Global Plastic Treaty Talks Limp on despite Blockade by Oil-Rich Countries

Getting 170-plus countries to agree on a global treaty to fight plastic pollution was never going to be easy. But negotiators didn’t think clearing the first hurdle would be this hard.
A second round of U.N. talks for an international plan to tackle plastic pollution limped toward its conclusion Friday, marred by delays, protests, and geopolitical tensions.
A key aim for many countries was to give the go-ahead for the broad strokes of a plastics treaty to be drafted, giving them something to work off of at the next round of talks in Kenya in November.
The meeting ended Friday evening with a mandate to draft the text — to the relief of countries in the High Ambition Coalition, which is pushing to “end plastic pollution by 2040,” and NGOs.
“After a week of negotiations, the world is one step closer to the unmissable opportunity of a global treaty to end the plastic pollution crisis,” said WWF Special Envoy Marco Lambertini. “The first draft of the treaty that will now be developed must reflect the ambition shown by the vast majority of countries here in Paris.”
But the road to get there was rocky: Countries didn’t get around to talking about plastic until the third day out of five, stuck in a prolonged debate over voting rules and points of procedure — led by oil-rich countries including Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
An official from a country in the High Ambition Coalition, granted anonymity as they’re not authorized to speak on the record, accused the nations of purposely “blowing up” the talks in Paris and leading a “coordinated” resistance.
It was a “very difficult” start to the week, French Environment Minister Christophe Béchu admitted to reporters on Friday.
Disputes and delays
When negotiations kicked off in France’s capital on Monday, the executive secretary shepherding the talks, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, called on nations to “make Paris count.”
But NGOs and negotiators say the deadlock over voting procedures took precious time away from more substantive discussions on the treaty.
One side — led by countries including Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China and India — pushed for treaty decisions to be adopted by consensus, giving individual countries veto power. Other countries — including the EU, the U.S., the U.K and Norway — wanted them to be put to a vote, dependent on a two-thirds majority.
Bethan Laughlin, a senior policy specialist for the Zoological Society of London who attended the talks, labeled it a “manufactured deadlock” designed by industry-friendly nations to torpedo progress on the negotiations.
By Wednesday, countries impatient to break up into task forces and get into the meat of discussions had had enough.
Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama, director general of global issues at the Mexican foreign affairs ministry, stuck her country’s nameplate up in the air, waving it back and forth in protest. “Let’s just stand up and go to contact groups,” she said, already standing with her backpack on. “Please, all delegates.”
She led a swift evacuation from the room to thunderous cheering and applause. “Viva Mexico!” cried one participant as delegates and observers filed out for a break before heading to negotiations.
But the victory was short-lived. Delegates unhappy with how the meeting had finished, including Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, demanded that delegates come back into the room to finish the meeting according to protocol — delaying talks even further.
No ‘real discussion’
The voting debate was resolved with a wobbly compromise: If a vote is called, members “will recall this lack of agreement.”
The compromise allowed members to move out of the deadlock, but “the core substantive issues remain unsettled,” said David Azoulay, a senior attorney at the Center for Environmental Law.
Those delays left little time to discuss the actual ins and outs of the future plastics treaty — including whether to reduce plastic production, how to fund the implementation of the treaty, and whether to ban certain single-use plastic products.
“The meeting has been somewhat destroyed,” said the official from a country in the High Ambition Coalition. “We have not had a real discussion. We just had a bunch of interventions that almost doesn’t make sense.”
Laughlin, from the Zoological Society of London, said deadlock is “understandable in places of immense contention such as financing … but to see it done on procedural matters is incredibly frustrating.”
French environment minister Béchu struck a more positive note on the last day of the meeting, telling reporters that procedural topics had to be hashed out sooner rather than later.
But he seemingly couldn’t resist a barbed comment toward the oil-rich countries that had been a thorn in the side of members pushing for an ambitious treaty — including the EU — saying: “The position of certain countries has sometimes rendered the presence of industrial lobbies useless.”

About Parvin Faghfouri Azar

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