The 175 countries meeting since Monday May 29, 2023 in Paris to draw up the first outlines of a treaty against plastic pollution were unable to begin negotiations on the substance of the subject due to a deadlock over the rules for final adoption of the text.
Saudi Arabia and several Gulf states, as well as Russia, China, India and Brazil, refuse to allow the future treaty to be approved by a two-thirds majority vote if a consensus cannot be reached.
On the other hand, a majority of countries are defending voting as a last resort, which would make it possible to override a blocking minority. Or they consider, at the very least, that this question can be decided at a later date.
The discussion, which began in plenary session on Monday afternoon, kept all delegations busy all day Tuesday.
The plenary was adjourned in the early evening, and an informal group was tasked with continuing the exchanges, with a mandate to find a way out so that negotiations could get underway on Wednesday morning.
“We’re missing the point of what brings us together here, which is plastic pollution,” thundered Camila Zepeda of the Mexican delegation on Tuesday morning. “We’re wasting time and energy in discussions that go round in circles (…) Let’s get down to business”, she demanded, loudly applauded by the majority of delegations and NGO observers present in the stands.
“It is the right of member states to make suggestions” and “we are not in favor of the erroneous definition of consensus by certain states”, retorted a diplomat from Iran, a country also opposed to the idea.
According to a European negotiator, “the question has already been decided” during the first round of negotiations at the end of 2022 in Uruguay, “and these countries are trying to go back on it”.
“The strategy of certain countries is to delay discussions”, says Joan-Marc Simon, Director of Zero Waste Europe, “because if we want an ambitious treaty that covers the entire life cycle of plastics, it’s going to take a long time to negotiate”.
No draft agreement is yet on the table, and the Paris summit, which ends on Friday, will be followed by only three other negotiating meetings between now and the end of 2024.
For the activist, “these countries do want a treaty, but one that only talks about the end-of-life of plastics, improving waste management and avoiding releases into the environment”. This leaves aside the issues of reducing production, the toxicity of certain compounds, microplastics and so on.
“For two days now, the global plastics treaty has been blocked by a coalition of reluctant countries, led by Saudi Arabia”, added Graham Forbes, a Greenpeace official, on Tuesday evening: “We call on the countries to stop wasting time and start discussing the issues that are essential to solving the plastic pollution crisis”.
The Paris Climate Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Agreement were approved by consensus, as are most treaties drawn up under the aegis of the United Nations, i.e. without a vote, even by a show of hands.
Approval by vote, in the absence of consensus, would not, however, be unprecedented. It was notably used in 2013 when 140 countries adopted the International Convention on Mercury, signed in Minamata (Japan).
World Environment Day opens in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on Monday June 04, 2023. The theme of this year’s event is “solutions to plastic pollution”, “a scourge that threatens us all”, according to Jean-Luc Assi, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, at the launch last March.
Humaniterre © Agence France-Presse