The call for a global agreement on plastic waste seems to be gaining momentum as 30 countries endorse an agreement at a United Nations conference and some leaders in the plastics industry respond.
A UN ministerial conference on marine litter and plastic pollution ended on September 2nd in Geneva. Diplomats said in a video briefing that they expect serious negotiations to begin at the next session of the UN Environment Assembly in February.
Some industry groups also said they supported a treaty.
The American Chemistry Council and the International Council of Chemical Associations released a five-point plan on September 1 calling for a global agreement that could help build a global infrastructure for waste collection and promote the reuse of plastics.
“This is a global challenge that requires a global solution,” said Bob Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell Industries, in the statement. “With the support of the UN, we can develop a global framework that will help us solve this critical problem.”
In a video interview distributed by ACC, Jim Fitterling, chairman and CEO of Dow Inc. and chairman of the board of ACC, said a plastics deal could move the discussions towards solutions and compared it to climate talks.
“I think a global deal would get to the heart of the matter, much like we talk about carbon emissions,” said Fitterling. “It creates a dialogue around the solutions.”
Some plastics companies and industry associations have previously approved a global plastics agreement, although there are differences between countries, industry and environmental groups as to the details of a possible agreement.
Some countries made formal proposals at the Geneva conference that the treaty should be legally binding, but it is not clear how widespread this position is. Diplomats from 140 countries took part in the UN meeting.
Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, said in a press conference at the end of the meeting that he saw a consensus on a contract.
“What I’ve seen over the past two years is that there’s a tremendous convergence of views,” said Flasbarth. “I heard countries, without naming them today, that spoke at the last meeting and said that they could not imagine a legally binding instrument. I also heard today that they are ready to consider a legally binding instrument. ” [agreement]. “
The UN meeting was convened by Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Vietnam to prepare for the full session of the Environment Assembly in February at the headquarters of the UN Environment Program in Nairobi, Kenya.
John Thompson, a US diplomat, said in video notes distributed by UN organizers that Washington was developing its position on the treaty.
Flasbarth said that even after talks began, it could take several years for a contract to take effect. But he said he expected the next UN Environment Assembly to officially open negotiations.
“I am absolutely convinced that this will be successful at the next UNEA,” he said.
Oliver Boachie, special advisor to the Ghanaian government, said at the press conference that while some countries are calling for a binding agreement, the broader ministerial declaration dated Jan. September is “a little quiet” on this question.
He said at this point that diplomats want to build support for the start of the negotiations.
“For us there was no illusion in the beginning that everything would be a piece of cake,” he said.
Flasbarth said that in addition to the 30 countries that have already signed the ministerial declaration, around 50 more have announced that they will do so. A WWF International statement at the conference said 119 countries are in favor of some form of treaty and it is said to be seeing growing momentum.
“This could finally begin to curb the flow of destruction that plastic pollution is wreaking havoc on the environment and people,” said WWF.