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Global Talks in Nairobi Signal Progress Toward Landmark Plastic Pollution Treaty

by Anna

Nairobi, Kenya – Efforts to establish a groundbreaking treaty aimed at combatting global plastic pollution gained momentum on Monday as representatives from nations, petrochemical companies, and environmental advocates convened in Nairobi. The meeting marks the third in a series of five, with the goal of concluding negotiations by the end of next year.

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“The urgency of addressing plastic pollution cannot be overstated,” emphasized Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez, chair of the negotiating committee, at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi. The treaty is viewed as a crucial step in collectively addressing the escalating issue of plastic pollution worldwide.

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Kenya’s President, William Ruto, hailed the treaty as “the first domino” in a global shift away from plastic pollution. However, concerns over delays and power dynamics surfaced during the talks, reflecting challenges encountered in previous rounds. The plastic industry’s connection to oil production underscores the complexities, mirroring positions observed in international climate talks.

A breakthrough draft was published in early September after negotiators met in Paris in June. The United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution is tasked with developing the first international, legally binding treaty addressing plastic pollution on land and at sea.

Kenya, a leader in the fight against plastic pollution, has implemented strict measures, including a ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017. The country’s commitment to environmental matters is further solidified as the headquarters of the UNEP. Norway and Rwanda lead a coalition pushing for an ambitious treaty to end plastic pollution by 2040, emphasizing a reduction in production and limiting certain chemicals used in plastics.

However, a group led by Saudi Arabia, focusing on recycling and waste management, stands in contrast. Recent coalitions, such as one involving Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and Russia, raised concerns as they advocate for a narrower focus on waste control rather than addressing the entire life cycle of plastics, as agreed upon last year.

While the U.S. delegation suggests the treaty include meaningful universal obligations, there’s an acknowledgment of national discretion due to varying circumstances. The draft reflects diverse viewpoints, covering issues beyond plastic waste, delving into plastic production and toxic chemicals used in manufacturing.

The plastics industry is pushing for a strong emphasis on chemical or advanced recycling, a move criticized by environmental groups as a distraction from reducing plastic use. The draft will likely evolve as discussions progress in Nairobi, with a final treaty expected to address environmental and health concerns associated with plastic throughout its life cycle.

Leaders in the plastics industry advocate for increasing circularity and redirecting plastic waste to recycling, emphasizing societal benefits while addressing valid concerns about plastic pollution. The ongoing negotiations in Nairobi play a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of global efforts to combat plastic pollution.

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