CIVICUS speaks about the progress being made towards a United Nations (UN) Treaty on Plastic Pollution with Aidan Charron, End of Plastics and Canopy Project Coordinator with EARTHDAY.ORG.
Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, EARTHDAY.ORG is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 150,000 partners in over 192 countries to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.
What elements do you think should be included in the proposed UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution? What would an ambitious treaty look like?
We at EARTHDAY.ORG have a list of elements we hope to see included in this treaty. We support the principles, goals and deliverables presented by the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, so our main goal is the development of an ambitious international legally binding instrument based on a comprehensive and circular approach that ensures urgent action and effective interventions along the full lifecycle of plastics as well as mandatory implementation and enforcement mechanisms.
The treaty should aim at putting an end to the global production and sale of single-use plastics by 2030, making producers and retailers of plastics liable for the cost of any environmental or health-related damages in accordance with the ‘producer pays’ principle. It should ensure public and private sector investment in innovation to replace all fossil fuel-based plastics, ban plastic-related tobacco products, including but not limited to tobacco filters and e-cigarettes, ban the export of plastic waste and incineration of plastic waste, which releases harmful chemicals, and ensure funding for education and public awareness campaigns to inform the public about the reasons and strategies for ending plastic pollution.
An ambitious treaty would basically hold producers responsible for the damage done. There also need to be large amounts of resources dedicated to education. I was a science teacher before I took this job and even I had no idea of the true health implications of plastic. Of course, I was aware of its environmental impacts, but there are so few resources dedicated to letting the public know how bad plastics are to our bodies.
What progress has been made in the first session of treaty negotiations?
The first session of the negotiations was aimed at setting up the next set of meetings and the layout of the treaty itself, guaranteeing there is a set schedule for the treaty and receiving submissions from stakeholders and UN members to see what they wish to see out of this treaty.
One of the hold-ups we saw following the first meeting was the lack of commitment from some countries, including the USA. The USA is a major global leader yet was unable to make any substantial commitments to any mandatory measures.
The second set of negotiations will see truly how much states are willing to commit to the plastics problem. We will soon see who is willing to commit to mandatory measures and who tries to shift away.
Do you think it will be possible to agree on mandatory global measures?
I am hopeful that states will agree to mandatory global measures, but there will be hold-ups from nations whose economies rely heavily on oil. As we begin the transition away from oil use in transportation, petrochemical industries are investing heavily in ramping up plastic production to account for 20 per cent of all oil consumption by 2050, from only four per cent today. I see some space for compromise in the area of research into alternatives to plastics.
How much space is there for civil society to contribute to the negotiation process?
Civil society was able to contribute directly through submissions to the negotiating parties. Outside of that, we at EARTHDAY.ORG and many other environmental civil society organisations (CSOs) have been working around the clock on pressuring states to commit more. We have called out those who have weak positions on the treaty, making sure the public knows where their countries stand and whether they care more about their people or their financial bottom line.
CSOs bring to the table massive amounts of research, outreach and awareness building. Without CSOs such as EARTHDAY.ORG, the public would not have the same tools and knowledge of these negotiations that they have. It is also up to these organisations to speak up for the public when their governments won’t.
What are the chances that the final version of the treaty will meet civil society’s expectations and fulfil its purpose?
I am hopeful that expectations will be met and that we will be able to begin the process of ending the plastics problem. But the process will be long. These treaties are never complete following just a few negotiating sessions and may change as new research or urgencies in global health emerge.
Get in touch with EARTHDAY.ORG through its website or its Facebook page, and follow @EarthDay on Twitter.