Paris Promise – how the world can rise to the plastic challenge at INC-2

Arc de Triomphe from the sky, Paris

Jo Royle, CEO of Common Seas, explores if the world can rise to the problem of plastic pollution and what potential solutions look like.

Next month (May), thousands of international delegates will descend on the Place de Fontenoy in Paris for the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2). Some 146 days after negotiators left INC-1 in Punta del Este on Uruguay’s south eastern coast, the world will reconvene at UNESCO’s headquarters in a bid to fulfil the promise of a Global Treaty on Plastic.

Arguably no global environmental issue of this magnitude or urgency has ever been properly addressed without a legally binding international treaty. And yet the track record of multilateral environmental agreements is rocky, to say the least. The world has seen a litany of well-intentioned global pacts that eventually went nowhere.

The world has seen a litany of well-intentioned global pacts that eventually went nowhere.

In 1997 the world ratified the Kyoto Protocol and committed to slashing carbon emissions by some 5%. Yet global emissions in 2021 were more than 60% higher than they were at the start of the nineties. And in 2014, 37 countries signed the New York Declaration on Forests – a global target to halve deforestation by 2020. But the intervening period saw tropical deforestation increase by more than a tenth.  

There are many things that we can learn from the past to support the development of a robust and ambitious treaty for plastic. But one thing is clear – that policymakers – at a national and supranational level cannot solve the plastics crisis unilaterally.

If ending the proliferation of plastic was as simple as hashing out a document, collectively we would have called time on the plastic crisis years ago. Business has been the biggest driver of pollution the world has ever known. And yet it too can be a force for miraculous innovation and change.

And so the challenge facing all those in environmental advocacy in Paris is curating a practical agreement that gives civil society – including conglomerates and SMEs alike – the impetus to drive forward a durable change. At the heart of this will be ensuring that businesses take responsibility for the impacts of the products they put on the market and the plastics they use. This includes supporting businesses to truly fulfil their ESG responsibilities.

Business has been the biggest driver of pollution the world has ever known.

At Common Seas, we have identified global tourism as a particularly pernicious driver of global plastic pollution. As well as generating more than 10% of global GDP, tourism creates jobs, infrastructure and invaluable cultural exchange; however, it also produces 4.2 million tonnes of plastic waste – every single year. Some 80% of tourism takes place in coastal areas, exposing our most beautiful and valuable marine environments to plastic waste.

Ironically, tourism-related plastic destroys the very resource – a beautiful natural environment – that the industry relies on for its very existence. Indeed plastic generated by the industry is thought to cost tourism businesses up to $2.4 billion annually.

Plastic tourist
Common Seas has identified global tourism as a “particularly pernicious” driver of global plastic pollution.

And that’s why we created PlasTICK – the user-friendly digital tool helps tourism businesses to measure their plastic footprint by providing step-by-step guidance to help understand current plastic use; create reduction strategies; engage stakeholders; and evaluate progress. It is the only tool available to help track headway toward the goals of the Global Tourism Plastic Initiative (GTPI) – a joint initiative of the UN Environment and The World Tourism Organisation.

So often industry is fully aware of the plastic problem and is eager to implement change, it just does not know how to. PlasTICK shows the way, with intuitive and time-effective solutions. Built for busy professionals, it helps businesses – of all sizes – use less plastic to attract and improve tourism customers’ experiences, all while preserving the natural attractions they come to visit.

Supporting this systematic change allows businesses to future-proof themselves against incoming legislation and leads to wider change across the tourism sector. It ensures full accountability and allows the vital drivers of our economic prosperity to do right by our environment.

A Global Treaty on Plastic that empowers businesses to change stands a real chance of being one of the great epochal international agreements of our age. There is not a moment to lose.  

Common Seas is a social enterprise on a mission to quickly and significantly reduce the amount of plastic produced and stop it from polluting our beaches, seas and bodies.

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