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Oil-producing countries have blocked efforts to draft the first legally binding international agreement on reducing plastic pollution, proposing to focus on waste management rather than cutting production, according to official observers at the negotiations. UN week in Nairobi.
The global gathering in the Kenyan capital was aimed at advancing a plastics deal equivalent to the 2015 Paris climate agreement. But the talks ended Sunday evening with no plans to begin formal work on a draft treaty before the next meeting, which is to be held in Canada in April.
Blockade tactics by countries opposed to developing a draft were “disastrous” and would prevent meaningful work from being done before talks resume, said Graham Forbes, head of the Greenpeace delegation in Nairobi .
“More than halfway through the treaty negotiations, we are heading toward catastrophe,” Forbes said. “You cannot solve the pollution crisis without limiting, reducing and restricting plastic production. »
Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran were among the countries that argued that binding cuts in plastic production should not be part of the negotiations, according to people present at the discussions and documents released by the countries’ delegates . Instead, they proposed a voluntary “bottom-up” approach focused on improving plastic recycling.
Russia argued in a written statement Wednesday that the production of primary polymers, the fossil fuel-based chemicals from which plastics are made, “should not be discussed as part of the process (of plastics from UN) and will not be part of the future instrument. The Iranian delegation said any treaty should “exclude stages of extraction and processing of primary raw materials.” . . since no plastic pollution is generated (then).”
Last year’s UN Environment Assembly resolution on tackling plastic pollution, which launched the negotiations, said the “full life cycle” of plastics, including the upstream production, should be addressed in a legally binding instrument by the end of 2024.
This could eventually result in a Paris climate deal – under which countries agreed to try to limit the rise in global temperatures to below 1.5°C – but focused on managing climate risks , biodiversity and human health posed by the 400 million metric tons. According to the United Nations Environment Program, plastic waste is produced every year around the world. Less than a tenth of this amount is recycled.
Before the latest round of negotiations, a so-called highly ambitious coalition of states including Norway, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and the EU had called for a first draft to address binding reductions in plastic production.
Any move to curb production would be a blow to fossil fuel companies. The market for the material is expected to generate a growing share of oil and gas revenues in coming years, offsetting weakening demand as the world shifts toward renewable energy, the International Energy Agency said.
Petrochemicals such as plastics and fertilizers are expected to account for more than a third of oil demand growth by 2030 and almost half by 2050, according to an IEA analysis.
Representatives of the petrochemical industry were out in force in Nairobi, campaigning for solutions that did not require curbing production. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Center for International Environmental Law, 143 lobbyists representing the fossil fuel and chemical industries have registered to attend the event.
The industry said more support was needed for “circularity” – in which 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 argue that plastic is essential in areas such as renewable energy and food and water sanitation. Supporting circularity would “avoid unintended consequences of supply-side constraints on a material critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Benny Mermans, president of the Global Plastics Council.
Businesses exposed to single-use plastics are under increasing pressure to take responsibility for the waste they produce. European consumer rights groups have filed suit against food and drink producers Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé over misleading claims about the recyclability of their bottles, while New York state is suing PepsiCo for pollution by plastic waste from its products in the Buffalo River.
Delegates failed to reach consensus to give the UN intergovernmental negotiating committee on plastic pollution a clear mandate to work on key negotiating points of the planned treaty, including on plastic production, chemicals contained in plastics, microplastics and single-use plastics, ahead of the April meeting. talks.
As of Sunday evening, governments and observers had submitted more than 500 proposed amendments to the options presented for negotiation, with no decision on which to move forward.
Ana Rocha, director of global plastics policy at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said: “The negotiating bullies have had their way. Plastic is burning our planet, destroying communities and poisoning our bodies. This treaty cannot wait.
But Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environment Program, said that despite the setback, negotiators “will continue to be ambitious, innovative, inclusive and bold” and will use the negotiations “to perfect a sharp and effective instrument that we can use to unlock opportunities. a better future.”
Additional reporting by Amanda Chu in New York
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