Between 8 and 18 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the sea each year, a pollution that could triple by 2040. What makes it a major pressure for biodiversity, but also an accelerator of the climate crisis.
If countries have started to tackle this scourge, in particular by adopting bans on single-use plastics, the scope of these measures is often too small and plastic waste has, moreover, no borders, recalls WWF. .
Hence the need to harmonize the fight on a global scale.
Negotiations have been underway since 2016 to lead to a binding international treaty.
Where we are ?
In terms of the environment, there are international conventions on climate change, biological diversity, the fight against desertification, or the Basel Convention, on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their elimination.
All are backed by Conferences of the Parties which bring together the signatory States, generally once a year, to verify the correct application of the objectives set.
Should we add another international convention, this time on plastic pollution?
It would not be too much to fight against this environmental scourge.
Between 8 and 18 million tonnes of plastic waste, from the continents, ends up in the sea each year, recalls the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer) *.
The worse is yet to come ?
And the worst is yet to be feared, warns WWF in a report published on the true cost of plastic ** on September 6. With global demand for plastic not weakening, production could more than double by 2040, and plastic pollution in the oceans will triple, projects the NGO. This plastic addiction is not just a growing pressure for biodiversity. It is also an accelerator of the climate crisis, insists WWF, which estimates that plastic, over its entire life cycle [from its production to the management of its end of life], could account for 20% of the global carbon footprint.
François Galgani, oceanographer at Ifremer and specialist in plastics, does not paint such a gloomy picture.
He remains hopeful that the measures that have started to be taken in recent years bear fruit, from the first bans on single-use plastics to plans to improve the recyclability of materials, including commitments from industrialists to use ever more plastic. recycled or the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Seas from Ships.
"Plastic pollution has long remained under the radar of the States, only considered as a primarily aesthetic nuisance," he says.
This is no longer the case in recent years.
Too small areas of action?
But are these first measures up to the task? This is the whole problem for the WWF. Most of them focus on a single stage in the life cycle of plastics - once they have become waste - and on very limited perimeters, points out the NGO in its report of September 6. “Tackling single-use plastics is one thing, the problem is that this pollution has its source in many other sectors,” illustrates Pierre Cannet, director of advocacy and campaigns for WWF France. It's agriculture [especially when it uses tarpaulins], fishing, waste treatment… ”Another difficulty: plastic waste travels. "Would it not be because plastic products are manufactured in one corner of the world, consumed in another, then sent to a third, as waste, to be treated",continues Pierre Cannet.
Hence the need to reach an international, legally binding agreement establishing harmonized objectives and tools for all countries. “Discussions have already started between countries since 2016, within the framework of the United Nations National Assembly on the Environment (Unea),” says François Galgani, who is part of the scientific group launched in parallel to support the talks. For Pierre Cannet, the idea would be more to integrate an international treaty on plastic pollution into an already existing international convention. That of Basel, for example, on the transport of hazardous materials.
This is one of the options on the table, confirm François Galgani like Diane Beaumenay-Joannet, plastic advocacy manager at Surfrider Europe.
But the door is not closed to the idea of creating a full-fledged international convention, they both say.
So with dedicated COPs, organized to monitor the application of the agreement.
And even a scientific group, like the IPCC (for climate change) or Ipbes (for biodiversity), responsible for reviewing the state of knowledge on plastic pollution and issuing recommendations.
"It would be stronger than a simple treaty", slips François Gagliani.
"A process that will inevitably be long"
But the form is not the only issue.
The content too.
"It would be a shame, for example, for this international agreement to deal only with marine plastic pollution without taking land pollution into account," said Diane Beaumenay-Joannet.
“This treaty should also act on the ambition of stopping plastic“ leaks ”by 2030, asks Pierre Cannet for the WWF.
And forces, by then, the signatory countries to set national objectives and action plans.
Finally, for this treaty to be truly effective, as many countries as possible will also have to sign, ratify and apply it in practice.
“If there is a consensus on the need to tackle plastic pollution, countries do not all agree to apply the same constraints,” recalls François Gagliani.
Either way, the process will be long.
"It takes ten years for a convention", assesses Ifremer oceanographer.
And since 2016, we have made little progress, listening to Diane Beaumenay-Joannet.
"Discussions within the framework of the Unea have so far aimed to request the opening of negotiations around an international treaty," she says.
Rwanda and Peru have tabled a resolution to this effect, which will be discussed at the next meeting in February 2022. ”This resolution must therefore still be adopted by a majority of members for us to get to the heart of the matter. .
Shy support from France?
The Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which ended Saturday in Marseille, was an opportunity to sound the general mobilization behind this resolution.
"There was a motion in favor of this draft international agreement voted in Marseille," begins Diane Beaumenay-Joannet.
For his part, Pierre Cannet remains hungry and particularly regrets that in his inaugural speech, Emmanuel Macron did not mention this treaty.
"If France is active on the plastic issue, it remains relatively discreet on this draft agreement," notes François Gagliani.
The One Ocean summit, which the French president has announced he wants to organize at the end of 2021 or early 2022, could be an opportunity to rectify the situation.
Plastic pollution: Can the “Ocean Cleanup” project really clean the oceans?
Vendée Globe: Microplastics, water temperature, acidity… Skippers are also at the service of Science
* On Friday again, Ifremer reported the release of a study re-estimating at 24.400 billion fragments the quantity of microplastics [into which waste gradually degrades] on the surface of the oceans.
That is five times more than the previous estimate of 2014, largely undervalued.
** This WWF report estimates that the real cost of plastic - societal, environmental and economic - is ten times the cost of production.