More than 2,000 delegates from 160 countries closed the first round of negotiations on a global plastics treaty at a meeting in Uruguay, with delegates agreeing to end plastic pollution but disagreeing on whether to limit plastic production, phase out types of plastics, and harmonize global rules, as reported by Reuters on December 2. Specifically, the High Ambition Coalition of over 40 countries, including EU members, Switzerland, host Uruguay, and Ghana, aims for a treaty comprising binding global obligations for the entire life cycle of plastics, with an aim to end plastic pollution by 2040. However, major oil and gas producers including the US, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia want a treaty focused on recycling and waste management, intending to avoid responsibilities for curbing production.
The conference in Uruguay is the first of a planned five sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which aim to enact the first legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by the end of 2024. The INC deal is deemed the most important agreement since the 2015 Paris Agreement, as plastic pollution has exerted devastating effects on marine ecosystems. Moreover, according to the UN, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to reach 6.5bn tons by 2050. In contrast to a treaty based on mandatory global measures advocated by the High Ambition Coalition, the US called for a Paris Agreement-style treaty that allows individual countries to set their own nonbinding plastic pollution targets and report their progress to a global body. Critics warned that the approach will undermine the treaty’s effectiveness and weaken obligations on countries to tackle plastic waste.