Towards a global agreement to combat plastic pollution

As a member state of the United Nations, Aotearoa New Zealand is working with other countries on a global agreement to eliminate plastic pollution. 

The issue

The flow of plastic litter and plastic pollution into the marine environment is a growing global problem.

Plastic pollution has significant environmental, health, social, and economic impacts.

By 2050 plastic production is expected to grow to 1,600 million tonnes per year. This is up from 407 million tonnes in 2015. It would amount to around 5.6 times the weight of all humans.

The United Nations has recognised that the rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution, including microplastics, presents a serious transboundary environmental problem. New Zealand has joined other UN member states in supporting the launch of negotiations towards a new agreement to combat plastic pollution. This legally binding agreement will be negotiated over the coming two years.

What could be in an agreement

Core elements of a global agreement are likely to include a: 

  • shared global goal/common long-term vision to the plastic pollution problem 
  • common approach to national action plans covering the life cycle of plastics 
  • mechanism to harmonise reporting and monitoring of actions and effects of measures 
  • financial mechanism to deliver technical support and capacity building
  • science and knowledge mechanism to provide access to quality-assured information for stakeholders at all levels. 

The overall scope, level of ambition, and nature of commitments of a global agreement all remain subject to negotiations. 

Aotearoa New Zealand’s approach to the agreement

Taking action on plastic waste is an important step in New Zealand’s journey to a low-waste economy with an effective resource recovery and recycling system.

New Zealand supports the development of an effective global agreement to reduce plastic waste and eliminate plastic pollution on a global scale.

In the negotiations of a global plastics agreement New Zealand intends to: 

  1. Advocate for the agreement to take a full lifecycle approach to plastic, addressing issues from the extraction of raw materials through to disposal and pollution impacts on ecosystems. This is consistent with our National Plastics Action Plan and draft waste strategy.
  2. Advocate for the agreement to be guided by the waste hierarchy, avoiding generating plastic waste in the first place, and treating destruction and disposal to landfill as the least desirable options for tackling plastic pollution.
  3. Advocate for the development of an agreement that is based on circular economy global principles, designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems (noting that the circular economy is a key principle behind our draft national waste strategy and the National Plastics Action Plan).
  4. Advocate for effective long-term solutions to the sources and drivers of plastics entering the environment. Solutions could include innovation, redesign of products, services and systems to avoid unnecessary use of plastics and enable plastic reuse and repair, and research into the role of alternative materials.  
  5. Support an approach that ensures efforts to reduce plastic do not lead to undesirable outcomes throughout their lifecycle, including an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, additives that are harmful for humans and ecosystems, or composite materials that do not have circular end-of-life solutions.
  6. Support transparent reporting requirements and periodic assessment of the progress of implementation and effectiveness of the agreement.

We also propose to prioritise a low-emission approach to options to reduce plastic waste and recognise the impact of plastic pollution on human and ecosystem health. We propose to pursue provisions that are consistent with Te Tiriti o Waitangi the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles, ensuring Māori rights and interests can be reflected in the negotiations.

For more information about New Zealand’s negotiating mandate, read the Cabinet paper.

New Zealand’s statements and interventions from the first meeting of the INC [PDF, 56.9 KB]

First negotiations meeting in November 2022

The first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting (INC1) is scheduled for November 28 to December 2, 2022, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

First Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting [UN Environment Programme website]

New Zealand is sending an in-person delegation to INC1 to advocate for an agreement that aligns with our interests.

The Ministry for the Environment has prepared for INC1 along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Five INC meetings are planned, and negotiations are expected to conclude by the end of 2024.

Background: Towards a global agreement

At the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) from 28 February to 2 March 2022, countries across the world agreed to work towards a new global agreement on combatting marine plastic litter and plastic pollution.

The mandate agreed at UNEA-5.2 to negotiate a global agreement is consistent with New Zealand’s domestic work on plastic. The development of a global agreement will cover the full life cycle of plastics from production to disposal and will include microplastics in its scope. The International Negotiating Committee is expected to complete its work by the end of 2024.

The summary report of the UNEA’s Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics [UNEA website] identifies a range of potential options to address the marine plastic litter problem.

Our other international action on marine litter and plastic pollution

Aotearoa New Zealand has also endorsed the: 

We are also members of a range of other international groups to reduce plastic pollution such as the:

Get in touch

If you have any questions or would like to provide feedback during this process, please get in touch with us at UNPlasticsTreaty@mfe.govt.nz