Oil-producing countries have delayed efforts to craft the first legally binding international agreement to reduce plastic pollution, proposing to shift the focus to waste management rather than reducing production, according to official observers at the week-long oil talks. UN in Nairobi.
The global meeting in Kenya’s capital was aimed at advancing a plastics deal equivalent to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. However, talks ended on Sunday night without a plan to begin formal work on a draft treated before the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Canada in April.
Blockade tactics by countries that argued against starting to draft a project were “disastrous” and would prevent significant work from being carried out before negotiations resumed, said Graham Forbes, head of the Greenpeace delegation in Nairobi.
“We are heading for catastrophe more than halfway through the treaty negotiations. You cannot solve the pollution crisis unless you restrict, reduce and limit plastic production,” Forbes said.
Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran were among the countries that argued that mandatory cuts in plastics production should not be within the scope of the negotiations, according to people present at the talks and documents released by the countries’ delegates. Instead, they proposed a voluntary, “bottom-up” approach focused on improvements in plastics 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 in the process [da ONU sobre plásticos] and will not form part of the future instrument.” Iran’s delegation stated that any treaty should “exclude the extraction and processing steps of primary raw materials…since no plastic pollution is generated [nessas etapas]”.
Last year’s UN Environment Assembly resolution on plastic pollution, which kicked off negotiations, stated that the “full life cycle” of plastics, including initial production, should be addressed in a legally binding instrument by the end 2024.
This could eventually create a deal similar to the Paris climate accord, in which countries agreed to try to limit global temperature rises to below 1.5°C, but focused on addressing risks to climate, biodiversity and health. caused by the approximately 400 million metric tons of plastic waste that the UN environmental program estimates are produced globally each year. Less than a tenth of this is recycled.
Before the latest round of talks, a so-called high-ambition coalition of states including Norway, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union had called for any first draft to address mandatory reductions in plastic production.
Any move to reduce production would be a blow to fossil fuel companies. The market for the material is expected to drive a growing share of oil and gas revenues in the coming years, offsetting weakened demand as the world transitions to renewable energy, according to the International Energy Agency.
According to an analysis by the International Energy Agency, 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 present in large numbers 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 registered to participate in the event.
The industry has said more support is needed for “circularity” – in which products never become waste but are reused, recycled or maintained – and that it is investing billions of dollars in recycling infrastructure and packaging design.
Trade associations 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 achieving 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 over misleading claims about the recyclability of their bottles, while New York State is suing PepsiCo for waste pollution. plastics from their products into the Buffalo River.
Delegates failed to reach consensus on giving the UN intergovernmental negotiating committee on plastic pollution a clear mandate to work on key points in the expected treaty negotiations, including plastic production, chemicals in plastics, microplastics and single-use plastics. , before the April negotiations. As of Sunday night, governments and observers had presented more than 500 proposed amendments to the options presented for negotiation, with no decision on which to move forward.
Ana Rocha, global director of plastics policy at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said: “The negotiating bullies 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 United Nations Environment Programme, said that despite the setback, negotiators will continue to be “ambitious, innovative, inclusive and courageous” and will use the talks “to hone a sharp and effective instrument that we can use to carve a better future.”