Last week, around 170 member states of the United Nations gathered in Paris. How to end plastic pollution by 2040 was discussed. The meeting marked the second of five intergovernmental rounds of negotiations. The member states intend to soon present a draft for a globally binding agreement against plastic pollution – but: Many local environmentalists are critical of the outcome of the negotiations so far.
Devastating for humans, sea and animals
“Our countries, our soils, our water, our air and even our bodies are affected by plastic. Plastic pollution is everywhere. It knows no borders and poses a global threat to the environment and our health,” says the President of the International Negotiating Committee, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez. He’s not wrong: almost 500 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year. According to Greenpeace, plastic production could double in the next 10 to 15 years and triple by 2050. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that over a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year because of plastic waste. In humans, microscopic plastic particles have been found in the blood, breast milk and placenta.
Recycling is not enough
Proposed measures to tackle plastic pollution include a global ban on single-use plastic and “polluter pays” programs. According to media reports, the treaty could also aim to limit plastic production and introduce restrictions on certain chemicals used in plastic manufacturing. Alternatively, some countries and companies, particularly those involved in oil and gas exports, are promoting increased recycling.
Environmental experts who attended the talks as observers expressed their concerns about the planned way of dealing with the global plastic problem. The head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Inger Andersen, warned “that we cannot free ourselves from this mess by recycling”. The first two days of the talks are said to have exclusively focused on frustrating discussions about procedural rules. There was, unsurprisingly, resistance from major plastics producers to the idea of voting rather than consensus as a basis for decision-making. In particular, Saudi Arabia, India and China, together with the petrochemical industry, are said to have done their best to prevent a faster outcome.
Draft expected by end of year, convention not until 2024
On Saturday, after the conclusion of the second round of negotiations on the UN plastics agreement, the states at least agreed to present a legally binding draft agreement by the next conference in Kenya. The UN is expected to present the first draft at the end of November. Finally, by 2024, the UN states want to have drawn up a finished convention in which binding rules and measures are laid down that should affect the entire life cycle of plastic.
Greenpeace in particular is dissatisfied with the outcome of the talks so far and is calling for a ban on plastic by 2040, which is considered highly unlikely. “It is clear from this week’s negotiations that the oil producing countries and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process,” said Angelica Carballo Pago, global media director for plastics at Greenpeace UNITED STATES.
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