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New green consensus can revive multilateral mindset

By Wang Huiyao | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-07 10:18

A plastic bag is seen at the bottom of the sea, off the island of Andros, Greece, July 20, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

In recent years, images of trash-strewn seas and beaches have led to growing calls to tackle marine plastic waste. At the G20 Summit in June in Osaka, Japan, leaders moved to start addressing the issue with a major agreement to eliminate pollution by marine plastic litter by 2050.

The agreement was a major breakthrough for global cooperation, coming at a time when multilateralism is under threat. Despite deadlock in the reform of global governance and current tensions around trade and technology, it highlights how consensus on green issues can provide a common ground to revive multilateralism.

Environmental issues such as marine litter are emblematic of the need for global action. Threats of pollution and climate change take no heed of national boundaries. No country can escape environmental issues or tackle them alone, whether rich, poor, large or small.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that since the 1950s, humans have produced around 830 million tons of plastic, of which nearly 80 percent has gone into landfills or the natural environment.

Scientists are particularly concerned about microplastic particles, which absorb large amounts of bacteria and can enter the human food chain after being ingested by marine animals.

Regulations to tackle plastic waste have been implemented by some countries. However, local efforts will prove futile without coordinated global action, since all the world's seas are connected.

The framework agreement reached at the Osaka G20 summit is a vital step forward.

As a key advocate of multilateralism and a growing influence in global governance, China is well placed to be a driving force in global environmental management. It can help to clarify respective responsibilities and move toward a common goal of cleaning our oceans.

China's contribution to climate change management has shown it can play a key role in environ-mental governance.

China's effort to take the lead on plastic waste should start at home. In 2008, measures were introduced to limit plastic waste such as plastic bags. China can now work toward banning harmful disposable plastic products outright.

China can also use its influence to galvanize international action on marine litter, building on momentum from the Osaka agreement, ongoing World Trade Organization talks on global e-commerce rules, and the upcoming 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference.

Starting with marine waste, China should take the lead in building on the new green consensus to reinvigorate multilateralism. After all, when it comes to the environment, we are all in the same boat.

The author is president of the Center for China and Globalization. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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