Plastic Pollution Battle Resumes

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – After the Paris Climate Agreement and the Kunming Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, work resumed on Monday 13 November 2023 on a third major international environmental initiative that stands to have a significant impact on institutional investors activities and disclosure obligations.  The Third Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for discussions on the content of the proposed international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, which takes place from 13 to 19 November 2023.

    The UNEP hopes that a global plastic treaty can be agreed and implemented by the end of 2024.  Initial signs point to a rocky road ahead, with INC-2 sparking controversy with many delegates initially excluded and several days of talks in Paris ultimately only producing a mandate for the INC chair to produce a “zero draft” of the agreement for further discussion.  This zero draft was made available in September and will form the basis for INC-3 negotiations.

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    Upstream v. downstream solutions

    Discussion so far indicate that the stage has been set for a battle between the plastics industry, which is pushing for downstream solutions focused on waste management and circularity, and the environmental lobby that is advocating for upstream reductions in plastic production and usage.  In her opening remarks, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “The resolution passed at UNEA 5.2 (the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly in 2022) called for an instrument that is, and I quote, ‘based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic.”

    Referring to the industry efforts to maintain production, Andersen continued: “Not an instrument that deals with plastic pollution by recycling or waste management alone.  The full life cycle.  This means rethinking everything along the chain, from polymer to pollution, from product to packaging.  We need to use fewer virgin materials, less plastic and no harmful chemicals.  We need to ensure that we use, reuse, and recycle resources more efficiently and dispose safely of what is left over.  We must use these negotiations to hone a sharp and incisive instrument to carve out a better future, free from plastic pollution.”

    Plastic producers digging in

    The Plastics industry represents an avenue for fossil fuel producers to maintain their revenue streams in the face of decarbonisation efforts in the energy sector.  The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) is an industry association that includes most of the largest producers of virgin plastics, including BASF, Chevron Phillips Chemical, ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Procter & Gamble and Shell.  It has been actively and vocally promoting its investments in recycling and waste management programmes around the world.  Many of these have been criticised for having an insignificant impact on the global plastic pollution crisis.

    On 15 November 2023, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) sounded the alarm over the number of plastic industry lobbyists attending INC-3.  Their analysis, which was supported by fellow NGOs Greenpeace, Beyond Petrochemicals, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), and Break Free From Plastic, showed 143 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists among the delegates.  They effectively outnumber the delegates from the 70 smallest attending nations.  CIEL believes this to be a conservative number as it is gleaned from the attendees’ self-declared commercial interests.  With raw plastic production currently expected to almost triple from 2019 levels by 2050, the industry is not likely to lay down without a fight.

    CDP open letter pushes plastics disclosure

    The success of a global plastic pollution treaty will depend on the availability of accurate and timely data on use and safe disposal of the material in companies’ value chains.  With this objective in mind, the CDP chose the opening of INC-3 to publish an open letter to governments emphasising the importance of corporate disclosure.  The letter was co-signed by 48 financial institutions representing $3.5 trillion in assets under management and highlights the impacts of plastic pollution on financial portfolios, supply chains, and the communities in which companies operate.  CDP calls on the INC-3 to address the current large data gaps on plastic use, including the release of microplastics, the use of harmful “forever” chemicals and the choice of problematic unrecyclable materials.

    NordSIP will provide further updates on the outcome of this week’s negotiations in Nairobi, which conclude on Friday 19 November.  The next meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) is scheduled to take place in Ottawa, Canada from 21 to 30 April 2024.

    Image courtesy of Pete Linforth from Pixabay
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