Officials from various countries will convene in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss and finalize the specifics of a potential international agreement aimed at addressing the urgent issue of plastic pollution.
The main topic of discussion on Monday will be whether to determine targets for limiting plastic production unilaterally or if individual states should have the freedom to set their own targets. According to environmentalists, this is the central issue in determining the level of ambition for the treaty.
During the most recent round of discussions in Paris in May, led by the international negotiating committee (INC), the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, and China supported a “Paris-style” agreement that would allow countries to set their own commitments. However, other nations such as those in Africa and many developing countries advocated for more stringent global commitments.
However, there have been indications from certain observers that the US may be changing its stance on this crucial matter, although specific information has not been revealed yet. According to Graham Forbes, the leader of Greenpeace USA’s global campaign against plastics, many environmental groups were highly critical of the US position on voluntary commitments in the negotiations in Paris. He noted that there have been some signs of a potential change in this position.
“We will closely monitor the situation and observe its development. It is important to discuss and establish rules and regulations.”
In November, the INC released a preliminary version of the text to be used in negotiations for what the head of the United Nations Environment Programme has deemed a crucial international agreement, second only to the Paris accord of 2015. The aim is to finalize the treaty by 2024. The upcoming talks in Kenya, scheduled for November 13-17, will mark the midway point in the negotiation process.
The initial version includes various viewpoints from various governments. In the portion discussing the production of new plastic, the draft presents three potential strategies for reducing primary plastic. The first option is to establish a universal goal for reduction, similar to the approach used in the Montreal Protocol. The second option is to set global targets for production reduction, with individual countries determining their own limitations, similar to the Paris agreement. The third option is for countries to establish their own targets and restrictions.
According to Tim Grabiel, a high-ranking attorney at the Environmental Investigations Agency, there is a desire for a middle ground between the first and second options. He stated, “The Montreal Protocol is widely recognized as the most effective international environmental agreement. However, we have seen from the Paris agreement that the second option is not effective. This is evident in the global stock-take, with record-breaking temperatures this summer and the realization that this may become the norm for the rest of our lives. The limitations of the Paris agreement are becoming evident.”
“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 will end up in landfills and less than one-fifth will be recycled, according to a 2022 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Greenpeace is urging for a decrease of at least 75% in plastic manufacturing by 2040, in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a 1.5C level.
Eirik Lindebjerg, the leader of WWF’s global plastics policy, expressed that the “zero draft” contains effective and tangible actions that could have a positive impact. However, he also noted that there are some vague, voluntary, and non-binding statements included. One significant aspect is that it establishes a foundation for discussing global bans that can be further developed.
Lindebjerg expressed optimism despite challenges, as a majority of countries have shown support for a strong treaty with enforceable regulations and have put forth a universal approach for phasing out materials.
“The preservation of the current state is financially advantageous for some,” he stated. “However, there is also a significant public demand and pressure against these interests. The outcome will reveal the ultimate victor.”
In the current month, the group of 60 leaders in the High Ambition Coalition to Stop Plastic Pollution released a collective announcement, restating their dedication to eliminating plastic waste by 2040 and advocating for a treaty that takes into account the complete cycle of plastics. They expressed serious worries about predictions of a significant rise in unmanaged plastic waste and production, which could result in a 60% jump in greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic industry.