Washington — Five countries in the G7 group of industrial democracies have adopted a plastics charter on ocean pollution, a move that some observers likened to the start of a Paris-style climate agreement on marine waste.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the June 9 event's closing news conference that five of the seven members of the bloc agreed on a so-called “plastic charter” on ocean pollution, with the United States and Japan not signing.
Details of the charter were not available, and some industry sources said it was a surprise that not all countries in the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — signed the plastics agreement.
But in their closing news conferences, several heads of state specifically addressed plastic waste, using strong language suggesting that they wanted more focus on plastics in the oceans and on recycling.
Agreements at the G7 are not legally binding, and the leaders spent much, much more time in their public comments discussing trade and security issues. But the mention of plastics waste by heads of government of some of the world's largest economies indicated the rising concern.
“Five of us also agreed to a plastics charter, which speaks to our common resolve to eradicate plastic pollution,” said Trudeau, whose government had pushed for the charter. “This is an important step to achieving a life cycle economy in which all plastics would be recycled and repurposed.”
“This is good news not only for the environment but also for businesses who could stand to benefit from reducing the costs associated to plastics use,” he said.
Trudeau added that Canada would “invest $100 million to rid our oceans of the global plastic pollution.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said her government sees it as an important issue.
“Here at this summit we have recognized the need for greater global action and coordination on marine plastics pollution, including working with business, industry, and non-governmental organizations to find innovative solutions,” May said. “On the issue of plastics, this is an issue that the United Kingdom has seen as a very key issue, as do others around the world. We had a very good discussion in the outreach session today.”
Even if not all countries signed the plastics charter, May said that the main communique from the G7, which was agree to by all seven-member nations, includes some actions on marine plastics.
She noted that there are more specific commitments in side agreements, presumably the plastics charter.
“What we have in the communique is, agreed action across the board from all seven members,” May said. “There are some more specific targets in the annexes that were attached, and countries will achieve the actions in the main communique in different ways.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the G7 was picking up on actions taken by France and others in Europe. The European Commission, for example, in late May proposed a strategy of banning some single-use plastic products and 90 percent targets for plastic bottle recycling.
He said plastics is one of several challenges facing the oceans.
“We have lengthy discussions on the oceans and coastal erosions, fisheries and the fight against global warming, which is crucial for the oceans,” Macron said. “And [we] also expressed a strong commitment to fight against plastic. It means that at the G7 we can open up to what has already been approved by France and by Europe.”
“We want 100 percent recyclable plastics by 2030, because the ocean between the continents is currently full of plastic,” he said. “If you look at the Atlantic Ocean, there is already the equivalent of the French territory of plastic. So unless we deal with it, unless we also prevent additional production of plastic, we will foster a tragedy, an environmental tragedy.”
President Donald Trump left the G7 meeting prior to the news conference, but in a series of tweets he blamed Trudeau for the U.S. decision not to sign endorse the G7 communique, which covered more issues than plastics, including trade.
He wrote: “Based on Justin's false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. market!”
Other dignitaries on hand for the G7 meeting, in Charlevoix, Quebec, spoke about plastics pollution.
At an event on the sidelines of the main discussions, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he welcomed the plastics charter and that he wanted to “sound the alarm” broadly about the poor health of oceans.
A U.N. statement said the charter was “being seen by some observers as a Paris-style watershed moment for cleaning up ocean garbage, referencing the 2015 Agreement on climate change.”
“Plastic waste is now found in the most remote areas of the planet,” Guterres said. “It kills marine life and is doing major harm to communities that depend on fishing and tourism.”
Guterres urged world leaders to tackle other problems in the ocean as well.
“We all need to do so much more, not just on plastic waste but on all ocean issues,” he said, mentioning fish stocks being crippled by overfishing and coastal dead zones caused by pollution and untreated waste being discharged into the seas.
In a statement, Greenpeace International said that while it welcomed the plastics charter, it said voluntary agreements would not be enough and it called for legislation with binding reduction targets and bans on single-use plastics.”