Run-up to Ottawa: We, who suffer most due to plastics, must not be overlooked in talks, say indigenous peoples

Activists want negotiators to focus on a human rights-based approach as they deliberate on a plastics treaty; this includes centering knowledge, voices & experiences of people living on frontlines of the crisis

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Monday 22 April 2024
An indigenous activist in the march on Sunday. Photo: Ben Powess, Survival Media Agency

Indigenous peoples affected by plastic and plastic products protested in the streets of the Canadian capital of Ottawa on April 21, ahead of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to advance a plastics treaty.

Protestors who included indigenous leaders as well as climate activists, healthcare professionals, waste-pickers, environmental advocates, scientists and people from across global civil society marched from Parliament Hill to Shaw Center, the venue of the talks, according to a statement by Break Free From Plastic.

By mobilising, people — especially Black, Brown, indigenous, frontline, and under-resourced communities, particularly in the Global South — were making negotiators know that they would not wait silently on the sidelines even as petrochemical companies worked with governments of fossil fuel-producing countries to trade away communities as “sacrifice zones”, it added.

Break Free From Plastic is a global movement that envisions a plastic-free future.

“We are here to demand that delegates negotiate a treaty that lives up to the promise of the United Nations Environment Assembly Resolution 5/14 — that means measures that address the full life cycle of plastics, beginning with production of plastics, which is the production of polymers. Delegates must act like our lives depend on it — because they do,” said Daniela Duran Gonzalez, Senior Legal Campaigner with the Center for International Environmental Law.

“Our climate goals, the protection of human health, the enjoyment of human rights, and the rights of future generations all rest on whether the future plastics treaty will control and reduce polymers to successfully end the plastic pollution crisis,” she added.

The talks will officially begin on April 23. INC-4 follows in the footsteps of INC-3 (November 13-19, 2023) in Nairobi, Kenya, INC-2 in Paris, France (May 29-June 2, 2023) and INC-1 (November 28-December 2, 2022) in Punta del Este, Uruguay. 

Civil society groups have created a list of key demands for delegates at INC-4.

Activists want negotiators to focus on a human rights-based approach as they deliberate on a plastics treaty. Such an approach will include centering the knowledge, voices, and experiences of people living on the frontlines of the crisis, indigenous peoples, workers, youth and other rights-holding constituencies. 

According to civil society groups, these demands are designed to ensure that the treaty includes provisions to address the crisis across the entire life cycle of plastics, acknowledging that the life cycle begins with the extraction of raw materials and covers the production of plastics, its feedstocks and precursors.

The groups advocate support for non-toxic reuse systems as the primary solutions to the global plastic crisis. They also want solutions that include marginalised groups who suffer the worst impacts of the crisis, together with strong regulations on plastic waste trade to ensure an end to waste colonialism.

“Children and youth like me suffer the most from plastic pollution, and we are recognised as a vulnerable group,” said Aeshnina ‘Nina’ Azzahra, Founder of River Warrior Indonesia.

“We all want our environment to be plastic-free, but please don’t put your burden on the other side of the world—this is NOT fair. As adults who come to Ottawa to negotiate the plastic treaty, you must protect our rights to live in a healthy and safe environment.”

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