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Stakeholders Retreat to Their Corners in Global Plastics Treaty Talks

Round two of negotiations toward a global plastics treaty is in the books, and the competing aims of stakeholders — more recycling vs. reduced plastics production and limits on hazardous chemicals — were on full display.

Wrangling over rules of procedure kicked off the second of five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) that wrap up today at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the weeklong talks were delayed until day three, according to reports, by division over voting procedures and whether decisions would be made by vote or by consensus.

This meant deliberations by the two contact groups — one focusing on objectives, core obligations, control measures, and voluntary approaches, the other on implementation measures — started later than planned.

US, Russia, and China form common front

Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China and the United States have been cited as promoting a treaty that regulates a more circular approach to controlling plastics waste. Urging stricter measures is a 55-nation coalition and environmental activists who aim to end plastic pollution with an agreement that enforces some combination of caps on plastic production and reductions or bans on hard-to-recycle plastics and toxic chemicals.

“We are definitely seeing a pattern among the major oil and gas producers or petrochemical producers or countries that have been investing and planning to invest heavily in building up their petrochemical industry to try and delay the negotiations,” David Azoulay, director of environmental health at the Center for International Environmental Law, told Scientific American.

ACC applauds leadership of US delegation

The US delegation included representatives of the State Department, White House, Environmental Protection Agency, and FDA. “We applaud the leadership displayed by the US delegation to focus the negotiations … and broker an agreement on procedure and rules so that substantive discussions could progress,” said Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

America’s Plastics Makers, represented by the ACC’s Plastics Division, were “pleased to have engaged with government negotiators and stakeholders throughout INC-2 to emphasize the importance of advancing a well-crafted, practical, and implementable agreement focused on ending plastic pollution,” Baca continued. The negotiations underscored that there is significant alignment on the need for an agreement to accelerate circularity of plastics, unleash innovation, promote sustainable consumption and production of plastics, encourage design for circularity, and help build and sustain waste management systems around the world, all based on the unique needs and circumstances of each country.”

The United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022 endorsed the creation of the first global plastics treaty. Two weeks prior to INC-2, UNEP issued a report claiming countries can reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040 through existing technologies and major policy changes.

INC-3 is scheduled to take place later this year at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The last scheduled INC meeting is to be held in December 2024.

“While much work remains to be done, we are committed to continue our participation and engagement throughout the process by providing solutions, listening to different opinions, and finding common ground,” Baca advised.

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