Canada Hosts Global Meeting With a View to Agreement on Plastic Pollution

    Signing a binding international treaty to stop plastic pollution that affects the entire planet

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    This week, representatives from 176 countries meet in Ottawa to address the global challenges posed by environmental pollution caused by plastic waste and look for elements that can lead to a binding agreement.

    The fourth and penultimate stage of the talks will begin a session that will conclude at the end of this year in Korea, where it is expected that the parties will be able to sign a binding international treaty to stop plastic pollution that affects the entire planet.

    This process is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end plastic pollution. It’s a historic process, said EirikLindebjerg, global plastics policy lead at the World Wildlife Fund.

    To date, negotiations have produced a voluminous 69-page draft. Negotiators will now work to reduce that text to a list of key issues. Succeeding in that will be key to achieving a global treaty in the final session.In the first lines of the draft, the parties agree that rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution represent a serious environmental problem on a global scale.

    But the point of tension is determining whether the focus of the agreement should be plastic production or waste management, since the interests at stake in this debate have slowed down negotiations to date.

    Ottawa really needs to be a turning point, said Graham Forbes, leader of the global plastics project at the environmental protection organization Greenpeace. We are at a decisive moment for the global plastics treaty negotiations.

    Plastic pollution is everywhere

    Plastic waste is a pervasive global problem, a result of the seven billion tons of synthetic material generated worldwide since the 1950s, according to the United Nations Environment Program Atmosphere.

    Another detail is that around 98 percent of single-use plastic is produced directly from fossil fuels, rather than using recycled materials. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that only nine percent of plastic produced has ever been recycled.

    Most of this plastic garbage ends up in landfills, some is burned and generally ends up polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. Billions and billions of pieces of plastic are damaging marine ecosystems, entangling some creatures or ending up in the digestive systems of other species. Scientists estimate that most seabirds now have plastic in their guts.

    Plastic pollution is fueling what we call the triple planetary crisis. It is accelerating climate change, decimating biodiversity and threatening to contaminate every corner of our planet, including the human body.

    Over their life cycle, the OECD estimates that plastics account for approximately 3.4 percent of polluting emissions, making them a significant contributor to rising global temperatures.

    The United Nations Environment Program estimates that, if no action is taken, almost a fifth of the world’s shrinking carbon budget, which consists of allocating emissions to keep global warming below 1, 5 degrees above pre-industrial levels will be absorbed by the production and use of plastics by 2040.

    Previous negotiations were insufficient

    Although it is unclear what form a global plastics treaty might take, a 2022 Ipsos opinion poll suggests that people around the world want something done about it.In the survey, conducted online in 28 countries, 75 percent of people surveyed want a ban on single-use plastics as soon as possible, and the majority supported an international treaty to combat plastic pollution.

    A core group of 60 countries, including Canada, has taken that ambition a step further, establishing the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution and aiming to end plastic pollution by 2040.But international agreements are complex, and previous sessions held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Paris and Nairobi are considered not sufficient.

    In these negotiations we see that the oil and gas industry associations, as well as those in the petrochemical sector, are very active and often lobby against global binding actions, said Lindebjerg.

    The fossil fuel industry is using plastics as a way to offset declines in the energy and transportation sectors as the world moves toward a low-carbon, fossil fuel-free future. They are simply flooding the world with plastics.

    The Canadian Chemical Industry Association, which represents plastics companies in Canada, says that is not the position of its members.”I think everyone is focused on ensuring that this is done before the end of the year,” said the organization’s vice president of policy, Isabelle Des Chênes, in an interview with the CBC public broadcaster.

    Slow down production and improve waste management

    The industry is drawing attention to opportunities to improve reuse and recycling initiatives.There is a lot of plastic and there is a lot of plastic for a reason, Des Chênes said. It helps preserve our food […] it is really important in the transportation phase.She hopes the treaty will address how to make plastics better.

    “You really need to look at the design of the product, how the products are developed, whether they have recycled content, whether they are designed for reuse and resale, whether they are designed to be recyclable,” she added.

    Other environmental protection organizations believe the treaty’s emphasis should be on plastic production.I think the worst case scenario for Ottawa is that they eliminate options to address the issue of plastic production. “We started crafting a waste management treaty that is like throwing money into a bottomless barrel, and we continue with the illusion that we can recycle our way out of this situation,” Forbes said.In reality, the proposed treaty aims to address both plastic production and waste.

    There is a vast majority of countries that want to see a strong treaty, a treaty with common global rules throughout the entire life cycle of plastics. Lindebjerg said.The meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, or INC-4, as the Canada-based session is called, is expected to host more than 4,200 participants, making it the most attended session since the INC -1 began negotiations in Uruguay in November 2022.The INC-4 will continue until April 29 and negotiators will resume talks during the fifth and final session to be held in Busan, Republic of Korea, in late November.

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