Plastic pollution is not being effectively addressed by the current international legal and policy framework.

We need a new global agreement to prevent plastic pollution.

A new report by the Nordic Council of Ministers suggests elements and approaches for a new global agreement, covering the whole life cycle of plastics.
Plastic pollution is not being effectively addressed by the current international legal and policy framework. We need a new global agreement.


A global agreement

The international community has made numerous calls for the development of a new global agreement on marine plastic litter. In 2019, the Nordic countries, the Caribbean countries, the Pacific Islands, the European Union and the African Group – representing over 110 countries in total – all issued public statements in support of exploring a global agreement.

This Nordic Report is a welcome contribution to the global policy discussion. We need to move faster towards reuse and recycling plastic, and towards a more circular economy. We look forward to engaging in discussions with other countries in other regions about the report and exploring how this can help ambitious governments respond to this growing environmental challenge.
Lea Wermelin, Danish Minister of Environment and Chair of the Nordic Council of Environment and Climate Ministers

To find more information about countries’ support for a new global agreement, see WWF’s Global Plastic Navigator

Key components of the report

Watch the authors presenting the key components of the report.

The report argues that a new global agreement must go beyond simply closing the gaps in the current global and regional law and policy frameworks. Prevention of plastic pollution should be the primary objective. A new agreement needs to offera comprehensive strategy for prevention and promote more sustainable management of plastics across the entire value chain. The report also shows that a global agreement can assist countries to address plastic pollution by providing several suggestions for tools to regulate plastic products. A global agreement on plastic will help countries to address plastic pollution through production, design, retail, consumption, waste management and recycling.

Key operational mechanisms

The report introduces three key operational mechanisms that could form the global commitment in a new agreement:

1. National Plastics Management Plans

The NPMPs could be tailored to meet specific national needs and circumstances for developing and implementing national policies across the life cycle of plastics. The NPMPs enhance national opportunities to design a holistic and comprehensive approach covering all sources and relevant sectors.

Read more about the National Plastics Management Plans.

The report suggests that all countries should commit to having a National Plastics Management Plan that will consider measures across the entire life cycle of plastics. This is a very interesting proposal. Finland has had a plastics roadmap in place since 2018 and the implementation of the roadmap’s activities is overseen by a multi-stakeholder network consisting of various types of actors. This has been key to drive actions at the national level.
Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

2. International sustainability criteria

Measures to address life cycle phases can be facilitated through the development of international sustainability criteria for plastics, supported by standards, testing protocols and certification schemes. The criteria would apply to economic activities along the value chain of plastics, to incentivise reusability, repairability and recyclability of products.

Read more about international sustainability criteria.

Sustainability criteria for plastic products across the life cycle is another interesting proposal in the report. Such criteria can trigger more sustainable design of plastic products put on the markets, that are recyclable, reusable and repairable. This is something new, but that could be an important tool on a global level.
Sveinung Rotevatn, Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment

3. National Plastics Sustainability Standards

International sustainability criteria for plastics and their additive scan be given effect at the national level through the development of national standards that fulfil the international objectives. They can include regulations to minimise the use of products that do not meet the standards, or incentivise design change through market-based instruments to promote the development of new products that meet the national design standards.

We need to rethink how we deal with plastics from beginning to end. What are the concrete steps we need to take? One concrete step that we should agree on is that unnecessary plastic products should be removed from the market. The flooding of the market with single-use plastics that are used for a minute but pollute for centuries is simply not sustainable.
Isabella Lövin, Swedish Minister for Environment and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister

How long does it take to negotiate a global agreement?

Looking back, we have seen multilateral environment agreements take some time to develop, but we have also seen swift negotiations. It is a matter of urgency and political will to make bold decisions. I hope we can look back and say we did not fail future generations.
Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Icelandic Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources

Selected conventions – the time it takes


The suggested elements of a new global agreement to combat plastic pollution aim to benefit governments, industry and civil society. The agreement would promote international cooperation and create a level playing field for governments and industries.


  • Tools to regulate domestic markets
  • Tools to ensure transparency across the value chain of products and materials
  • Tools to develop partnerships with industry

For developing countries —

  • Assistance for development of National Plastics Management Plans
  • Assistance for development of regulatory and market-based instruments. Reduces the financial and physical burden of waste management  


  • Guidance on sustainability objectives and criteria
  • Confidence in a fair and transparent competitive opportunity
  • Potential cost savings based on performance outcomes 

Civil Society

  • Sustainable environment for current and future generations
  • Preservation of ecosystem services
  • Reduced risk from chemical hazard
  • Reduced risk from mismanaged waste-related disease
  • Increased opportunity for sustainable income generation