Described as the most important green deal since the Paris Accords, 180 nations have taken key steps towards agreeing a legally binding treaty designed to end plastic pollution. Back in June, national representatives came to the end of a fraught process filled with accusations of ostracism and industrial lobbying. In the end, the attending nations were able to agree on critical elements which are to be contained within the treaty. This meeting was the second of five to be held to iron out the details of the new treaty.
The Problems Heading into the Talks:
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had been accused of excluding those who most needed to be heard from the talks by both scientists and non-governmental organisations. Last minute changes to the negotiations limited the amount of NGOs able to attend the talks as observers, which lead to concerns that people in communities from
developing countries would be excluded, despite these nations being greatly affected by plastic pollution.
Marginalised waste pickers – whom many regard to be the backbone of recycling – were also at risk of being excluded from the negotiations.
The UN published a report prior to the talks claiming that plastic pollution could be slashed by 80% by 2040.
There was a significant backlash to the report, with Civil Society highlighting that this report did not fully reflect the health and environmental implications of plastic pollution. Another key concern was the inclusion of chemical recycling within the report. Under the Basel convention, chemical recycling is ‘not recognised as environmentally sound management’ notes Therese Karlsson, a science adviser at International Pollutants Elimination Network. As well as this, there were other concerns raised by NGOs regarding the report such as the inclusion of burning plastic waste in cement kilns as a strategy to address the plastic crisis.
What were the Results of the Talks?
Witnesses to the closed-door negotiations claimed that there was a widespread agreement within the talks that the treaty should be global and legally binding as opposed to voluntary. WWF also claimed that 94 of the 180 representatives acknowledged that some particularly harmful polymers, chemicals and high-risk plastic products should be banned or phased out.
It was agreed during the negotiations that a first full draft of the treaty will be produced ahead of the next round of talks this November in Kenya. Christina Dixon, ocean campaign leader at the Environmental Investigation Agency, stated that, although the mandate for the zero draft was hard fought for, it provides a clear direction towards starting to draft the plastics treaty. Such a draft would hopefully represent the views expressed by countries during the talks and include measures to address the root causes of the plastics crisis . Despite this, there were still concerns by the end of the talks that there were not enough discussions regarding the actual ‘ins and outs’ of the treaty due to the significant disruptions and delays. ‘The meeting has been somewhat destroyed. We have not had a real discussion. We just had a bunch of interventions that almost doesn't make sense,’ said an official from a country in the High Ambition Coalition.