and 2) that their discussions at the conference impact all of our lives.

“It is so decided!”

The usual words, expressed by H.E. Mr. Espen Barth Eide President of UNEA and Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, took on a huge meaning at the closing of UNEA5.2 when applied to draft resolution UNEP/EA.5/L23 (titled End Plastic Pollution: Towards and international legally binding instrument), which saw the biggest conference room in the UN compound in Nairobi explode into a loud standing ovation. Seasoned negotiators hugging each other; contained emotions of long hours of discussions that went into the early hours of the morning for the past few days, running free. Where were you when “the plastics resolution” was gavelled? The Life Cycle Initiative was in that room (and in the negotiating rooms during the weeks ahead of the closing plenary), represented by members of the UNEP Secretariat as well as several of our funding partners and Steering Committee representatives.

What exactly was “so decided”?

The resolution requests that an intergovernmental negotiating committee be convened to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic. And to do so with the ambition of completing this work by the end of 2024. This shows once more that when Member States come to the UNEA, they talk about what unites them, and put aside their differences to improve the future of our planet. Multilateralism worked at its best in this particular resolution, which most see as a stronger resolution than any of the drafts presented initially, even if those were initially very comprehensive! The resolution covers all types of plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, including microplastics, and crucially it covers the full life cycle, promoting sustainable consumption and production. The timeline to come to this new instrument is ambitious, because as stated by UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen “every year of delay means another 11 million tonnes of plastic waste tumbling and sliding into our oceans”. And for this reason the resolution also calls upon all Member States to continue and step up activities to combat plastic pollution, including through circular economy approaches.

And while the “End plastic pollution” resolution has already been declared “the most significant environmental deal since the Paris accord”, other important resolutions were agreed in UNEA 5.2. We highlight the ones on “Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”; the resolution on “Enhancing Circular Economy”, and “Environmental aspects of minerals and metals management”. Why? Because all of these also highlight the importance of considering a full life cycle approach. If UNEA4 was the “coming of age” of life cycle approaches in global environmental policy-making, the resolutions in UNEA5 bring the application of life cycle approaches to a whole new level.

The world was watching, and UNEA delivered. The Life Cycle Initiative stands ready to continue delivering the necessary support and knowledge to tackle plastic pollution and its impacts through a full life cycle approach, and to support all other sectors requiring a life cycle approach, while the instrument is negotiated.