Global Plastics Treaty

Why is it in the news?

  • Thousands of delegates from 175 countries gathered in Ottawa to kickstart discussions for the world’s first global treaty targeting plastic pollution, addressing its pervasive presence from Mount Everest to the Pacific Ocean.

More about the news

  • This marks the fourth round of negotiations since 2022, aiming to finalize a legally binding treaty on plastics pollution by the end of 2024, following the landmark decision by the UN Environmental Assembly.
  • Experts anticipate that this treaty will stand as the most significant environmental accord since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Need for a Global Plastics Treaty:

Environmental Crisis:

  • Plastic pollution has reached crisis levels, with plastic waste contaminating ecosystems worldwide, from terrestrial environments to oceans, and even reaching remote areas like the summit of Mount Everest.
  • The widespread presence of plastic waste poses threats to biodiversity, marine life, and human health, with plastics being found in the bodies of animals and humans, including in blood and breast milk.

Rapid Increase in Plastic Production:

  • Since the 1950s, global plastic production has surged exponentially, from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to over 450 million tonnes in 2019, with projections indicating a doubling of production by 2050 and a tripling by 2060.
  • Despite its affordability and versatility, the uncontrolled proliferation of plastic has led to severe environmental consequences, exacerbated by its slow decomposition rate, estimated to be between 20 to 500 years.

Impact on Climate Change:

  • The production and disposal of plastics contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, with plastics generating 1.8 billion tonnes of emissions in 2019, equivalent to 3.4% of global emissions.
  • The majority of these emissions originate from the production phase, which relies heavily on fossil fuels as raw materials, leading to concerns about the exacerbation of climate change.

Health Concerns:

  • Plastics contain thousands of chemicals, many of which are hazardous to human health and the environment, with adverse effects ranging from hormone disruption to cancer and reproductive disorders.
  • Microplastics and nano-plastics, resulting from the fragmentation of larger plastic items, further amplify the health risks as they accumulate in ecosystems and food chains.

Challenges to Achieving the Treaty:

Industry Opposition:

  • Oil and gas-producing countries, along with fossil fuel and chemical industry groups, resist efforts to regulate plastic production and consumption, fearing economic repercussions and loss of market share.
  • These stakeholders lobby against stringent measures, such as production caps and bans on certain types of plastics, to protect their interests.

Political Divides:

  • Negotiations for a global plastics treaty are fraught with political divisions, with disagreements over the scope, enforcement mechanisms, and responsibility-sharing among nations.
  • Certain countries advocate for voluntary commitments and minimal intervention in market dynamics, while others push for legally binding targets and regulations.

Complex Negotiation Process:

  • Negotiating a comprehensive and effective treaty requires consensus among a diverse array of stakeholders, including developed and developing nations, industry representatives, and environmental organizations.
  • Disputes over procedural matters, decision-making mechanisms, and the allocation of responsibilities often impede progress and prolong negotiations.

Influence of Special Interests:

  • Fossil fuel and chemical corporations wield significant influence over the negotiation process, deploying lobbyists and financial resources to shape outcomes in their favour.
  • Their efforts to undermine ambitious targets and weaken regulatory measures pose formidable obstacles to achieving meaningful progress towards a global plastics treaty.

Lack of Public Awareness and Engagement:

  • Despite growing awareness of the plastic pollution crisis, public engagement and mobilization remain limited, hindering efforts to exert pressure on governments and industries to prioritize environmental conservation and sustainability.

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