Negotiators take first steps towards plastic pollution treaty – World

Negotiators take first steps towards plastic pollution treaty


Negotiators take first steps towards plastic pollution treaty

(AP) – More than 2,000 experts wrapped up a week of talks on plastic pollution Friday in one of the largest global gatherings ever to address what even plastic industry leaders say is a crisis.

It was the first meeting of a United Nations committee set up to draft what is intended to be a landmark treaty to end plastic pollution globally.

“The world needs this treaty because we produce plastics by the billions,” Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Plastics, told The Associated Press in an interview. “Billions of tonnes of plastic are produced every year and there is absolutely no way to ensure that this plastic does not end up in the environment.”

Entire beaches on what were once pristine islands are now littered with trash. Examining a random handful of sand in many places reveals bits of plastic.

The United Nations Environment Program organized the meeting in a city known for its beaches, Punta del Este, Uruguay, from Monday to Friday.

Delegates from more than 150 countries, representatives of the plastics industry, environmentalists, scientists, waste collectors, tribal leaders and others affected by pollution attended in person or virtually. Waste pickers seek recognition for their work and a just transition to fairly remunerated, healthy and sustainable jobs.

Even in this first meeting of five, planned for the next two years, factions came into focus. Some countries have pushed for top-down global mandates, some for national solutions, and some for both. If an agreement is eventually adopted, it would be the first legally binding global treaty to combat plastic pollution.

Leading the industry view was the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for chemical companies. Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division, said the companies want to work with governments on the issue because they are also frustrated by the problem. But he said they would not support production restrictions, as some countries want.

“The challenge is very simple. Work is being done to ensure that used plastic never enters the environment,” said Baca. “A top-down approach that limits or bans production does nothing to address the challenges we face from a waste management perspective.”

The United States, a top plastic producer, agrees that national plans allow governments to prioritize the most important sources and types of plastic pollution.

Most plastic is made from fossil fuels. Other plastic and oil and gas producing countries have also called for individual nations to be held accountable. China’s delegate said it would be difficult to effectively control global plastic pollution with one or even more one-size-fits-all approaches.

Saudi Arabia’s delegate also said that each country should establish its own plan of action, without standardization or harmonization among them. Plastic plays a vital role in sustainable development, the delegate said, so the treaty should recognize the importance of continued plastic production while addressing the root cause of pollution, which he identified as poor waste management.

Some have referred to these countries as the “low ambition” group. Andrés Del Castillo, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, said that while national plans are important, they should not be the backbone of the treaty because that is the system – or lack of one – that the world already has .

“We see no point in meeting five times with experts from around the world to discuss voluntary action when specific control measures are needed that can aim to reduce, then eliminate, the world’s plastic pollution,” he said after attending at Thursday’s talks. “It’s a cross-border issue.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted: “Plastic bags are fossil fuels in another form and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate and biodiversity.”

The self-described “high ambition coalition” of countries wants to end plastic pollution by 2040 using an ambitious, effective, legally binding international instrument. They are led by Norway and Rwanda.

Norway’s delegate to the meeting said that plastic production and use must be reduced, and the first priority should be to identify the plastic products, polymers and chemical additives that would benefit most quickly if phased out.

African nations Switzerland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and others have also called for a global approach, arguing that voluntary and piecemeal national plans will not address the scale of plastic pollution. Small island nations that rely on the ocean for food and livelihoods have spoken of being overwhelmed by plastic waste washing up on their shores. Developing countries have said they need financial support to tackle plastic pollution.

Australia, the United Kingdom and Brazil said international obligations should complement national action.

Tadesse Amera, an environmental scientist, said the treaty should address not only waste but also environmental health issues posed by chemicals in plastics as the products are used, recycled, thrown away or burned as waste. Amera is the director of Pesticide Action Nexus Ethiopia and co-chair of the International Pollutant Elimination Network.

“It’s not a waste management issue,” he said. “It’s a chemical problem and a health problem, human health and also biodiversity.”

People from communities affected by the industry went to the meeting to ensure their voices were heard throughout the treaty discussions. This included Frankie Orona, executive director of the Native Nations Society of Texas.

“There is a lack of inclusion from those who are directly negatively affected by this industry. And they need to be at the table,” he said. “They often have solutions.”

Orona said the talks seem focused, so far, on reducing plastic, when governments should be aiming higher.

“We need to get rid of plastic completely,” he said.

Mathur-Filipp said that for the next meeting, he would write a draft of what a legally binding agreement would look like. Organizers don’t want this to last a decade, she said. The next meeting is planned for spring in France.

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