©Health & Fitness Journal. FILE PHOTO: A plastic bottle lies on Maccarese beach, west of Rome, Italy November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi 2/2
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Health & Fitness Journal) – The first round of talks on a global plastic deal ended on Friday with an agreement to end plastic pollution but a disagreement over whether goals and efforts should be global and mandatory or voluntary and country-led.
More than 2,000 delegates from 160 countries, meeting in Uruguay at the first of five scheduled meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), aim to finalize the first legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by the end of 2024.
Negotiations in the coastal city of Punta del Este pitted a “high ambition coalition”, including members of the European Union, against countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia, which have the world’s top plastics and petrochemical companies.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said plastics are “fossil fuels in a different form” and urged nations to tackle pollution and manufacturing.
“I urge countries to look beyond the garbage and turn off the tap on plastic,” he said on Twitter.
Members of the United Nations agreed in March to create the deal to end the scourge of plastic waste, but they disagree on key issues, including whether to limit plastic production, phase out plastic types and harmonize global rules.
The High Ambition Coalition of over 40 countries including EU members, Switzerland, hosts Uruguay and Ghana want the treaty to be based on binding global measures, including production restrictions.
“Without a common international regulatory framework, we will not be able to address the global and growing challenge of plastic pollution,” Switzerland said in its statement.
This approach contrasts with the country-specific commitments advocated by countries such as the United States and Saudi Arabia.
“The United States is committed to working with other governments and stakeholders throughout the INC process to develop an ambitious, innovative, and country-focused global agreement,” a US State Department spokesman said in a statement.
“POTENTIAL WEAKENING OF OBLIGATIONS”
Washington has said it wants the pact to resemble the structure of the Paris climate agreement, in which countries set their own targets and action plans to reduce greenhouse gases.
Saudi Arabia said it wants a treaty that focuses on plastic waste and is built on a “bottom-to-top” approach and based on national realities.
Critics say such a move would weaken a global deal.
“Although it is in the minority, there are some powerful opponents of global rules and standards who risk potentially weakening countries’ obligation to act,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, WWF’s head of global plastics policy.
Industry representatives at the talks pointed to the essential role of plastics in everyday life and called for the treaty to focus on tackling waste rather than measures to disrupt production.
“At the end of the day, we hope the committee will come to the same conclusion we did, which is that increased recycling offers the best solution to reducing plastic waste,” said Matt Seaholm, President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association.
Environmental group Greenpeace said that without a strong deal, plastic production could double within the next 10 to 15 years and triple by 2050.
While some countries are divided over the approach the treaty should take, some observers said there seems to be a growing consensus that plastic pollution isn’t just about litter ending up in the sea.
“Plastic is no longer seen as just a marine pollution problem. People are discussing plastic as a material made from chemicals,” said Vito Buonsante, policy adviser to the International Pollutants Elimination Network. “There has been a narrative shift.”