UN talks for global plastic pollution treaty marred by delays and disputes

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3rd June 2023 – (United Nations) Negotiators from over 170 countries are struggling to agree on a global treaty to combat plastic pollution, with the second round of UN talks fraught with delays, protests, and geopolitical tensions. The aim of many nations is to establish the broad outlines of a plastics treaty to be drafted and discussed at the next round of talks in Kenya in November. After a week of negotiations, the meeting concluded on Friday with a mandate to draft the text, but the process was marred by disagreements and delays. Countries did not begin discussing plastic until the third day out of five, while prolonged debates about voting procedures held up the negotiations, led by oil-rich countries including Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

The High Ambition Coalition, which is pushing to “end plastic pollution by 2040,” and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were relieved that the first hurdle was cleared. “The first draft of the treaty that will now be developed must reflect the ambition shown by the vast majority of countries here in Paris,” said WWF Special Envoy Marco Lambertini. French Environment Minister Christophe Béchu admitted that it had been “very difficult” at the start of the week.

The impasse over voting procedures distracted negotiators from more substantive discussions on the treaty. One faction, led by China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, called for treaty decisions to be adopted by consensus, giving individual countries veto power. Other countries, including the E.U., the U.S., the U.K. and Norway, wanted decisions to be put to a vote, dependent on a two-thirds majority. The debate was eventually resolved with a compromise that allows members to move out of the deadlock. However, the core issues of the treaty, such as whether to reduce plastic production, how to fund the treaty’s implementation, and whether to ban single-use plastic products, remain unresolved.

The delays have left little time for substantive discussions on the treaty, and the meeting ended without real progress. David Azoulay, a senior attorney at the Center for Environmental Law, said the compromise “allowed members to move out of the deadlock, but the core substantive issues remain unsettled.” Bethan Laughlin, a senior policy specialist for the Zoological Society of London, who attended the talks, said deadlock is “understandable in places of immense contention such as financing,” but to see it done on procedural matters is “incredibly frustrating.”

The situation highlights the need for greater diplomacy and cooperation between nations to combat plastic pollution effectively. The international community must find a way to work together to address their differences and reduce the risk of conflict. The High Ambition Coalition and NGOs have shown leadership in pushing for an ambitious treaty to end plastic pollution, but they face opposition from countries with vested interests in the plastics industry. The world must maintain its focus on the urgent need to reduce plastic pollution and protect our oceans for future generations.