Global Plastics Treaty a “Sign of Ambition”

Despite some frustration at the speed of negotiations at Paris’ INC-2, a “huge amount of commitment” is on display.  

The second meeting of the INC-2 in Paris, which is attempting to negotiate a global plastics pollution treaty, closed with optimism after a week of delays.  

Negotiations have been held up by arguments about whether consensus over the treaty should be pursued, or whether a two-thirds majority vote could lead to a suitably ambitious agreement.  

Think tank Planet Tracker told ESG Investor that INC-2 got off to a ”slow start” due to some countries appearing “keen to take the momentum out of trying to agree a global plastic pollution treaty”.  

Despite this, Steve Fletcher, Director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre at the University of Portsmouth, told ESG Investor that the plastic treaty itself is a “sign of ambition”.  

“The treaty is extremely ambitious,” he said. “Simply trying to overcome some of that fragmented policy to generate a more integrated, joined-up policy to tackle plastic pollution across the entire world is a major undertaking”. 

One key disagreement was over the adoption of a two-thirds majority on decisions taken at the negotiations, which would mean despite objections from up to 58 of the 175 countries that agreed to negotiate the treaty measures would still be passed.

Fletcher warned that requiring such a large number of countries having to follow decisions despite their objections would likely mean there wouldn’t be the “momentum of action that is required to effectively tackle plastics pollution”. 

A recent report by the Global Plastics Policy Centre described the treaty as a “major opportunity for policymakers to support the upscaling of reuse systems, limit virgin plastic production, set standards and boost infrastructure”.  

Fletcher cautioned that unless countries work together, it will be impossible to “tackle the flaws in the international plastics economy that result in pollution”. 

Piled high 

There is an estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. Plastic waste makes up 80% of all marine pollution and data suggests that there are 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean, with an estimated 9% of waste from 460 million tonnes of plastic produced each year is recycled. 

A recent UNEP report found that plastic pollution could be reduced by 80% by 2040 if countries and companies “make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies”. A report by environmental organisation Pacific Environment also called for at least 75% reduction of plastics by 2050. 

Research by the Credit Suisse Research Institute and its Global Sustainability team found that plastic usage “dramatically outstripped” both GDP and population growth over a 60-year-period.  

It also noted that under a baseline scenario – extending current trends and not assuming additional policy action – it expects annual plastic waste to almost double from approximately 350 million metric tonnes to roughly 670 million metric tonnes by 2060. Further, without additional policy action by 2060, there could be more plastic tonnage than whale biomass in the sea. 

The report from the Global Plastic Policy Centre explored how the world can move from a linear economy to a more “circular resource efficient economy that operates within planetary boundaries”, including how plastics reuse can be scaled into something that works at a city, national, and global scale. 

According to a new UN roadmap, reuse systems could cut plastic pollution by 30% by 2040. 

Fletcher said that the world is at a “crossroads” and must adopt new solutions for managing plastic waste in order to protect people and the environment. 

The first step in tackling plastic pollution, he said, is to use less of it. “We can do that by reducing our reliance on single use plastic and reusing materials,” he added. 

Lucia Rigamonti, Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Politecnico di Milano, told ESG Investor that the problem of plastics pollution is due less to plastic itself but how it is managed once it becomes waste.  

Political initiatives should be aimed at improving plastics end-of-life management rather than banning their use,” she said.  

Enabling Ambition 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature said that no policy-based decisions regarding the contents of the treaty had been reached at the end of INC-1, but that “clear distinctions” had emerged regarding the its structure, the contents and requirements of proposed National Action Plans. 

At the first set of negotiations, major oil and gas producing nations including the US, Saudi Arabia, and many Asian countries proposed an agreement where countries would create their own National Action Plans and set their own non-binding targets.  

However, a “high-ambition coalition” of countries led by Norway and Rwanda called for a curb in plastic production and a phase-out of certain plastic products and toxic chemical additives with African nations, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and others advocating for a global approach. 

According to Fletcher, it’s “hard to quantify ambition” on plastics pollution. “A country might be really ambitious, but it can’t get the politics and the policies through,” he said. 

“For the vast majority of the world, plastic pollution is an international problem, but they only have national tools to deal with it,” he added. “No one country can really make a big dent in plastic pollution, because it doesn’t have the power or reach in its political system to go beyond its own boundaries. 

“There’s a real push in the negotiations and the side events, and in all the rhetoric and discussion around here to have a just and fair transition to more circular plastics economy in which those vulnerable groups are given due care and attention,” Fletcher said, noting that there seems to be a “huge amount of commitment” from a lot of countries to push for an ambitious treaty.  

At the meeting, Small Island Developing States have called for ambitious global plastics treaty that acts across the whole plastics lifecycle and a way forward that focuses on solutions, just transitions, and knowledge exchange for improved capacity.  

Despite the disputes that impacted the negotiations, INC-2 saw more than 165 countries agree to the development of a zero draft of the treaty. The draft which will be compiled by the INC chair ahead of the INC-3 in Kenya in November, where Fletcher said the talks will be “focused on the text of the draft”.  

Marco Lambertini, Special Envoy at the WWF, said: “Ahead of the next round of negotiations, governments must continue in the spirit and determination shown here this week and work together to realise the ambitious world-changing treaty needed to halt plastic pollution.”

Nations have agreed to produce a full draft of the treaty before the next round of talks in November.

A final agreement of the global plastics treaty is scheduled for the end of 2024. 

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