- In Nairobi, delegates from 170 countries are convening for the initial discussion on a draft treaty released in September, outlining various approaches to address plastic pollution.
- Norway and Rwanda are spearheading the “high ambition coalition” that seeks to eradicate plastic pollution by 2040.
- Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of a coalition comprising countries with massive petroleum industries. This group is leaning towards setting priorities on recycling and waste management.
Delegates from 170 countries worldwide are gathering in Nairobi from November 13th to 19th to negotiate plans aimed at eradicating global plastic pollution. This assembly brings together petrochemical multinationals, environmentalists, and policymakers for their inaugural discussion on the draft language of the treaty. It is the third session within a condensed schedule of five meetings, all aiming to finalize negotiations by the conclusion of 2024.
“African countries should lead the way in fighting plastic pollution” remarked UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, in her opening remarks at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) in Nairobi, Kenya.
At the opening session of the summit, Kenya’s President William Samoei Ruto said that to deal with plastic pollution, humanity must change. Dr Ruto further called on delegations attending the summit to support his country’s bid to host the Treaty Secretariat at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi.
The responsibility of formulating the legally binding treaty on plastic pollution, both on land and at sea, falls upon the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution. Previous negotiation rounds by global leaders have taken place in Paris, France, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. The significant role of oil-producing nations and petrochemical multinationals in the treaty is underscored by the fact that plastic is predominantly made from crude oil and natural gas.
Approaches to end plastic pollution
In Nairobi, leaders convene for the initial discussion on a draft treaty released in September, outlining various approaches to address plastic pollution. Over the weekend, numerous environmental activists took to the streets in Kenya’s capital, advocating for significant restrictions on plastic production.
At the moment, Kenya stands as a pioneer in combating the plastic menace. Six years ago, the East African country implemented a sweeping ban on the manufacturing, sale, and use of single-use plastic bags. These bags, once ubiquitous in shopping malls and supermarkets for carrying goods, significantly contributed to environmental pollution and littered the environment. The Kenya plastic ban, among the strictest globally, imposes substantial fines and up to four years of imprisonment for offenders.
In 2019, Kenya expanded its efforts by prohibiting single-use plastics such as cutlery, straws, and PET bottles from parks, forests, beaches, and other protected areas. Notably, Kenya plays a pivotal role in global environmental initiatives, hosting the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme. It’s worth highlighting that nearly 90 percent of Kenya’s electricity is generated from renewable sources.
What key players are saying at Nairobi Summit
Norway and Rwanda, who are key players in Nairobi talks are spearheading a team of governments known as the “high ambition coalition,” the AP reports Their objective is to eradicate plastic pollution by 2040, through cuts in production and constraints on certain chemicals used in plastic manufacturing.
In a ministerial joint statement issued this month, the “high ambition coalition” called for a robust and impactful treaty aimed at safeguarding human health and the environment from the detrimental effects of plastic pollution.
The statement highlights the necessity of addressing the complete life cycle of plastics. The ministers conveyed their “deep concern” regarding notable rises in plastic production, the proliferation of plastic litter, and the associated increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Projections from UNEP indicate a potential tripling of plastic production by 2060.
On its part, oil-rich Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of a coalition comprising countries with massive petroleum industries. This group is leaning towards setting priorities on recycling and waste management. Their approach advocates for individual nations to establish their own action plans rather than adhering to universal limits.
US stand on plastic menace
According to the AP, the US delegation finds itself in a middle ground, proposing that the treaty incorporates significant universal obligations, aligning with the aspirations of the high ambition coalition. Simultaneously, the delegation acknowledges the importance of granting some national discretion, considering variations among countries and the potential reluctance of some nations to commit otherwise.
Global plastics industry chiefs are championing a method known as chemical or advanced recycling. Expressing deep disappointment, they highlight that the current draft lacks a robust emphasis on this technique, which they consider crucial for addressing the plastic waste crisis.
Since the turn of the century, global plastic production has surpassed 460 million tonnes, more than doubling its initial figures. Without intervention, projections indicate it could triple by 2060. Presently, a mere nine percent of plastic is being recycled.
Microplastics, discovered ubiquitously from clouds to the deepest sea trenches, pervade the human body. Despite this extensive presence, the full extent of plastics’ impact on human health remains inadequately understood, triggering growing concern among scientists.
Furthermore, plastic significantly contributes to global warming, constituting 3.4 percent of global emissions in 2019, as reported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Plastic menace in Africa
In Africa, where only 5 percent of global plastic is produced and 4 percent is consumed, the escalating population and urbanization trends are fueling a rise in single-use plastic. This surge is amplifying environmental pollution and posing increased health risks.
Since the adoption of the Libreville Declaration on health and the environment in 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa and the UNEP have collaborated to mobilize national initiatives aimed at reducing environmental threats to health.
Over this period, they have jointly undertaken various projects, including the Clim-HEALTH Africa initiative, designed to predict, prevent, and manage acute public health effects of climate change in Africa. Another notable project is the CHEMOBS initiative, which developed a prototype for an integrated national health and environment observatory focusing on chemical risks to human health and the environment.
In many African urban centers and rural communities, poor disposal of plastic waste gives rise to breeding sites for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Furthermore, the prevalent practice of burning plastic waste in certain African regions releases harmful pollutants into the air, including toxic gases and particulate matter.
Inhaling these pollutants may lead to respiratory problems, worsen existing respiratory conditions, and contribute to diseases associated with air pollution. Remarkably, the continent lacks significant plastic treatment infrastructure.
Overall, the plastic menace carries substantial environmental and socio-economic problems, contributing to the degradation of ecosystems. This degradation extends to direct health impacts, disrupting the balance of ecosystems that offer vital services like water purification, carbon sequestration, and disease control. Furthermore, it can adversely affect local economies and livelihoods, leading to food insecurity.
An increasing number of African nations have demonstrated dedication to combating plastic pollution, making notable strides in diminishing their plastic menace. Currently, about 30 African countries have implemented bans on single-use plastic bags. Despite these efforts, there is room for enhancement in the effectiveness of policies governing plastic production, utilization, and waste management.
The existing capacity and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating these solutions are still in their early stages or nonexistent. The discussions about the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution in Nairobi from November 13th to 19th offer hope for expediting the development and implementation of more robust national and regional policies.