November 30, 2023
Oil producers accused of delaying progress on plastic pollution treaty

Oil producers accused of delaying progress on plastic pollution treaty

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Oil-producing countries have stalled efforts to draft the first legally binding international agreement on reducing plastic pollution, proposing to shift the focus to waste management rather than reducing production, according to official observers at the week-long oil-producing talks. UN in Nairobi.

The global meeting in the Kenyan capital aimed to make progress on a plastics deal equivalent to the 2015 Paris climate agreement. But talks ended on Sunday night without a plan to begin formal work on a draft treaty before the next meeting, which will take place in Canada in April.

Blockade tactics by countries that argued against starting a project were “disastrous” and would prevent significant work from being carried out before talks resumed, said Graham Forbes, head of the Greenpeace delegation in Nairobi.

“More than halfway through the treaty negotiations, we are heading toward catastrophe,” Forbes said. “We cannot solve the pollution crisis unless we restrict, reduce and restrict plastic production.”

Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran were among the countries that argued that binding cuts in plastics production should not be within the scope of negotiations, according to people present at the talks and documents released by the country’s delegates. Instead, they proposed a voluntary, “bottom-up” approach focused on improvements in plastic recycling.

Russia argued in a written statement on Wednesday that the production of primary polymers, the fossil fuel-based chemicals from which plastics are made, “should not be discussed within the framework of the [UN plastics] process and will not be part of the future instrument”. The Iranian delegation stated that any treaty should “exclude the extraction and processing phases of primary raw materials. . . as no plastic pollution is generated [then]”.

Last year’s UN Environment Assembly resolution on tackling plastic pollution, which kicked off negotiations, stated that the “full life cycle” of plastics, including upstream production, should be addressed in a legally binding instrument by at the end of 2024.

This could eventually create an agreement like the Paris climate accord – under which countries agreed to try to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 1.5°C – but focused on addressing risks to climate, biodiversity and health. human resources placed by 400 million metric tons. of plastic waste that the UN environmental program estimates is produced globally every year. Less than a tenth of this is recycled.

Bar chart of the share of plastics treated by waste management category, 2019, showing that less than 10% of global plastic waste is recycled

Ahead of the latest round of talks, a so-called coalition of high-ambition states, including Norway, Canada, the UAE and the EU, called for any first projects to address binding reductions in plastic production.

Any move to reduce production would be a blow to fossil fuel companies. The market for this material is expected to drive a growing share of oil and gas revenues in the coming years, offsetting weakening demand as the world transitions to renewable energy, the International Energy Agency said.

According to an IEA analysis, petrochemicals such as plastics and fertilizers are expected to account for more than a third of growth in oil demand by 2030 and almost half by 2050.

Representatives from the petrochemical industry were out in force in Nairobi, campaigning for solutions that did not require reducing production. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Center for International Environmental Law, 143 lobbyists representing the fossil fuel and chemical industries signed up to participate in the event.

Line graph of annual plastic use (million tons) showing that plastic consumption is expected to almost double by mid-century

The industry said more support was needed for “circularity” – where products never become waste but are reused, recycled or maintained – and that it was investing billions of dollars in recycling infrastructure and packaging design.

Trade bodies representing the sector say plastic is essential in areas such as renewable energy and food and water sanitation. Supporting circularity “would avoid the unintended consequences of supply-side constraints on a material essential to meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals,” said Benny Mermans, president of the World Plastics Council.

Companies exposed to single-use plastics are under increasing pressure to take responsibility for the waste they produce. European consumer rights groups have filed a complaint against food and beverage producers Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé for misleading claims about the recyclability of their bottles, while New York State is suing PepsiCo for polluting plastic waste from its products in the Buffalo River.

Delegates were unable to reach consensus on how to give the UN intergovernmental negotiating committee on plastic pollution a clear mandate to work on the anticipated treaty’s key negotiating points, including plastic production, chemicals in plastics, microplastics and plastics. for single use, before the April Conference. he speaks.

By Sunday night, governments and observers had presented more than 500 proposals for changes to the options presented for negotiation, without any decision on which one to take forward.

Ana Rocha, global director of plastics policy at the Global Alliance for Alternatives to Incinerators, said: “The attackers in the negotiations have paved the way. Plastic is burning our planet, destroying communities and poisoning our bodies. This treaty cannot wait.”

But Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, said that despite the setback, negotiators would “continue to be ambitious, innovative, inclusive and bold” and use the talks “to hone a clear and effective instrument that we can use to create a future better”.

Additional reporting by Amanda Chu in New York

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