Negotiations to reduce the plastic pollution They will resume on Monday in Paris, where 175 nations with varying ambitions must draft a long-awaited treaty, under opposing pressure from industry and NGOs.
Packaging, clothing fibers, construction material, medical instruments… plastic, derived from petroleum, is an omnipresent material. Its annual production, which doubled in 20 years, is estimated at 460 million tons (Mt) and could triple by 2060 without decisive action.
In addition, two thirds of plastic is discarded after a single or very few uses and less than 10% of that waste is recycled.
The waste ends up in the oceans, on the polar ice sheets, in the stomachs of birds and even on the tops of the mountains. Microplastics were even detected in blood, breast milk, or placentas.
Faced with this threat to health and biodiversity, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) created in 2022 in Nairobi an Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (CIN) in charge of preparing a “legally binding” treaty for 2024.
After relatively technical initial discussions in November in Uruguay, the CIN will resume its work from May 29 to June 2 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the second of five stages of negotiations planned to reach what would be a historic agreement on the plastic life cycle.
balance of powers
The five days of debates will not determine a draft treaty, but the more than a thousand delegates should outline its broad guidelines.
These will come out of the balance of power mainly between the Asian countries that produce half of the plastic, some big consumers like the United States and the 53 countries of the “High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution”.
This coalition, led by Rwanda and Norway, includes, among others, the European Union (EU), Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and several countries in East Africa and Latin America, such as Mexico, Peru, or Chile.
The “reduction in the use and production of plastic” are the priorities in its roadmap, implicitly rejected by countries like the United States, which prefer to focus on recycling, innovation and better waste management.
Some countries may think that (reducing plastics) is the solution. But there are many ways to achieve that goal. (…) One of them is limited production. Another is to recycle, reuse,” José W. Fernández, US Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, told AFP.
Avoiding controversy, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published in May a report with the triptych “Reuse, recycle and redirect” to create a “circular economy” of plastic.
A plan capable, according to the Program, of reducing abandoned waste (burned, left in nature or in illegal dumps) to 41 million tons by 2040 (compared to 78 Mt in 2019, according to the OECD).
If the report talked more explicitly about ‘production reduction’, some big countries would never sign the treaty,” Diane Beaumenay-Joannet of the NGO Surfrider told AFP.
The binding nature of the future treaty is also in question. The United States, for example, wants to limit its legal scope to only the main principles of the text, leaving the signatories free to establish national solutions, indicated a French diplomat.
Artists like Jane Fonda or Joaquin Phoenix joined Greenpeace USA in May to ask US President Joe Biden to increase his ambitions.
One of the points of tension revolves around the distribution of the effort between rich economies, which have polluted more historically, and countries that do not want to jeopardize their development without financial compensation.
The involvement in the process of the plastic industry, which moves billions of dollars and millions of jobs, worries the NGOs. Some 175, led by Greenpeace, proposed to UNEP a series of measures against “the undue influence of petrochemical companies” in the negotiations.
Its representatives, such as the European association Plastics Europe, will be present at UNESCO, where many professional observers, scientists or association leaders will have to stay outside the building, due to lack of capacity.
Do not miss: Russia bombs veterinary clinic in Ukraine; there are several injured
France, which plans to ban disposable plastics by 2040, wants to turn this summit into a showcase of its objectives and for this, it is organizing a meeting with about forty environment ministers and diplomats from Saturday.
With information from AFP