Negotiations in Kenya for a treaty on plastic pollution: more disagreements than convergences

Negotiators from 175 countries completed a week of talks in Nairobi, but without truly reaching consensus on how to tackle plastic pollution.

International negotiations against the proliferation of weapons ended on Sunday in Kenya, against a backdrop of disagreement over the scope of the treaty and the frustration of environmental NGOs at the lack of concrete progress.

Negotiators from 175 countries spent a week at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi trying to find common ground on a draft treaty to address the growing problem of plastic pollution.

The stakes in these negotiations were high because plastic, resulting from petrochemicals, is everywhere: waste of all sizes is already found at the bottom of the oceans and on the tops of mountains. Microplastics have been detected in blood or breast milk.

If the different parties agree on the need for a treaty, the substance diverges between the NGOs which plead for the reduction of 75% of production by 2040 and the oil producing countries and the lobbies of the plastic industries which campaign more in favor of recycling.

Only 9% of plastics are recycled

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, which encompasses much more of the range of ideas», Welcomes the spokesperson for the International Council of Chemical Associations, a major lobby which defends the interests of the plastics industry, Stewart Harris. “I think it’s been a useful week“, he says.

A different story for several environmental defense NGOs who have accused certain countries, notably Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia, of having made “obstruction“. “Unsurprisingly, some countries are blocking progress, playing obstruction and procedural maneuvers», assures Carroll Muffett, director of the Center for international environmental law (CIEL). “Compromising the needs of those most affected to satisfy the desires of those profiting from the problem is not a feasible strategy», deplores Graham Forbes, from Greenpeace.

For NGOs, time is running out and a binding treaty is necessary because plastic pollution is expected to get worse: annual production has more than doubled in twenty years to reach 460 million tonnes. It could triple by 2060 if nothing is done. However, only 9% of plastics are recycled.

Plastic also plays a role in global warming: it represented 3.4% of global emissions in 2019, a figure which 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 the negotiations next year. After the Kenyan capital, negotiations must continue in April 2024 in Canada and conclude in South Korea at the end of 2024.

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