As the latest talks on a global plastics treaty ended in accusations of deadlocked negotiations, eyes are now turning to Canada, which will host the next round of negotiations at a time when some warn that the future of the treaty is at stake.
Nations concluded a third round of negotiations in Kenya on Sunday as part of a five-meeting program aimed at developing a draft treaty to end global plastic pollution.
Consensus has not been reached in negotiations so far, with Ottawa scheduled to host the next round in April. Environmental groups have accused some oil-producing countries and industry groups of using stalling tactics in an effort to water down the treaty before negotiations end late next year.
“If they don’t find a way around these delay and diversion tactics, Ottawa could become known as the place where the treaty failed,” said Karen Wirsig, senior environmental defense program manager for plastics, who attended last week’s discussions.
“So yes, things are more complicated for the host country.”
Delegates said the draft treaty text had become longer and more difficult to advance during the week-long negotiations in Kenya. States also failed to reach consensus on the work to be done on the project before the next round in Ottawa.
“Canada and other very ambitious countries will need to redouble their efforts as we travel to Ottawa in April to make progress toward an effective and workable treaty,” Wirsig said.
Canada is part of a coalition of “high ambition” countries, led by Rwanda and Norway, which has called for measures to reduce production to “sustainable levels” and legally binding global rules to bring end all plastic pollution by 2040.
At the same time, some oil-producing countries have advocated changing previously agreed treaty mandates, for example by focusing on waste management rather than interventions throughout the plastic life cycle. There has also been pressure for the treaty to focus on voluntary national-level measures to combat pollution, rather than global rules.
The head of the Greenpeace delegation said the negotiations were “heading towards disaster”.
“When negotiations resume in Canada in April 2024, our leaders will need to be prepared to demonstrate a level of courage and leadership that we have not yet seen,” said Graham Forbes.
If no action is taken, global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Made from oil and other fossil fuels, plastics also account for about 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Less than a tenth of plastic is recycled, including in Canada, and scientists estimate that around nine million tonnes end up in the ocean each year. Canadians produce approximately 2.9 million tonnes of plastic waste each year that is neither recycled nor incinerated.
Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, speaking to reporters Monday, said no one expected fast-track negotiations on a global treaty would be easy.
“The negotiations are going to be difficult,” he said.
“We are better placed to help the international community find pathways to success. »
More than 1,900 participants from 161 countries took part in the latest negotiations. The industry also held its ground during the negotiations, with 143 chemical and fossil fuel lobbyists registered, an increase of 36 percent from the previous round’s cohort in Paris, according to an a**lysis by the Center for Law International Environmental Protection Agency.
Isabelle Des Chênes, executive vice-president of the Chemical Industry Association of Canada industry group, said “all eyes will be on Canada” in the next round of negotiations.
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“We think the deal should really focus on ending plastic pollution and not on plastic production. Putting production caps in place can really restrict the availability of plastics for other applications,” said Des Chenes, speaking from Kenya last week.
“It is therefore very important to ensure that we focus on creating capacity and capabilities to manage the end of life of plastics.”
Miriam Diamond, professor of earth sciences at the University of Toronto, says overproduction leading to mismanagement is the main driver of plastic pollution.
“We know from practice that adding money, investing money in waste management, while production continues to increase, will not solve the problem,” she said.
Diamond co-authored a paper published this month that warned that industry conflicts of interest could hamper treaty negotiations and called for safeguards to prevent inappropriate influence on a scientific and policy group of the UN on the prevention of chemicals, waste and pollution, which it is participating in the development.
Guilbeault, the federal environment minister, has previously indicated he is not opposed to production limits, but said eliminating pollution means using plastic more carefully, not eliminating its use altogether.
Environmental groups have pushed Guilbeault to offer clear support for a treaty with production reduction targets. Greenpeace has advocated for a treaty that would aim to cut production by 75 percent by 2040.
“They’re kind of waiting where they’re going in terms of some of the key control measures related to reducing plastic production,” said Forbes, head of the Greenpeace delegation.
“But I would say overall Canada is playing a pretty constructive role and we’re going to expect them to kind of grow in their leadership.”
Canada has set a national goal to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.
But last week, the government’s ban on certain single-use plastics like straws and grocery bags was called into question when the Federal Court ruled that Ottawa had overstepped by designating all “manufactured items plastic” as toxic. Guilbeault said Monday the government would appeal the decision, which overturned the Cabinet decree that initiated the ban.
A strong treaty could help give not only Canada, but also other countries still considering plastics regulations, more legitimacy to take aggressive action, said Wirsig of Environmental Defense.
“While Canada may have been at the forefront in being so far ahead of the treaty, the treaty could now help Canada finish the job,” she said.
– With files from the Associated Press.