Representatives from various governments will convene in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the specifics of a potential international agreement aimed at addressing the urgent issue of plastic pollution.
The main topic of Monday’s discussions will revolve around the question of whether goals for limiting plastic production should be determined independently or if individual states should set their own targets. According to environmentalists, this is the central point of focus for the treaty’s overall ambition.
During the most recent negotiations in Paris held by the international negotiating committee (INC) in May, certain countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia, India, and China were in favor of a “Paris-style” agreement that would grant states the autonomy to set their own commitments. On the other hand, many developing countries, including Africa, advocated for more stringent global commitments.
However, according to some observers, there are indications that the US may be changing its stance on this critical matter, although specific information has not been revealed yet. Graham Forbes, the head of Greenpeace USA’s global campaign against plastics, stated that many environmental organizations were alarmed by the US’s stance on voluntary commitments similar to those made in Paris during the INC2 negotiations. He added that there have been indications of a change in this position.
“We will closely monitor the situation to see how it unfolds. It is important for us to discuss guidelines and implement regulations.”
In November, the INC released a preliminary version of the text for negotiations towards a significant multilateral treaty, deemed by the head of the United Nations Environment Programme as the most crucial since the 2015 Paris agreement. The aim is to establish an official treaty by the conclusion of 2024. The upcoming discussions in Kenya from 13-17 November will signify the midpoint of this process.
The initial draft encompasses various viewpoints from various governments. In the portion regarding the manufacturing of new plastic, the draft presents three potential approaches for decreasing primary plastic production. The first suggests a universally accepted goal for reduction, similar to the Montreal Protocol. The second suggests global targets for reducing production, with individualized limitations determined by each nation, similar to the Paris agreement. The third proposes individualized targets and restrictions determined by each nation.
According to Tim Grabiel, a high-ranking attorney at the Environmental Investigations Agency, they were aiming for a solution that falls somewhere between the first and second options. Grabiel stated, “The Montreal Protocol is widely recognized as the most effective international environmental agreement. However, we have seen through the Paris agreement that option two is not a viable solution. The recent global stock-take, which included the hottest recorded summer and potentially the coldest summer for future generations, highlights the inadequacies of the Paris agreement.”
“This is the centre of gravity for ambition and we will see, next week, where countries fall.” But, he acknowledged, “the geopolitics are very difficult on this issue. The big oil and chemical companies have not budged at all.”
The amount of plastic waste is increasing rapidly and is expected to nearly triple by 2060. Approximately half of this waste is being disposed in landfills and less than 20% is being recycled, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2022.
Greenpeace is demanding a decrease of at least 75% in plastic manufacturing by 2040 to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions remain within a 1.5C limit.
Eirik Lindebjerg, the head of global plastics policy at WWF, stated that the initial draft includes effective actions that could have a positive impact, as well as ambiguous, voluntary, and non-binding provisions. He emphasized the significance of establishing a foundation for discussing worldwide prohibitions that can be further developed.
Lindebjerg stated that, despite challenges, he is optimistic about the majority of countries’ desire for a robust treaty with enforceable regulations. These countries have also put forth a worldwide approach for phasing out materials.
“There are significant financial benefits at stake in maintaining the current state,” he stated. “However, there is also a vocal public demand and pressure opposing those interests. It remains to be seen who will ultimately prevail.”
In the current month, the group of 60 ministers known as the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution released a collective statement, reiterating their dedication to stopping plastic waste by 2040 and advocating for a treaty that covers all stages of the plastic life cycle. They conveyed their strong worries regarding predictions of a significant rise in poorly managed plastic waste and production, which would result in a 60% surge in greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic industry.