Plastic pollution talks make modest progress but sidestep production curbs


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Plastic pollution talks make modest progress but sidestep production curbs

PLASTIC POLLUTION. A prop depicting a water tap with cascading plastic bottles is displayed by activists near the Shaw Centre venue of penultimate negotiations for the first-ever global plastics treaty, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on April 23, 2024.

Kyaw Soe Oo/Reuters

Countries also agree to devise a process to identify plastic chemicals that are hazardous and plastic products that are wasteful, such as single-use plastic containers

OTTAWA, Canada – Negotiations on a future global treaty to tackle soaring plastic pollution ran overtime into Tuesday morning, April 30, amid tense debates over whether the world should seek to limit the amount of plastic being made.

As the weeklong talks in the Canadian capital of Ottawa ended before dawn, countries agreed to continue their work in ad hoc meetings before the final summit starting November 25 in Busan, South Korea.

That work will include searching for forms of funding to help developing countries implement the treaty. Countries also agreed to devise a process to identify plastic chemicals that are hazardous and plastic products that are wasteful, such as single-use plastic containers.

But they failed to establish a formal process to review how much virgin plastic is produced or to determine how much might be considered unsustainable.

The hoped-for treaty to be agreed in Busan could be the most significant deal relating to climate-warming emissions and environmental protection since the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“This is a small step on a very long path,” said Sivendra Michael, lead negotiator for the Pacific island nation of Fiji. “We literally have seven months remaining to deliver on this promise (to rein in plastic pollution).”

More than 50 countries supported a proposal by Rwanda and Peru for assessing what a sustainable level for plastic production might look like.

Plastic production is on track to triple by 2050, but today’s levels already “are unsustainable and far exceed our recycling and waste management capacities,” said Rwanda’s chief negotiator Juliet Kabera.

As some parties objected to limiting plastic production, a group of 28 countries issued a pledge to see through the treaty effort with production caps included.

The “science is clear: we must first address the unsustainable levels of plastic production if we want to end plastic pollution globally,” said Christophe Bechu, France’s minister for ecological transition.

Efforts to target production faced strong opposition from some petrochemical-producing countries, including Saudi Arabia and China, as well as from industry groups who were lobbying in Ottawa.

They argued that, with the final summit just seven months away, countries should be focusing on less contentious topics such as plastic waste management and product design.

China’s lead negotiator in Ottawa, Yang Xiaoling, said countries should curtail their ambitions to reach consensus on a treaty later this year.

Too many compromises

Environmental groups observing the talks warned that too many political compromises would dilute the effectiveness of an eventual treaty.

“The topics agreed (for further discussion) don’t cover the full range of issues on the table,” said Christina Dixon, ocean campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency.

But some welcomed a close focus on certain issues, including harmful chemicals.

“Plastics and toxic plastic chemicals come across our borders with few or no controls or protections for our health,” said Griffins Ochieng, executive director of the Centre for Environment Justice and Development in Kenya.

As the Ottawa talks took place, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation declared a state of emergency in the same province due to a release of cancer-causing benzene from an industrial facility.

Aamjiwnaang Council member Janelle Nahmabin called the incident an “unfortunate example” of “what these negotiations are really speaking about.” –

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