Plastic-free planet: Protecting sanitation workers & wastepickers, just transition discussed on Day 2 of INC-3

UN chief underlines role of plastics in fuelling climate crisis

By Zumbish
Published: Thursday 16 November 2023
Screengrab of UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson at the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on plastic pollution__

The urgency of tackling the world’s plastic crisis was underlined by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ message on the second day of the ongoing  third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) November 14, 2023. 

“Plastics are fuelling the climate crisis. By 2040, up to 19 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions will stem from plastics. To meet the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise and to beat plastic pollution, we need a plastics treaty that reduces plastic production,” the UN chief said. 

Civil society groups also spoke during the proceedings about the drastic need to reduce global plastic production to protect human and environmental health at the UN Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Read more: Plastic-free planet: Third session of Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee begins in Nairobi

Countrywide statements over the zero draft, a key document prepared by the Chair, continued on the Day 2. Various countries are divided over the zero draft, with some demanding considerable changes to the text. 

The Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries — a UN regional group composed of 33 member states from Central and South America — presented an official position advocating for the rights of waste pickers, who should be explicitly mentioned.  

In third part of the plenary in the early hours of November 14, Central American country El Salvador’s representative gave statements on the protection of sanitation workers and wastepickers.  

“El Salvador is in favour of an instrument that promotes effective and responsible management from production to the disposal of plastics. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a verification of compliance mechanism that acts as a facilitator, helping countries achieve their national and global targets with regard to the gradual reduction of plastic pollution. At the same time, through these instruments, we need to foster a focus on a circular economy and recognise and protect sanitation workers and wastepickers,” the representative said.

The representative from Guatemala also expressed his support.

Read more: Plastic-free planet: Like-minded group of countries demand changes to zero draft

According to a report published by the news organisation The Intercept, Guatemala has almost no properly managed landfills or public water treatment plants. As a result, a noxious mixture of sewage, industrial and agricultural runoff, and a constraint stream of plastic trash churns out from the river mouth towards the massive Mesoamerican reef, it said. 

“The beaches here and in neighbouring Honduras are regularly buried in artificial tidewrack of toothbrushes, makeup containers, old syringes and bottles of IV fluid, action figures, streamers of plastic film, and foil chip bags,” the report stated.

Kuwait representative, meanwhile, asserted that “real and implementable results will be achieved through the drafting of an international instrument that is legally binding on plastic pollution including marine environment.” 

“We all know that drafting such an instrument has become an international challenge for all states of the world. The draft instrument should be based on a sound scientific approach,” she said.

The representative for the host country Kenya, in his addressal to the Chair, said: “Kenya reiterates the vital need of establishing a dedicated multilateral fund to profile resources to drive plastic pollution interventions, technology transfer and efficient and effective capacity building for countries in emerging economies.”

Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez, permanent representative of Peru to the UN, continues to be the elected Chair of the plastic treaty. 

Read more: United Nations Environment Assembly 5.2: Five aspects of plastic pollution that needs focus

At the culmination of the proceedings, strong interventions were suggested by representatives on human and indigenous rights. 

“The Plastics treaty must protect the right to science, including indigenous peoples’ rights to their knowledge, practices and innovations,” said the UN high commissioner for human rights in an intervention.

Prem Singh Tharu from Nepal, who represented the cause of indigenous people, echoed similar sentiments. “The instrument must ensure indigenous knowledge as the primary element. The use of indigenous knowledge, innovation, technologies and practices must be recognised and respected following the due diligence of collective consent from the particular indigenous communities,” he said. 

Just transition was also supported at the event by a few during their interventions, including Barbra Weber from International Alliance of Wastepickers. 

“The treaty must make clear that just transition applies to the entire lifecycle of plastics and requires safeguard in the rights of workers including the informal sector — communities, indigenous people and people in vulnerable situations,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also asserted.

A just transition, according to waste pickers, is based on making visible those already working at all stages of the plastic value chain, including workers under informal and cooperative settings and recognising their fundamental human dignity and historic contribution.

It also involves maximising the social and economic opportunities of ending plastic pollution while minimising and carefully managing any challenges. A plan for a just transition will guarantee better and decent work, social protection, training opportunities and greater job security for workers at all stages of the plastic value chain.

Read more: Philippines environmental group raises concerns over plastic pollution at INC3

As the session went on, the Chair and UN officials held talks with observers to answer questions about the three contact groups that were suggested as a way to make progress and create a more complete draft for INC-4. 

“As I ask the private sector to understand that this is not just about philanthropy, or corporate social responsibility. This is about your future in the boardroom as much as in your homes.  This instrument is coming. The world is changing. And we all know that, as this drive to sustainability gathers pace, the early movers and innovators will be those that succeed. Companies that adopt non-plastic substitutes or alternatives or better use of plastic now will win the market share. Once they have it, everyone else will be running to catch up,” said Executive Director UNEP Inger Andersen as the conclusion of Day 2
plenaries approached. 

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