Last week, delegates from 160 countries, industry representatives, and civil society groups gathered in in the coastal town of Punta del Este in Uruguay for the first round of negotiations on a global plastics treaty which concluded on 2 December.
This was the first of a planned five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) with the goal to draft the first legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by the end of 2024.
The negotiations saw divisions between countries on how the treaty should be implemented. The High Ambition Coalition of over 40 countries, including EU members, Switzerland, Ghana and host Uruguay want the treaty to be based on mandatory global measures.
“Without a common international regulatory framework, we will not be able to address the global and increasing challenge of plastic pollution,” Switzerland said in its position statement.
On the other hand, countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia, home to the world’s most prominent plastic and petrochemical companies, suggested a model whereby countries decide their own targets and plans, similar to the Paris climate agreement.
Critics argued that such an approach would be too weak to solve the worsening plastic crisis.
“Although in the minority, there are some powerful opponents of global rules and standards, which risk potentially weakening obligations on countries to take action,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, WWF global plastics policy lead.
Industry representatives highlighted the essential role of plastics in day-to-day life and suggested that the treaty addresses plastic waste as opposed to decreasing production.
“At the end of the day, we hope the committee comes to the same conclusion we do, which is that increasing recycling offers the best solution to reducing plastic waste,” said Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
Whilst the first round of negotiations resulted in a schism on the best way forward for the treaty, it is clear that there has been a narrative shift. Plastic is being referred to “as a material made of chemicals,” said Vito Buonsante, policy adviser for the International Pollutants Elimination Network, reported Reuters.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said plastics were “fossil fuels in another form” and urged nations to crack down on pollution and production.