For the most part, the G7 summit this weekend in the Charlevoix city of La Malbaie in Québec was all about trade wars, Trumpian bluster, and another chance to analyze a tense diplomatic exchange that looked like a Renaissance painting. Something good did come of it, though: a Blueprint for “healthy oceans, seas and resilient coastal communities.”
The official communique reveals that the G7 has agreed to work together to safeguard the world’s oceans and its coastal communities from a range of threats, including pollution, overfishing, and climate change. It’s of course entirely unsurprising that Trump, who also skipped out on an earlier discussion about climate change, didn’t put his name to the G7’s Ocean Plastic Charter, which is part of the overall Blueprint.
The US delegations’ measly contribution to the charter can be found as a footnote, which explains that the country “strongly supports health oceans, seas, and resilient coastal communities.” It also says it has reservations about the “climate-related language” in the Blueprint, which is par for the course.
However, it’s deeply disappointing that Japan also abstained from supporting it too. As noted by The Globe and Mail, Japan’s refusal to sign up remains unclear at this point.
Clearly, we are doing a phenomenal job at trashing the oceans. Climate change and agricultural runoff are starving them of oxygen and snuffing out life; plastic, whose impacts we’re still scrambling to ascertain, are ending up everywhere, including the Arctic, in embarrassingly high quantities; overfishing is having severe impacts not only on biodiversity, but nations’ abilities to feed their people.
Plastics are in the spotlight plenty as of late, and the United Nations has certainly taken an interest in dealing with the problem.
Back in December 2017, a meeting of nations agreed that the world must prevent plastic garbage entering the oceans. It was originally a stronger motion – one with legally binding targets – but this was nixed in favor of a weaker one because of protestations by the US.
It doesn’t appear that this G7 Ocean Plastic Charter is legally enforceable either, but it makes for optimistic reading. Noting that plastics are all-important to our lives, it notes that our current use and disposal of them “poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health.”
In response to this, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, UK, and the European Union have committed to a more efficient and sustainable approach to plastics. There’s plenty of detail, but there are a few standout ambitions here.
Firstly, they intend to make plastics 100 percent reusable, recyclable, or recoverable by 2030, which hints at a future without single-use plastics – something several nations are already making illegal in some form or another. Secondly, they hope to encourage this by promoting local awareness and research efforts to both recapture and recycle plastic and to investigating the impacts of plastics on marine and human health.
At the same time, the communique points out that our prolific wasteful habits represent the destruction of value, resources, and energy. That’s indubitably true, and it’s precisely why various research endeavors to revolutionize this industry exists.
Some have argued that bioplastics, although still wasteful when disposed of, may be the way; others favor hypothetically infinitely reusable polymers, still in their proof-of-concept stages. Either way, this charter asks for more research into all alternative possibilities.
The charter makes for some optimistic reading, but it’s yet to be seen what progress will be made. Some environmentalists are already arguing that it won’t do much good without legally enforceable rules.