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Negotiations on global plastic treaty to resume in Canada

OTTAWA (AFP) – Negotiators from 175 countries are meeting from today in Canada to nail down a binding global treaty to end plastic pollution with many sticking points to be resolved five months after the last round of talks in Kenya.

Nations in 2022 agreed to finalise by the end of this year a world-first UN treaty to address the scourge of plastics found everywhere from mountain tops to ocean depths, and within human blood and breast milk.

Negotiators have already met three times and are expected, after the Ottawa talks, to hold a final round of negotiations in South Korea.

The previous meeting in Nairobi last November was the first opportunity to debate a draft treaty that outlined pathways to tackling the problem.

It ended with disagreements over its scope and environmental non-governmental organisations panning a lack of firm progress.

“We have a text, it is a basis even if there remains a lot of work to be done on it,” Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and host of the Ottawa talks told AFP.

According to him, the goal this round is to “achieve a text with 60 to 70 per cent of the elements endorsed” by delegates who are meeting through April 29.`

The stakes are high, with widespread plastic pollution having potentially grave impacts on oceans and climate. Although there is a broad consensus on the need for a treaty, environmental activists pleading for a 75 per cent cut in plastic production by 2040 are at odds with oil-producing nations and the plastics industry itself that favour recycling.

“This treaty presents a monumental opportunity in a time of urgency,” said oceans scientist Neil Nathan of the University of California Santa Barbara.

“Legally binding and specific measures are necessary to avoid a watered-down agreement that fails to meet the moment.”

Annual plastics production has more than doubled in 20 years to 460 million tonnes, and is on track to triple within four decades.

Only nine per cent is recycled, and according to the OECD, its contribution to global warming could more than double by 2060 – having accounted for 3.4 per cent of global emissions in 2019.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Eirik Lindebjerg of World Wildlife Fund International. He noted that “an overwhelming majority of countries have already called for the adoption of the necessary binding global rules – our leaders must now transform these calls into action.”

The NGO Ocean Conservancy reckons the Ottawa talks will signal whether or not an agreement can be reached by year’s end.