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Plastics treaty talks: Slow progress, yet restored hope

The latest negotiations on a global treaty to address plastic pollution concluded in Canada early Tuesday, advancing the dialogue despite significant debates, particularly over the prospect of setting global limits on plastic production

This session marked a pivotal shift as negotiators for the first time discussed the draft text of the treaty, moving from conceptual discussions to concrete treaty language.

The session in Ottawa, which is the fourth of five planned meetings, saw negotiators grappling with one of the most contentious issues: the potential limitation of plastic production. 

Highly complex issue

Despite strong objections from countries and industries reliant on plastic production, this issue remained in the treaty draft. Since most plastic is manufactured using fossil fuels and chemicals, reducing production is a highly complex issue.

As the meeting wrapped up, the committee resolved to continue refining the treaty’s terms before reconvening for the final session in South Korea later this year. 

Moving forward with the plastics treaty

The next session will focus on key issues such as financing mechanisms for the treaty’s implementation, assessing chemicals of concern in plastics, and examining product design. 

However, Rwanda’s representative expressed concern that by not directly addressing the volume of plastic production, negotiators were avoiding a critical issue.

“In the end, this is not just about the text, it’s not just about the process,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, the executive secretary of the committee. “It is quite simply about providing a better future for generations and for our loved ones.” 

Focus on circularity 

Industry representatives, however, have different priorities. Stewart Harris from the International Council of Chemical Associations emphasized the industry’s focus on recycling and reusing plastics, a concept often referred to as “circularity.” 

Thus, the Council does not want a cap on plastic production, and considers that chemicals should not be regulated through this agreement. 

Harris also expressed satisfaction with the progress made in discussions, particularly around additional work on financing and plastic product design.

Addressing the issue of microplastics 

The negotiations were also informed by scientific input aimed at dispelling myths about plastics. 

“I heard yesterday that there’s no data on microplastics, which is verifiably false: 21,000 articles on micro and nanoplastics have been published,” said Bethanie Carney Almroth, an ecotoxicology professor and co-leader of the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty. She also mentioned challenges faced by scientists, including harassment by industry lobbyists.

In a news conference on Saturday, members of an Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus said that microplastics are contaminating their food supply and threatening their communities and ways of life. 

“We have bigger stakes. These are our ancestral lands that are being polluted with plastic,” said Juressa Lee of New Zealand. “We’re rights holders, not stakeholders. We should have more space to speak and make decisions than the people causing the problem.”

Common goal to move forward with plastics treaty

Despite these challenges, the diverse group of countries shared a common goal to progress with the treaty. 

“Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about the survival of the future of life, not only of human life but all sorts of life on this planet,” argued Ecuador’s chief negotiator, Walter Schuldt.

However, the discussions, initiated by a resolution proposed by Rwanda and Peru, have been marked by slow progress and intense debate. 

“We took a major step forward after two years of lots of discussion. Now we have text to negotiate,” said Björn Beeler, the international coordinator for the International Pollutants Elimination Network. “Unfortunately, much more political will is needed to address the out of control escalating plastic production.”

Plastics treaty negotiations continue

As the plastics treaty negotiation process continues, the involvement of affected communities and advocacy groups underscores the urgent need for change. 

From Louisiana to New Zealand, individuals and groups are calling for actions that go beyond government discussions to address the tangible impacts of plastic pollution on communities and natural environments. 

This collective effort highlights a global recognition of the need for significant and effective measures to combat plastic pollution, ensuring a healthier planet for future generations.

“We are working toward a world where we won’t have plastic litter everywhere in our ecosystems,” said Mathur-Filipp. “The energy is there, the will is there and I know we will get an instrument by the end of the year.”


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