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Negotiations on a global plastics treaty ended in Kenya with little progress in controlling plastic waste, as environmental groups criticized oil and gas producers for blocking a final decision on how to do so. advance the deliberations.
United Nations members want to finalize a treaty by the end of 2024 to reduce the large amount of plastic waste accumulating in landfills and the environment. Plastic production is expected to explode in the coming years, and almost every part is made from chemicals derived from fossil fuels.
Representatives from around 150 countries gathered for negotiations last week in Nairobi. Most of them “worked to find commonalities between diverse global perspectives, but the whole process was continually delayed by a small number of member states prioritizing plastic and profit before the planet,” said Erin Simon, waste and plastics manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature. , said in a statement. The talks ended on Sunday.
Groups that want to see a drastic reduction in plastic waste fear plastic producers will weaken the treaty. The oil and gas industry presents recycling and waste management as solutions, rather than reducing the amount of new plastic produced.
However, years of research and investigations, including by NPR, have shown that recycling doesn’t work. There is also disagreement over whether the treaty should have binding global rules or be based on voluntary targets. Experts say solving the problem will require a combination of solutions, but reducing the production of new plastic is key.
Most countries appear to support “strong, robust conditions” for a deal, Simon told NPR on Sunday. But there are “a handful of countries with very modest ambitions which are calling for a more flexible voluntary agreement”.
The challenge is to develop an effective plan to reduce plastic waste that also has the support of all countries involved. Major oil and gas producers like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are at the negotiating table. The United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer in 2022, has said plastic pollution must be addressed “at every stage of the plastic life cycle”, from production to waste management.
Industry lobbyists are also very present during the negotiations. The Center for International Environmental Law said 143 lobbyists from the fossil fuel and chemical industries signed up for the latest round of negotiations, an increase of 36% from the last round of negotiations that took place. finished in June.
“This week’s results are no accident,” David Azoulay, director of the environmental health program at the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement. “Progress on plastics will be impossible if member states do not confront and address the fundamental reality of industry influence in this process.”
Before this round of negotiations began, an industry advocacy group called American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers said restricting fossil fuel production and plastic manufacturing was not a good solution. Instead, he said the treaty’s goals can be achieved “if waste is recyclable, properly managed and kept out of the environment.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said in a statement in early November that the company “is launching real solutions to combat plastic waste and improve recycling rates.” The company has previously stated that the plastic waste problem can be solved without reducing the amount of plastic the company uses.
Graham Forbes, head of Greenpeace International’s treaty delegation, said in a statement that governments allow fossil fuel producers to shape negotiations.
“It is clear that the current process cannot overcome the coordinated opposition of those who block consensus and progress at every turn,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said in a statement .
Without major changes, Muffett said Canada’s next round of negotiations in April 2024 would be “a polite but massive failure.”
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