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This is How Hope Trumped the Fog of War in Nairobi

The writer is an international communications coordinator at Greenpeace Africa

Dandora landfill in Nairobi, Kenya, where much of the waste in the landfill is plastic. Credit: UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi

DAKAR, Senegal, Mar 14 2022 (IPS) - As Russia’s attack began rattling Kyiv with multiple missile and air raids about 5am on 24 February, it suffused the dawn with stains of darkness. It was accompanied with military menaces in countries like Finland and Sweden and raising a warning to anyone who may assist the Ukrainian people – ordinary citizens bereaved, over 2.5 million displaced and boldly defending themselves – from nuclear war.

It turned the global energy market and trade in goods such as wheat, maize and minerals into weapons of war, which bluntly violates the prohibition against use of force under article 2(4) of the UN Charter and customary law.

Governments, companies, and ordinary citizens across the world are observing this catastrophe with a mix of anger, fear, and sadness.

There is also widespread dismay, since the invasion of Ukraine is really an exercise in human folly and futility, which will not move us one inch closer to dealing with the truly burning issues of our age.

This confrontation is spinning the global market of goods such as wheat, other grains and minerals into turbulence. This is happening with food prices already soaring, with supply chains disrupted following more than two years of dealing with COVID-19, as well as droughts raging worldwide, including across 49.6% of the U.S.

The climate and biodiversity breakdowns make future pandemics, wildfires, floods, pollution, and other deadly disasters more likely. We’re failing to provide answers to these crises to billions of people, including millions of Russians and Ukrainians. This senseless war risks obfuscating our common challenges and making things worse.

At the same time in Nairobi, some 8,000 kilometers away from the attacks in Kyiv, the broadest government and civil society coalition ever thought possible – including representatives from Russia and Ukraine – was preparing to do the exact opposite.

It was an effort to arrive at a decision by all the world’s environment ministers to save lives. It culminated on Wednesday, 2 March, at the end of the UN Environment Assembly, in the historic adoption of a resolution to End Plastic Pollution.

Not reduce plastic pollution, but to end it. It is an ambition so grand that it can only be achieved through scientific ingenuity, political determination, and – most importantly – multilateral cooperation.

Plastic pollution has become a primary concern that extends well beyond the circles of environmental activists. In almost seven decades, plastic production soared from 2 million tonnes to 348 million tonnes.

Exposure to plastics can harm human health, potentially affecting fertility, hormonal, metabolic and neurological activity, and open burning of plastics contributes to air pollution. Plastic waste is literally running in our blood, lab tests confirm.

Plastic pollution also makes climate change worse – by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production, use and disposal will account for 15 per cent of allowed emissions, under the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F).

For resource-based economies, like much of Africa’s countries, plastic pollution puts a strain on land and marine ecosystems. More than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by it. Some 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow annually into the oceans. Without comprehensive action, this is set to triple by 2040 and by 2050 there might be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

This plastic resolution puts us on track to an international and legally binding plastic treaty by the end of 2024. It’s important to note that, not unlike a declaration of war against industry, this puts the plastic industry on notice that their days of polluting our planet are numbered and signals to big consumer brands that their reliance on single use plastics must change.

Yet businesses can and must adapt. Just like when the use of mercury was restricted through international consensus, dental clinics (where the poisonous metal was in wide use) did not go out of business. This is an opportunity for businesses to shift, altogether with support of government initiatives to reuse and circular economy system.

In fact, a shift to circular economy, which can reduce the volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80 per cent and reduce virgin plastic production by 55 per cent, will also save governments US$70 billion and create 700,000 additional jobs, mainly in the global south.

While the headlines are overtaken by the military offensive in Ukraine, we urge news readers to scroll down, read more about the diplomatic breakthrough last week in Nairobi and be inspired – as we are. Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the resolution to End Plastic Pollution shows multilateral cooperation at its best.

Indeed, plastic waste has grown into an epidemic. With the resolution by the world’s ministers of environment we are officially on track for a cure.

A green and a peaceful future is within reach – so long as people demand their governments act. May this serve as a vital reminder that while conventional war offers no victory to any side, the campaign we wage jointly against a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution offers benefits for both people and the planet.

IPS UN Bureau


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