NAIROBI, March 2 (Reuters) - The United Nations approved a landmark agreement to create the world's first ever global plastic pollution treaty on Wednesday, describing it as the most significant environmental deal since the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Member states held talks for more than a week in Nairobi to agree the outline of a pact to rein in soaring plastic pollution, an environmental crisis that extends from ocean trenches to mountain tops.
Government officials cheered and punched the air after the adoption of a resolution to create a legally binding plastic pollution treaty, which is due to be finalised by 2024.
"We're making history today and you should all be proud," said Espen Barth Eide, President of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). "Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today's resolution we are officially on track for a cure."
The resolution, which UNEA calls "the most significant environmental deal since the Paris accord", is written in broad strokes and an intergovernmental committee is now tasked with negotiating a deal that will have ripple effects on businesses and economies around the world.
Any treaty that puts restrictions on plastic production, use or design would affect oil and chemicals companies that make raw plastic, as well as consumer goods giants that sell thousands of products in single-use packaging.
It would also affect the economies of major plastic-producing countries, including the United States, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Although U.N. officials were united in celebrating the agreement to have a plastic treaty, disagreements remain over what should be included in a final pact, Switzerland's ambassador for the environment Franz Perrez said.
"This is a division between those who are ambitious and want to find a solution and those who don't want to find a solution for whatever reasons," he said.
There is overwhelming public support for a U.N. treaty on plastic pollution, according to an Ipsos poll released this month, and delegates were quick to celebrate what they had achieved in Nairobi. read more
"This is only the end of the beginning, we have a lot of work ahead of us," said a tearful Monica Medina, the head of the U.S. delegation. "But it is the beginning of the end of the scourge of plastic waste for this planet."
Juliet Kabera, lead negotiator for Rwanda, hailed the resolution as a "great victory in the global quest to reverse the rapidly worsening impacts of plastic pollution."
If the treaty cannot put the brakes on plastic pollution, there will be widespread envionmental damage over the coming decades, putting some marine species at risk of extinction and destroying sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves, according to a WWF study released this month.
"The habitability of our planet is stake," Tim Grabiel, a lawyer with non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency in Nairobi said following the talks. "Plastic pollution is a planetary crisis on par with climate change and biodiversity loss."
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