In plastics treaty talks in Ottawa, strong disagreements emerge over whether to limit plastic production


Nations made progress on a treaty to end plastic pollution, ending the latest round of negotiations in Canada early Tuesday amid sharp disagreements over whether to place global limits on plastic production.

For the first time in the process, negotiators discussed the text of what is supposed to be a global treaty. Delegates and observers to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution called it a welcome sign that the debate moved from ideas to treaty language at this fourth of five scheduled meetings.

The most controversial thing is the idea of ​​limiting the amount of plastic that is manufactured. This remains in the text despite strong objections from plastic-producing countries and companies and oil and gas exporters. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels and chemicals.

At the end of the Ottawa session, the committee agreed to continue working on the treaty before its final meeting later this year in South Korea.

Preparations for that session will focus on how to finance implementation of the treaty, assessing chemicals of concern in plastic products and examining product design. Rwanda’s representative said negotiators ignored the elephant in the room by not addressing plastic production.

“In the end, it’s not just about the text, it’s not just about the process,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, the committee’s executive secretary. “It’s simply about providing a better future for generations and for our loved ones.”

Stewart Harris, industry spokesperson for the International Council of Chemical Associations, said members want a treaty that focuses on plastic recycling and reuse, sometimes called “circularity.”

They do not want to put a limit on plastic production and believe that chemicals should not be regulated through this agreement. Harris said the association was pleased to see governments come together and agree to complete additional work, especially on financing and design of plastic products.

Dozens of scientists from the Coalition of Scientists for an Effective Plastics Treaty attended the meeting to provide research on plastic pollution to negotiators, in part, they said, to dispel misinformation.

“Yesterday I heard that there is no data on microplastics, which is verifiably false: 21,000 publications have been published on micro- and nanoplastics,” said Bethanie Carney Almroth, a professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who co-leads the coalition. “It’s like Whac-A-Mole.”

He said lobbyists were harassing and intimidating scientists and reported to the UN that a lobbyist yelled in his face at a meeting.

Despite their differences, the countries represented share a common vision to advance the treaty process, said Ecuador’s chief negotiator, Walter Schuldt.

“Because at the end of the day, we are talking about the survival of the future of life, not just human life but all life on this planet,” he said in an interview.

Talks on the treaty began in Uruguay in December 2022 after Rwanda and Peru proposed the resolution that started the process in March 2022. Progress was slow during talks in Paris in May 2023 and in Nairobi in November as the countries were debating the rules for the process.

As thousands of negotiators and observers arrived in Ottawa, Luis Vayas Valdivieso, president of Ecuador’s committee, reminded them of their purpose to achieve a future free of plastic pollution. He asked them to be ambitious.

Delegates have been discussing not only the scope of the treaty, but also chemicals of concern, problematic and avoidable plastics, product design, and financing and implementation.

Delegates also simplified the difficult collection of options that emerged from the last meeting.

“We took a big step forward after two years of many discussions. “Now we have a text to negotiate,” said Bjorn Beeler, international coordinator of the International Pollution Elimination Network. “Unfortunately, much more political will is needed to address the growing out-of-control plastic production.”

Many traveled to Ottawa from communities affected by pollution and plastic manufacturing. Louisiana and Texas residents who live near petrochemical plants and refineries handed out postcards addressed to the U.S. State Department that read, “I wish you were here.”

They traveled together as a group from the Break Free from Plastic movement and asked negotiators to visit their states to experience air and water pollution firsthand.

“This remains the best option we have to see change in our communities. They are so captured by corporations. I can’t go to parish government,” said Jo Banner of St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana. “I feel like this is the only opportunity and hope I have to help my community fix this, to heal.”

Members of a group of indigenous peoples held a news conference Saturday to say that microplastics are contaminating their food supply and that the contamination threatens their communities and the ways of life they are guaranteed in perpetuity. They felt that their voices were not heard.

“We have a lot at stake. “These are our ancestral lands that are being polluted with plastic,” said Juressa Lee from New Zealand after the event. “We are rights holders, not interested parties. “We should have more space to speak and make decisions than the people who cause the problem.”

In the Bay of Plenty, a source of shellfish on the north coast of New Zealand, sediment and shellfish are full of small plastic particles. They view nature’s “resources” as treasures, Lee added.

“Indigenous customs can lead the way,” Lee said. “What we are doing now is clearly not working.”

Vi Waghiyi traveled from Alaska to represent the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. She reminds decision makers that this treaty must protect people from plastic pollution for generations to come.

She said: “We came here to be the conscience, to ensure that the right decision is made for all people.”

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