In anticipation of World Environment Day and under the theme #BeatPlasticPollution, the UN Human Rights Offices for South-East Asia and the Pacific have called upon nations to prioritize human rights in a worldwide legally binding instrument aimed at ending plastic pollution.
The offices highlight the urgent need for collective efforts to combat pollution, particularly in the Asia and Pacific region, where it poses a significant threat to human health, the environment, wildlife, and biodiversity.
The alarming statistics reveal that only 9 per cent of the plastic produced in the region, which accounts for nearly half of global production, is recycled.
The remaining majority finds its way into landfills, water bodies, and other waste treatment processes, leading to the pollution of land, forests, rivers, and oceans. Moreover, plastic production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate-related impacts on the region.
On 2 March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly passed a historic resolution (5/14), laying the foundation for the development of an international legally binding instrument to combat plastic pollution, with a specific focus on marine environments.
The resolution acknowledges the grave global environmental issue caused by rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution, which negatively affect environmental, social, economic, and health aspects of sustainable development.
Highlighting the disproportionate impact on Pacific Island countries, Heike Alefsen, Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office for the Pacific, emphasized the need for urgent action.
Despite contributing only 1.3% of global plastic pollution, these islands suffer significantly from its consequences.
Alefsen emphasized that failure to address plastic pollution would increasingly endanger the human rights of all individuals, including those whose lives depend on marine ecosystems.
She noted that marginalized communities affected by plastic pollution often lack access to adequate healthcare, information, and opportunities for protection and remedies.
The entire lifecycle of plastic has become a substantial threat to various human rights, including the rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food, water and sanitation, equality and non-discrimination, and housing.
Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative for the UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia, stressed the necessity of inclusive, transparent, and participatory processes led by states.
She called for a human-centered approach and visionary leadership to translate longstanding commitments into effective action.
Veliko also emphasized the need to protect indigenous peoples, vulnerable communities, and informal waste pickers and workers in the plastic supply chain, guaranteeing them a just transition plan.
The UN Human Rights Offices urge nations to prioritize the rights of those affected by plastic pollution and foster collaborative global efforts.
They emphasize the importance of placing rights holders at the core of solutions to combat plastic pollution.
With the growing awareness of its impact, it is imperative for nations to take immediate action to protect human rights, safeguard the environment, and ensure a sustainable future for all.