Negotiators Meet in Kenya for Talks on Plastic Pollution

06:02 November 14, 2023

Negotiators Meet in Kenya for Talks on Plastic Pollution

A large group of international negotiators and United Nations representatives are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya this week. They aim to take the next step in creating a document that hopes to stop plastic pollution around the world.

The meeting is the third of an expected five gatherings of what the UN calls an intergovernmental negotiating committee, or INC, under the UN Environment Programme. The final meeting will be late in 2024. By then, the UN hopes to have an agreement that will have the force of law in countries that agree to it. The agreement would limit plastic production and provide rules on how to throw away or recycle plastic products currently in use.

Kenya is one of the most restrictive countries in the world. In 2017, the East African nation banned the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags that can be used only one time. Lawbreakers can face five years in jail and fines. In 2019, Kenya banned single-use plastics such as water bottles and drinking straws from being used in parks, forests, beaches and other protected natural areas.

Gap opens

The most recent meeting was held in Paris in June. There was disagreement over how the rules should affect oil-producing countries. Plastic is largely made from oil. However, the June meeting ended with an agreement to create an “initial treaty text” or an outline that will be refined this week.

Bjorn Beeler is with the International Pollutants Elimination Network, a group of environmental nonprofits. He said the text is like a large food list at a restaurant — a menu. The job this week is for the negotiators to choose what they want for the treaty. He said the treaty will grow as those in Nairobi this week present their ideas.

Beeler’s group hopes the document deals with bad chemicals used in the creation of plastics.

Kenya’s president is William Ruto. He said the treaty will be the “first domino” in a move away from plastic. Dominos is a game in which the pieces connect to each other.

Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez is a permanent member of the UN from Peru. He is the head of the negotiating committee. He called the need to deal with the world’s plastic pollution “urgent” and said the world needs to work together “to bring a difference at the scale required.”

Two of the nations pushing an agreement are Norway and Rwanda. The nations released a statement earlier this month calling for an “ambitious” treaty that will protect human life and the environment. They are concerned about plastic pollution, plastic waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Saudi Arabia is among the countries that have large oil industries. The nations include Iran, China, and Russia. They want the treaty to center on plastic waste control and not reduce the creation of plastic products.

Activist concerns

Environmental activists are concerned that those countries will not cooperate. Graham Forbes is with Greenpeace. He said it was “unfortunate” that a “handful of governments” are putting the interests of chemical companies ahead of “the health of the planet and their own citizens.”

Another climate activist is Erik Lindebjerg of the World Wildlife Fund based in Switzerland. He said the oil producing nations want to make the treaty a “loose voluntary agreement.” He wants the agreement to be “a strong treaty.”

Negotiators for the U.S. said the treaty should have “meaningful” terms but also leave room for differences between countries so that an agreement can be reached.

Chemical companies and oil companies such as ExxonMobil say they want the treaty to pay more attention to the lifespan of plastics instead of banning them.

Chris Jahn is a spokesman for the International Council of Chemical Associations. He said the group should center its talks on “ending plastic pollution, not plastic production.”

Karen McKee of ExxonMobil noted improvements in the ability to recycle plastics at ExxonMobil’s center in Baytown, Texas.

The meeting ends on Sunday. The next meeting of the INC is next April in Ottawa, Canada.

I’m Dan Friedell.

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