Global Plastic Treaty and the fight against carbon emission and pollution


Globally, humans produce over 450 million tonnes of plastic today as compared to just two million tonnes in 1950. Unfortunately, over 90 per cent of the plastic pollutes the planet. A report from the U.S. federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that the plastic industry, which currently accounts for 5 per cent of global carbon emissions, can grow to 20 per cent by 2050 if current trends continue. It is estimated that every day equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes, as a result tiny plastic particles are now part of the air, food, and water.

In order to counter this growing challenge, an ambitious initiative with 175 UN member nations was adopted in March 2022 by the UN Environmental Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Known as the Global Plastic Treaty, it concluded the fourth round of negotiations recently in Ottawa, Canada, with an advanced draft text of the instrument and agreement on intersessional work ahead of the fifth session in November. Over 2500 delegates participated in the session, representing 170 Members and more than 480 observer organizations. The gathering was the largest, with observer participation surging by almost fifty percent. Discussions included emissions and releases; production; product design; waste management; problematic and avoidable plastics; financing, and a just transition.

The end goal is to have a legal document in place by the end of 2024 with milestones on countries to curb plastic production, eliminate its uses creating wastage, ban some chemicals used in its production as well as targets for recycling. The fifth round of negotiations is scheduled in Busan, South Korea this November.

The 2022 historic resolution had said that “the high and rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution represent a serious environmental problem at a global scale, negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development”. The resolution had mandated the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme for convening an International Negotiating Committee (INC) for developing and adopting a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Pre INC-4 Meetings

In the previous meetings on the internationally legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, stakeholders discussed proposed draft rules of procedure for the work of the International Negotiating Committee (INC), mandated to the Chair to prepare a zero draft, and mandating the Secretariat to compile a “revised zero-draft text” as the basis of talks at INC – 4.

Major Decisions at INC – 4

Some significant decisions were taken at the end of the plastic treaty talks including establishment of open-ended legal drafting group, which ensure legal assessment of the draft text. Further, there was acceptance on a compilation document, to be issued by the INC Secretariat, to maintain placeholders for potential annexes, standardizing the formatting and correcting the document, without substantive changes to the content. Further, 28 member states launched the Bridge to Busan Declaration on Primary Plastic Polymers, which can be joined in by interested stakeholders.

At the current session, two ad-hoc intersessional open-ended expert groups were established including:

  • Analyzing criteria and non-criteria-based approaches, with regard to plastic products and chemicals of concern in plastic products and product design, focusing on recyclability and reusability of plastic products considering their uses and applications.
  • Developing an analysis of potential sources and means that could be mobilized for implementation of the objectives of the instrument including options for the establishment of a financial mechanism, alignment of financial flows, and catalysing finance.

Challenges

Despite the progress, challenges remain especially economic in nature. Oil producing and refining countries such as the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and Iran are uncertain about eliminating plastic production.

The biggest generator of plastic waste, the U.S., has refrained from joining the negotiating blocs. U.S. negotiators suggested other countries to tackle certain chemicals, which have raised public health concerns and “single use” plastic products that are deemed wasteful.

The Asia Pacific group said that countries should receive financial and technical assistance for waste management infrastructure as they take on new obligations under the agreement.

More than sixty countries making up the so-called High-Ambition Coalition, including European Union members, Mexico, Australia, Japan, and Rwanda – and most recently Ukraine, are also arguing for a strong treaty that tackles production and requires transparency and controls for chemicals used in the process. They agree for the year 2040 for the reduction. But unlike the U.S., they argue the treaty must impose global measures and targets rather than a system of national action plans. There is disagreement on how to approach contentious elements- either to be decided by consensus or vote.

As per a report by the non-profit EA Earth Action, global distribution of the plastic pollution is unequal with Brazil, China, India, and the U.S. responsible for 60 per cent of plastic waste. Plastic pollution cannot end through merely signing treaties and entails greater investment in alternative products.

Representing major petrochemical producers, the trade group Global Partners for Plastics Circularity includes American Chemical Council and Plastics Europe. The group states that production caps will translate to skyrocketing prices. It said that that the companies should focus on encouraging reuse or recycling of plastics. In the two-year negotiation period of plastics treaty, total plastic pollution in ocean is expected to surge by 15%. Hence, the treaty negotiations are a vital opportunity to help reduce plastic pollution.

India’s stand on Global Plastic Treaty

India’s view of the global plastic treaty is that the instrument should address availability, accessibility, affordability of alternatives. The language is akin to the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility,’ which were part of the climate talks.

India had implemented the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules in 2021 banning 19 categories of “single-use” plastics. However, that excluded plastic bottles — even those less than 200 ml, and multi-layered packaging boxes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *