Kenya: international negotiations to reduce plastic pollution end amid disagreement.

November 19, 2023

Nairobi, Kenya

Negotiators from 175 countries spent a week at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi trying to find common ground on a draft treaty to tackle the growing problem of plastic pollution. On Sunday November 19, these international negotiations against the proliferation of plastic waste ended amid disagreement over the scope of the treaty and the frustration of environmental NGOs at the lack of concrete progress.
Interests are divergent.
The stakes in these negotiations were high, because petrochemical plastics are everywhere: waste of all sizes can already be found at the bottom of oceans and on mountain tops. Microplastics have been detected in blood and breast milk.
While the various parties agree on the need for a treaty, the substance of the issue is divided between the NGOs, who advocate a 75% reduction in production by 2040, and the oil-producing countries and plastics industry lobbies, who are more in favor of recycling.

During this week of negotiations, the delegations put “more ideas on the table, filling in the gaps (…) we (now) have a document, a draft text, that encompasses much more of the range of ideas”, Stewart Harris, spokesman for the International Council of Chemical Associations, a major lobby defending the interests of the plastics industry, told AFP. “I think it’s been a useful week,” he says.
A number of environmental NGOs sounded a different note, accusing certain countries, notably Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia, of “obstruction”.
“Unsurprisingly, some countries are blocking progress, using obstruction and procedural maneuvers,” Carroll Muffett, director of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), told AFP.
“Compromising the needs of those most affected to satisfy the desires of those who profit from the problem is not a feasible strategy”, deplores Graham Forbes of Greenpeace.
For the NGOs, time is running out and a binding treaty is needed, as plastic pollution is set to worsen: annual production has more than doubled in twenty years to 460 million tonnes.
It could triple by 2060 if nothing is done. Yet only 9% of plastics are recycled.

Plastic also plays a role in global warming: it accounted for 3.4% of global emissions in 2019, a figure that could more than double by 2060, according to the OECD.
The Nairobi meeting is the third of five sessions in an accelerated process aimed at concluding negotiations next year.
After the Kenyan capital, negotiations are due to continue in April 2024 in Canada, concluding in South Korea at the end of 2024.
In the meantime, plastic continues to be produced and discarded without a sustainable, global solution for its disposal or recycling.

Humaniterre, media for humanitarian aid and sustainable development with AFP


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