Governments of some major economies lined up behind efforts on Aug. 22 to "restrain plastic consumption" in an upcoming global treaty, kicking off an effort to steer negotiations and put other strong actions on the table.
The 20 countries — including Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Canada — announced a coalition to end plastic pollution by 2040 and build support in the treaty talks for things like bans or restrictions on "problematic" plastics.
In some ways, the announcement of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution is not a complete surprise.
Similar ideas were discussed during the U.N. Environment Assembly meeting in March, when nations gave conceptual approval to the global pact.
But the news release from the coalition suggests some diplomatic urgency, noting that the group will meet in a few weeks at the U.N. General Assembly to discuss the next steps, ahead of the first formal meeting of the plastic treaty negotiations in Uruguay in late November.
In the statement, some governments pointed to measures like taxes on plastics packaging.
"With restrictions on single-use plastics, our commitment to ban plastic exports to non-OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, and our world-leading plastic packaging tax, the U.K. is at the forefront of tackling plastic pollution," said Frank Goldsmith, the U.K.'s minister of international environment. "We are fully behind this ambitious and far-reaching agreement which will help to reverse the unimaginable damage caused to the global environment."
The coalition outlined three strategic goals for its member governments, with the first being to "restrain plastic consumption and production to sustainable levels," as well as calling for a circular economy for plastics and for environmentally sound management and recycling of plastic waste.
The group's opening statement also said its first key deliverable would be to "eliminate problematic plastics, including by bans and restrictions."
Other deliverables include setting global sustainability standards and global environmental targets for plastics.
The first meeting of an intergovernmental negotiating committee to start writing treaty language will kick off Nov. 28 in Uruguay.
The coalition said it will work to develop a treaty by 2024, a fast timeline for such agreements.
"We took the initiative to form a group of ambitious countries to work for a truly effective global treaty that will establish common global rules, turn off the tap and end plastic pollution by 2040," said Espen Barth-Eide, co-chair of the coalition and Norway's Minister of the Environment and Climate.
The other co-chair, Rwandan Minister of Environment Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, said countries cannot effectively address plastic waste challenges within national borders.
"Rwanda started the journey to end plastic pollution in 2004, unfortunately plastic wastes are still visible in the country's downstream which proves the need of global efforts," she said.
In its statement, the coalition said global consumption of plastic is expected to more than double in coming decades, from 460 million metric tons in 2019 to 1.23 billion tonnes in 2060, with the growth driven by packaging, automobile and construction applications.
It pointed to a report from the OECD that said that without much stronger action, plastic in rivers and lakes will more than triple by 2060 and leakage into the ocean will jump nearly five-fold in that time.
The coalition also said that of the 10,000 chemicals identified in plastics or plastics manufacturing, 2,400 of them can be considered "potentially hazardous to human health and the environment."
A Swiss official said her government sees a strong role for the group.
"Switzerland firmly believes that such a coalition can support the development of an ambitious and meaningful international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution that will contribute to ending plastic pollution including by reducing the plastic consumption and production and enabling a safe circular economy for plastics," said Simonetta Sommaruga, head of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.