May 29, 2024

Civil society must pressure governments to develop and adopt sustainable policies: UNEP Boss

Angela Simmons in New York

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen has urged civil society organisations around the globe to join forces against plastic pollution to create a healthy environment for all.

This call from the UNEP boss comes at a time where plastic pollution is drowning and poisoning the planet, while nine billion tonnes of plastic were produced between 1950 and 2017. Of this, seven billion tonnes became waste. While, 11 million tonnes of plastic flow into our oceans. Plastic pollution is in our waterways, our food, our soil, animals and in us.

“This plastic pollution aggravates the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. It hinders the right to a healthy environment. It slows sustainable development. And it hits hardest at the heart of vulnerable communities.

Pakistan is, like every nation on the planet, no stranger to plastic pollution. Pakistan produced 3.9 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2020, over 65 per cent of which was mismanaged. 18 per cent of municipal solid waste produced in Pakistan is plastics. Only 3 per cent of plastic used by the manufacturing industry in Pakistan is recycled material,” she said

UNEP Boss, Andersen further noted that civil society are the watchdog in communities and they should inform and educate the public on the importance of using our environment in a sustainable manner.

“Of course, civil society can and must drive action. We need civil society to keep the pressure on. Through awareness building. Through generating data. Through driving and informing the government to develop and adopt sustainable policies.

It is critical that civil society speaks for the most disadvantaged: waste sector workers. The informal sector is crucial in waste recycling in Pakistan, but most waste pickers are children. We need to hear all voices and take them into account in the development of waste management systems.

Civil society also plays a crucial role in bringing environmental cases in the public interest. Cases have included the protection of the right to water free from pollution, in salt miners vs. director of industries and mineral development. The obligation to uphold environmental policies to protect citizens right to life, in Sheikh Asim Farooq vs. Federation of Pakistan etc. And the right to a clean and healthy environment, in Asghar Leghari vs. Federation of Pakistan.

Civil society, in Pakistan and across the world, must continue to push government and industry, and participate in negotiating process for the plastic pollution agreement,” she said.

Moreover, the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly, or UNEA 5.2, showed that the international community is getting serious about this problem.

At UNEA 5.2 early last year, nations overcame geopolitical tensions to take the historic step of agreeing on the need for an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee tasked with creating this agreement must finish its work by 2024. If they can agree and start implementing this deal, it will help drive a movement to a circular plastic economy that could reduce the volume of plastics entering the ocean by over 80 per cent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent.