UN plastic treaty negotiations: Greenpeace urges President Biden to adopt “legacy defining” measures
19 May 2023 --- Ahead of the second session of the UN’s second International Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-2) in Paris, France, Greenpeace has issued a letter to US president Biden calling for a change in stance toward the treaty’s stipulations. The letter is intended to draw public attention by including signatories of a number of high-profile figures.
Currently, the US is attempting to steer the UN treaty toward a more “flexible” and “country-driven” approach, allowing individual nations more room to define plastic pollution reduction targets and methods.
The EU and other African states, on the other hand, are proposing legally binding reduction methods that would restrain plastic production at its source and put a cap on petrochemical output in the sector.
In an open letter to Biden, Greenpeace and signatories, including celebrities such as Joaquin Phoenix and Jane Fonda, stress that: “The decision you make on this critical issue will help define your legacy – will you be the president who helped put an end to the plastic pollution crisis or someone who let it spiral further out of control?”
“We’re calling on you to do the right thing.”
A lack of priorities?
Last year, a Reuters investigation revealed the US was recruiting international allies, including Japan and Australia, to compete against rival influences in the EU by pushing for a “self-monitoring” approach in the UN treaty.
The revelations stirred concerns among environmentalists, who fear that the idea of keeping the responsibility of limiting plastic waste in the hands of countries themselves, without significant measuring benchmarks, could cause nations to fall short of significant waste reductions.
“Many environmental groups and frontline communities are disappointed with the US’ current position on the treaty, as it does not call for a cap on plastic production and instead focuses on recycling,” says Lisa Ramsden, Greenpeace USA senior plastics campaigner.
“Recycling will never solve the plastic waste problem. We must stop plastic waste at its source, and we’re calling on president Biden to put aside fossil fuel and plastics industry interests and lead us on the path that prioritizes human health, biodiversity and our communities.”
Different nations, different needs?
The international rift created between the US and other states has been defended by leading political figures, including Monica Medina, the US official leading treaty negotiations, who said in a statement to Reuters: “The best way is through a Paris [climate accords]-like agreement that helps countries take ambitious action and holds them accountable, lets them be innovative in finding solutions and leads to action now.”.
A Japanese official also said that each country being able to pick its limits on plastic is beneficial because all countries have different “national circumstances” regarding plastic production and waste collection.
However, civil society groups and NGOs maintain that without strict international rules, plastic production will continue to outweigh end-of-life treatment such as recycling.
Activists also fear that continued production will mean further harm to communities living in proximity to petrochemical facilities, which in some areas of the US – such as “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana – are causing high rates of disease.
In March, Biden announced that his administration is setting a goal to replace 90% of plastics with biomaterials within the next 20 years. While leaders in the biofuel market hailed the announcement as an important historical step away from fossil fuel-based production, others remained skeptical – citing a catalog of failed environmental promises.
Greenpeace’s letter to the president echoes the same concerns, stating: “We know you care about this issue, and we were encouraged to see the initial steps you took in March by setting a goal to replace 90% of plastics with biomaterials, but this is not a real, lasting solution.”
“Focusing on bioplastics and recycling would not address the root cause of the plastic pollution problem: we need to stop producing single-use plastics and switch to refill and reuse systems.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.