Weeklong negotiations for landmark treaty to end plastic pollution close, marred in disagreements
FILE - Trash and plastics litter the sand of Yarakh Beach in Dakar, Senegal, November 8, 2022. Negotiators at UN-led talks in Nairobi have failed to agree on how to advance work towards the development of a global treaty to end plastic pollution. Environmental advocates say some oil-producing governments used stalling tactics designed to ultimately weaken the treaty.(AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The latest round of negotiations to craft a treaty to end global plastic pollution closed late on Sunday after talks in Nairobi, Kenya, where delegates failed to reach a consensus on how to advance a draft of the agreement after a week of strained negotiations.

Environmental advocates criticised the outcome of the weeklong United Nations-led meeting on plastic pollution, saying oil-producing countries successfully employed stalling tactics designed to weaken the agreement.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics is mandated with creating the first international, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution in five rounds of negotiations.

At this third round of talks, delegates were expected to discuss a draft published in September that represented the views from the first two meetings and narrow down options.

Member states decided to move forward with a revision of the draft, which has become longer due to new proposals during this round and will be even more difficult to advance, participants said. States also failed to reach a consensus on intersessional work to discuss crucial parts of the draft ahead of the fourth round of negotiations.

But at the close of the session, outgoing negotiation chair Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez described the round as “a significant step forward.” He noted, however, that “much remains to be done both in narrowing down our differences and in developing technical work to inform our negotiations.”

Throughout the week, delegates suggested options to strengthen proposed global rules across the entire lifecycle of plastic from production to disposal. A coalition of “high-ambition” governments led by Rwanda and Norway hope to eradicate plastic pollution by 2040 by having a treaty that guarantees interventions throughout the whole life cycle of plastics, including reducing output and restricting some chemicals used in the plastics industry.

But some oil-producing countries advocated for shifting previously agreed mandates of the agreement, like changing the focus from the entire lifecycle of plastic to waste management, and having voluntary measures at national levels to fight plastic pollution, instead of global measures.

Environmentalists disagree

“The science is very clear, the data is very clear, and the moral imperative is very clear," said Graham Forbes, global plastics campaign lead at Greenpeace. "You cannot solve the plastic pollution crisis if you do not massively cut plastic production."

Ana Lê Rocha, director of the global plastics programme at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said “the bullies" of the negotiations pushed their way through, despite the majority countries, with leadership from the African Bloc and other nations in the Global South, in support of an ambitious treaty.”

But Stewart Harris, a spokesperson of the International Council of Chemical Associations, sees an opportunity for the treaty to accelerate circularity or the reuse of plastics. He hoped the agreement will set up “something like a requirement for governments to establish circularity targets as part of their national action plans.”

The world produces more than 430 million tons of plastic annually, and two-thirds of that are products that are disposed of soon after use, becoming waste and, often getting into the human food chain, according to the United Nations. Global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Plastics are often made from oil, or other planet-warming fossil fuels.

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