Governments are closing in on an agreement on the first…
On Monday, senior officials from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) expressed optimism about the development of a new global treaty aimed at curbing the growing volume of plastic waste dumped in landscapes, rivers and the world’s oceans, despite the retreat of powerful industrial interests in the plastics value chain.
Speaking in Nairobi at the start of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2), Assembly President Espen Barth Eide said: “I have a good feeling about this” in reference to the ongoing negotiations in the Kenyan capital to initiate the first legally binding treaty. dedicated to reducing global plastic pollution.
Eide, who is also Norway’s minister for climate change and the environment, said he had taken note of media reports that the hydrocarbon industry was seeking to water down the text of the Unea plastics resolution. which was to be presented to ministers for adoption on Wednesday.
In his view, however, Eide said the text of the resolution had, in fact, gone from “weaker to stronger” following a meeting of negotiators over the weekend.
“I saw that [issue] in the media, but it is not particularly visible to those negotiating the treaty. When you clarify what is acceptable and what is not, companies will follow,” he said, adding that commercial interests nevertheless feared that the proposed treaty would create a level playing field in which all countries had to respect. the same rules.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen – who recently expressed hope that a new treaty could be concluded within two to three years – recalled that two decades ago the oil and gas industry strongly opposed to the plan to ban lead additives in gasoline.
Yet despite this opposition, the last liter of leaded gasoline was pumped out last year due to a 19-year campaign by UNEP to ban tetraethyl lead, a brain poison, from being mixed with gasoline to improve engine performance.
“We are confident that it can be done [reducing plastic pollution]Andersen said in response to questions during an online press conference on Monday.
It remains unclear what final form the proposed final treaty might take. Rather than seeking to ban plastic outright, the main focus of the deal is likely to focus on overhauling the plastics and packaging industry to ban single-use (disposable) plastics and also create incentives to significantly increase the level of plastic recycling.
But that’s easier said than done, given that a recent UNEP report calculated that less than 10% of plastics used in the packaging industry are currently recycled globally.
The UNEP reportFrom pollution to solution” estimates that 40% of the world’s plastic packaging ends up in landfills, 32% is dumped in the environment, 14% is open-burned or incinerated and only 14% is sent for recycling – and of this last percentage , at least 4% was not suitable for recycling.
Eide argued that it was entirely possible to take certain substances out of production without crushing savings.
“My fridge still works great,” he noted, despite initial industry opposition to the global phase-out of CFCs, a class of chemicals that tears through the planet’s protective ozone layer. .
“We know it’s a daunting task – because plastic is all over the world… but it’s not smart to have a resource and throw it away. It makes a lot more sense to keep using it Eide said.
Andersen, writing separately on UNEP’s webpage last week, called for an ambitious timetable to reach a global agreement by setting up an intergovernmental negotiating committee to work towards a legally binding global instrument.
“I am confident that member states will decide on the way forward that will make a real difference in tackling plastic pollution,” she said, suggesting negotiations could be completed in time for the sixth assembly of the Unea in 2024/2025.
“This would constitute a very ambitious timetable, reflecting Member States’ understanding of the urgency to make progress on this critical environmental challenge.”
Discussing the types of enforcement mechanisms possible, Andersen said this could include new compliance committees or verification processes similar to the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal.
Mechanisms for reviewing member parties’ compliance with these treaties were generally “non-adversarial, non-judicial and consultative”. [in] nature.
“Whatever modalities countries have reached, it is essential that they create sufficient incentives for multiple stakeholders to benefit from a new global circular plastics economy. This then reverses the focus – from enforcement to creating an enabling environment where it is in everyone’s interest to implement the agreement.
“If the deal creates the right enabling environment to catalyze a new plastics economy, then we will have a process that works for the economy and meets environmental and social goals in tandem.”
Andersen also sought to downplay the likelihood of a plastics and hydrocarbons industry pullback.
“The range of industry and private sector entities involved in this topic is wide, with broad commercial interests. Although the positions are varied, there is a general recognition of the need for global and collective action. Overall, industries that contribute to plastic pollution need to do better, and we’re seeing evidence that it’s happening – however, it’s not happening fast enough to reverse or stop the plastic pollution crisis.”
She said that in terms of Ellen MacArthur Foundation/UNEP Global Commitments for Plasticsa large number of companies and countries were in favor of a global agreement on plastic pollution, recognizing that voluntary initiatives alone would not be enough.
The International Council of Chemical Associations and the World Plastics Council have also recognized the need for global action to prevent plastic leakage into the environment, while a manifesto had also been signed by many major global companies in support of a UN treaty on plastic pollution.
“It is clear that there is enormous global interest in solving the problem of plastic pollution through multilateral cooperation. As of September 2021, according to the WWF Global Plastic Navigator154 countries have expressed interest in negotiating a new global agreement on marine plastic pollution.
According to Andersen, about 11 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year and this figure is expected to double by 2030 and almost triple by 2040.
In 2018 alone, impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, along with other costs such as cleanups, were estimated to be at least $6-19 billion globally.
“Even as we continue to flesh out a global agreement, it is clear that we cannot put the brakes on action to tackle plastic pollution. It’s such a big challenge that we need to tackle it, through different paths, all converging on the same road – towards changing our relationship with plastics, thereby benefiting the natural world, especially our oceans and land masses. water, and human health. .”
According to the From Pollution to Solution report, the growing torrent of plastic production also has major implications for climate change.
Using life cycle analysis, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics in 2015 were estimated at 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) and is expected to increase to around 6.5 GtCO2e by 2050, i.e. 15% of the global carbon budget.
All forms of marine life – from plankton and crustaceans to birds, turtles and mammals – were also at serious risk of plastic toxicity from behavioral disturbances, starvation or suffocation, while corals, mangroves and seagrasses were smothered by plastic waste (preventing them from receiving oxygen and light).
The researchers note that the human body is also vulnerable on several fronts to plastic pollution in water sources, which could cause hormonal changes, developmental disabilities, reproductive abnormalities and cancer.
Greenpeace Africa urged UN member states to push for a strong multilateral agreement on plastics at the Nairobi meeting.
“African governments must stand up to corporate capture by plastic proponents and take bold steps to negotiate a global plastics treaty that encompasses the full life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal,” he said. said Greenpeace Africa spokesman Erastus Ooko. DM/OBP