Win for wastepickers as voluntary body formed to ensure they are heard; member states now in the process of preparing final international legally binding instrument
The first round of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution in Uruguay’s Punta Del Este is inching toward the last two days of talks, with a final decision still pending.
The first session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC-1) comes nine months after representatives from 175 countries endorsed a landmark resolution on plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Countries tasked the United Nations Environment Programme with convening and managing the INC process.
An open multi-stakeholder forum was arranged in conjunction with the INC-1 meeting November 26, 2022. Breakout groups were created to conduct roundtable meetings which were based on discussion tracks. These were:
Each of the breakout groups had a chance to discuss various elements within the scope of the theme. A roundtable session was conducted on the objectives, scope, and structure of the multi-stakeholder action agenda.
The eliminating and designing for circularity (SG1 and SG2) group demanded the definition of terms like ‘toxic’, ‘circularity’ and other frequently used terminologies.
The group also demanded standardisation in product design and the need for financing through schemes similar to extended producer responsibility. The need for capacity-building both among governments and stakeholders was stressed upon.
The circularity in practice (SG3) group demanded that the role of the private sector on plastic pollution issues be defined and the establishment of infrastructure for sound plastic waste management is ensured.
Some of the participants from the waste minimisation and remediation (SG4) group said compostable plastics should not be regulated while others urged that chemical recycling be explored.
The online forum discussions laid emphasis on:
The stakeholder groups’ roundtable forums were followed by the formal opening of the plenary on November 28.
Member states are now in the process of discussing the organisation of the work and commenting on the preparation of the international legally binding instrument.
As many as 50 countries have issued their opening statements in the first two days of the plenary.
Civil society groups said opening statements on the first two days of the meet recognised that plastic production trends need to be looked at and deliberated upon and that plastic pollution is linked to human health and rights.
Two other successes were focus on the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle and just transition for wastepickers. A group of friends of wastepickers, a voluntary body made up of representatives of member states worldwide, was formed to ensure that waste-pickers are heard at the INC.
However, there were misses too. National action plans should not have had mandatory obligations. Chemical recycling was still being pushed as a viable solution despite high failure rate.
Industry was inclined towards voluntary action instead of mandates. Governments and industry focussed on technology as a solution to the crisis.
The stakeholder forum was attended by 1,800 participants, which included many stakeholders working across the plastic value chain.
Attendees in the multi-stakeholder forum were dominated by Europe (24 per cent), followed by Asia-Pacific (21 per cent), according to a UNEP update.
Non-profits and governments formed almost three-fourths of the stakeholder groups while there was an eight per cent representation from the industries involved across the plastic value chain.
However, civil society groups, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders have pointed out with concern the problematic presence of those companies responsible for plastic pollution and hidden industry influence at the forum.
Neil Tangri, director (Science and Policy), Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives (GAIA), United States, said, “Greta Thunberg recently criticised the overwhelming presence of the fossil fuel industry at the climate talks: ‘If you are trying to solve malaria, you don’t give mosquitoes a seat at the table.’”
The same can be said for the plastics treaty negotiations, now underway in Uruguay, Tangri said. Instead, the treaty process should follow the precedent of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which excluded the tobacco industry from its negotiations. The plastics/petrochemical industry is not part of the solution, it is the problem, he added.
Jane Patton, campaign manager for plastics and petrochemicals at Center for International Environmental Law (USA and Switzerland), said, “The reaction we are seeing from expert civil society representatives is a reflection of our broader concerns about industry influence over governments negotiating a new legally binding treaty to address the plastics pollution crisis.”
The perpetrators of pollution from plastics should not be allowed to manipulate these negotiations in their favour, so these processes must be specifically protected from fossil fuels and chemicals companies and their NGO front groups, she added.
This is the sixth of a seven-part series based on a CSE report released November 22, 2022 at India Habitat Centre
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.