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Wake up and smell the plastic

- Reflections on the recently concluded third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3)

And finally the Ghost of Paris prevailed over the discussions of the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. See UNEA Resolution 5/14 entitled “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument”

Peeling the veneer: Profits over people

It was déjà vu all over, as a handful of member states continued to exert powerful influence in weakening the progress made with the zero draft. Like the persistent cough, the massive presence of fossil fuel and chemicals lobbyists, played out its card well. The CIEL analysis had revealed that the count of 143 fossil fuel and chemical company lobbyists at INC-3 is greater than 38 Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty participants. “The audacity of the petrochemical lobby is staggering. The industry is driving this crisis, yet their approach here is, “give the petrochems time, they’ll figure it out, trust us”. I actually heard those words this week. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has obstructed progress on the climate crisis, and we are in grave danger of falling into the same trap here. Governments must ignore the pleas of industry lobbyists and recognise that this treaty is about ending plastic pollution, not about protecting the profits of the petrochemicals industry”, said Rich Gower, Senior Economist, TearFund, UK

Photo Credit : James Wakibia

Delphine Levi Alvares, Global Petrochemicals Campaign Manager, said, “While this is hardly surprising for an industry that is gambling its future on endlessly growing demand for plastics, that gamble — and the industry’s interests — are directly at odds with the global public interest. We cannot end plastic pollution without reducing production, and it is vastly harder to do both with industry in the room — and on government delegations — fighting progress every step of the way. For this treaty to be grounded in human rights and science-informed, rather than fossil fuel interests-driven, the INC and UNEP must enforce a strong conflict of interest policy”.

Patronising the Discourse: Assigning guilt, and blame on poor waste management

The plastic love affair played out against the backdrop of waste management instead of advancing the process of fine tuning the zero draft, that contained multiple options, the closed room discussions via Contact Groups, saw more additions, deletions, and debates and instead of arriving at clear mandate on an active intersessional program, delegates have now agreed for a “Revised Zero Draft”, clearly hampering the process to advance the treaty process at INC-4.

Some of the submissions also read that production cuts were not a mandate of scope of the proposed instrument and does not in any form mandate a limitation on this strategic and economically vital industry but rather promotes in its sub-article the sustainable production and consumption of plastic and that the main focus of the convention should not be to stop the production of plastics, but to ensure that plastic pollution is controlled through actions taken at entire life cycle.

One of the submissions also read that the problem is unmanaged and littered waste that gets leaked and so the instruments focus must be such that “it does not lead to plastic ending as a pollutant”, and called for action that promotes reuse, recyclability and use of recycled content. Reacting to the discussions, Rafael Eudes, Aliança Reziduo Cero, Brazil, said, “There is no difference between plastic and plastic pollution– plastic is pollution. Plastic pollutes from the moment fossil fuels are extracted from the earth, to when the waste is thrown away.”

Image Source : Breakfreefromplastic

Promising Possibilities: Keeping the focus on human rights and environmental justice

The monkeys that gatecrashed one of the Contact Group meetings, posed an important question, “What about us?”, reminiscent of the famous “EarthSong”, which precisely asks the same question. We need to remember that there is no tomorrow without us.

Image Source : Breakfreefromplastic

Despite all the delay tactics and setbacks, some member countries continued to harbour hope of possibilities, and demonstrated their commitment for a strong legally binding treaty. Notable among the countries Angola, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kenya, Maldives, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Palau, Rwanda, Senegal, Tuvalu, and Uruguay; Samoa on behalf of the Small Island Developing States, to name a few; centering their demands on human rights and environmental justice.

The Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) in their submission said, “PSIDS would like to reiterate the importance of a global approach to support a just transition in which harmonised international action could accelerate the move towards a just transition”. "At INC3, We had three demands: to recognize waste picker contributions; formally define waste pickers and the informal sector; Just Transition should be cross-referenced throughout the documents. I am happy that waste pickers were a part of the draft-making process”, said Indumathi, Asia delegation and an affiliate of the International Alliance of Waste Pickers (AIW), from India. In fact the Alliance of Waste pickers stated that 32 member states directly mentioned “waste pickers”, or “informal sector”, in their opening statements, plenary or contact groups, and counting member states groups that mentioned these terms, the count grows to 153 ( 33 from Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), 27 from European Union, 54 from African groups and 39 from Small Island States

As we look to the next round of negotiations - INC4 in Ottawa Canada, from 21 - 30 April 2024, Rachel Radvany, Program Associate, Plastics Policy, CIEL said, “Civil society and rights-holders from around the world are engaging in these negotiations to demand a treaty that protects human rights, health, and our environment. Tactics designed to wear us down will not succeed. We know that our human rights, our lives, our communities, and our planet are worth fighting for. We will continue to show up, speak out, and demand strong control measures across the entire life cycle of plastics — starting with reducing the plastics production that drives this crisis. We’re in this for the long haul: we will not back down or go away quietly.”

This blog is by Pinky Chandran (Member, SWMRT)



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