The world has taken its biggest step yet to curb the plastic pollution crisis.
The United Nations said Wednesday that representatives of 175 countries have agreed to develop a first-of-its-kind global treaty to restrict plastic waste. The resolution followed negotiations over the past week at the fifth session of the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
The treaty aims to tackle one of the most pressing environmental issues the world faces. The sheer pervasiveness of plastic waste has been widely recognized in recent years, with plastic debris identified everywhere from Arctic snow to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the ocean. Microplastics, tiny pieces of the material, have also been found in the digestive tracts of a range of species, from fish to seabirds, and even humans.
The U.N. said member states agreed to begin crafting a legally binding international agreement that addresses the "full lifecycle of plastic," from its production to its disposal.
Inger Andersen, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, called the resolution, "the most significant environmental multilateral deal" since the Paris Agreement, a landmark accord signed by 196 countries in 2015 that aims to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"Today marks a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics," Andersen said in a statement. "It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it."
The proliferation of plastic has grown astronomically, from more than 2 million tons produced in 1950 to nearly 400 million tons produced in 2017, according to the U.N.
More than 12 million tons of plastic waste flow into the world's oceans each year, the intergovernmental organization said, adding that that figure could triple by 2040.
A 2021 assessment by the U.N. Environment Program estimated that less than 10 percent of the world's plastic has been recycled.
"Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic," Espen Barth Eide, president of the U.N. Environment Assembly's fifth session and Norway's minister for climate and the environment, said in a statement. "With today's resolution we are officially on track for a cure."
Barth Eide acknowledged that the resolution occurred against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying it "shows multilateral cooperation at its best."
The U.N. said the treaty will not only curb the amount of plastic pollution, but will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing the material, since plastics are made from fossil fuels.
Nik Sekhran, chief conservation officer at the World Wildlife Fund, applauded the development and called it a "historic agreement."
"As we strive toward securing a healthier future for people and the planet, today's decision sets us on an ambitious mission to solve our plastic pollution crisis and to achieve a strong circular economy," he said in a statement.
World leaders will now have until the end of 2024 to craft the treaty, including settling details on funding and collaboration.