It was not won… And yet: the fight against global plastic pollution recorded a stage victory on Friday, June 2, in Paris: after five “laborious” days, 175 countries decided to establish a “first version of a future treaty, a text to be prepared by the next negotiation meeting which will take place in November in Kenya.
At the Paris headquarters of Unesco, the plenary session of the International Negotiating Committee (INC) of UN-Environment ended Friday evening with the unanimous adoption of a resolution providing that this first draft be drafted between now and the next negotiation summit, scheduled for November in Nairobi. Crucial step before the vote on a final text still hoped for by the end of 2024.
Plastic pollution: crucial negotiations begin in Paris
“Here is what was proposed, is it decided? INC President Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez asked delegates. Before adopting the resolution with a hammer blow, to the applause of the delegates.
This positive outcome follows a “laborious start to the week” and “slightly dilatory maneuvers” by certain countries, in the words, Friday morning, of the French Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu. The negotiators were only able to get to the heart of the matter on Wednesday evening, after two days of blocking by Gulf countries, major oil producers, as well as China, Brazil and India. They refuse that the text be adopted by a vote in the event of a lack of unanimity. All is not over: the resolution of the controversy… has been postponed.
save the fish
“By 2050, there will be more plastic waste than fish in the oceans (…). We cannot dwell on rules of procedure,” Mexican negotiator Camila Zepeda told AFP on Friday, whose sharp interventions against the obstruction of certain countries were acclaimed during the week. “The negotiations this week clearly show that the oil-producing countries and the fossil fuel industry are doing everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
For its part, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) hailed “tangible progress”. “A large majority of countries, 145 according to our count, expressed this week the need for the treaty to provide for binding obligations”, welcomed Eirik Lindebjerg, of WWF, to AFP.
Plastic pollution in the world in five figures
The principle of a legally binding treaty was agreed in February 2022 in Nairobi, at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The stakes are crucial: plastic, derived from petrochemicals, is everywhere: packaging, clothing fibers, construction equipment, medical tools… Waste of all sizes is already found at the bottom of the oceans, in the stomachs of birds and on top of the mountains. Microplastics have been detected in blood, breast milk or placenta. The question of the toxicity of plastics and additives, raised by civil society and scientists, is also mentioned, but many countries and industrialists, influential observers of the process, fear that the future treaty will block innovation.
And according to observers, the situation is set to worsen: annual production has more than doubled in twenty years to reach 460 million tonnes. It could triple by 2060 if nothing is done. However, only 9% is recycled. In addition, plastic plays a role in global warming: it accounted for 3.4% of global emissions in 2019, a figure that could more than double by 2060 according to the OECD.
Can we end plastic pollution before 2040?
To “end plastic pollution by 2040”, some 50 countries, including those of the G7 with the exception of the United States, have formed a Coalition for High Ambition, which has put the reduction of production world at the top of its priorities, which is however not unanimous. The big producing countries prefer to talk about reuse, alternatives to plastic and recycling, but this axis is criticized by NGOs. Among the solutions also discussed are better waste management and financial mechanisms to help the poorest countries.
After technical discussions held at the end of 2022 in Uruguay, Paris hosted the second session of negotiations. The third meeting will take place in Kenya in November, and negotiations will continue in April 2024 in Canada to conclude in South Korea at the end of 2024.