The first round of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution ended in a split over whether goals and efforts should be global and mandatory, or voluntary and country-led.
More than 2,000 delegates from 160 countries gathered in Uruguay for the first of five scheduled sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), a United Nations negotiating body aimed at hammering out the first legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.
Negotiations in the coastal city of Punta del Este that ended on Friday pitted a ‘high-ambition coalition’ against countries that own the world’s biggest plastics and petrochemical companies, including the United States and Arabia saudi.
The High Ambition coalition of more than 40 countries, including EU members, Switzerland, Uruguay and host country Ghana, has pushed for the treaty to be based on binding global measures, including restrictions to production.
“Without a common international regulatory framework, we will not be able to address the growing global challenge of plastic pollution,” Switzerland said in its position paper.
The opposing camp wants the pact to resemble the structure of the Paris climate accord, where countries set their own greenhouse gas reduction targets and action plans.
They argue that national plans allow governments to prioritize the most important sources and types of plastic pollution.
“The United States is committed to working with other governments and stakeholders throughout the INC process to develop an ambitious, innovative, and country-focused global agreement,” a State Department spokesperson said. American in a press release. Industry representatives at the talks touted the essential role of plastics in everyday life, calling for the treaty to focus on tackling waste rather than measures to undermine production.
“Ultimately, we hope the committee will come to the same conclusion we did, which is that increasing recycling offers the best solution to reducing plastic waste,” said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent the opposite message, urging nations to crack down on the production of plastics, which are “fossil fuels in another form”.
“I call on countries to look beyond waste and turn off the plastic tap,” he wrote on Twitter.
Plastics are fossil fuels in another form and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate and biodiversity.
While the negotiations for an agreement on #BeatPlasticPollution continue, I call on countries to look beyond waste and turn off the plastic tap.
—Antonio Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 2, 2022
Environmental group Greenpeace said without a strong treaty, plastic production could double in the next 10 to 15 years and triple by 2050.
Nature conservation group WWF has expressed concern that a voluntary country-led approach will fail to deliver real change.
“Although they are in the minority, there are powerful opponents of global rules and standards, which risk weakening countries’ obligations to act,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, head of global plastics policy at WWF.
The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee was created by the United Nations Environment Assembly to develop the text of a global agreement on plastic pollution.
The move follows a meeting in Nairobi in March when UN members passed a historic resolution to end plastic pollution.
Governments agreed to start work on a global legally binding agreement covering the full plastic lifecycle to come into force in 2024, but differed on key issues, including whether to limit plastic production, phase out progressively the types of plastics and harmonize global rules.
Negotiations began on November 28 in Uruguay. The EU called for a second round to be held “at the earliest end of April 2023” to ensure sufficient time between sessions.
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