Environmental policiesPolicy and Affairs

Perhaps the UN Plastic Treaty will not see the light of day in 2024

Rich countries and industry are blocking a UN Plastic Treaty that talks about the reduction

A disappointing plenary, which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of civil society and perhaps undermines the progress of the UN Plastic Treaty. Unfortunately, this is the verdict that emerges from a week of negotiations in Ottawa, Canada. Finished tonight, while the final details are being finalized to define the intersection work, talks between countries have seen little progress.

The talks focused on finalizing the “zero draft” of the Treaty, a nearly 70-page document that emerged from the 2023 negotiations. It contained potential options on which to build the final text. As the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) explains, “much of the week has been devoted to the rationalization of the text and negotiators have started working on the document line by line only on closing days”. There was too little time left to reach a synthesis.

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the UN Plastic Treaty (INC-4) has therefore almost collapsed. The countries have adopted a formal work program that should lead the negotiations until November, when the last session will be held in Korea. But already there is concern that it will not be the last. And the shadow of yet another failure of UN-led international diplomacy is dragging on the process. After the climate, biodiversity and other minor intergovernmental processes, even from the negotiations on plastics are likely to come out the proverbial mouse.

Although a handful of countries have taken a stand to keep ambitious proposals alive, most have accepted a compromise that has played into the hands of petrostates and industry influences,” CIEL criticizes.

In essence, the word “reduction” cannot be written to the governments involved in the process. Cutting plastic production is a necessary operation, according to environmentalists. The problem would be – they argue – to hit upstream the sector, reducing its weight in the economy. But the oil producers, the chemical industry and the governments of the global North disagree. Thus, the intersection program does not provide for discussions on measures to reduce plastic, but only procedural and minor issues. All the so-called hot spots, the key points of the Treaty, will only be exhumed at the end of the year, with the real risk of a stalemate.

The weight of the lobbies, also in this negotiation, has been great. 196 lobbyists from the chemical and fossil fuel industries have registered for negotiations, including at least 16 in national delegations.

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