Pollution choking wetlands as negotiations hit roadblock

Edwin Ochieng shows Yala Swamp, the country's largest freshwater wetland where he and his group take part in rehabilitating through planting papyrus and indigenous trees. [File, Standard]

Attempts by the United Nations to reach a consensus on a global treaty to end plastic pollution failed after a week of negotiations.

Over 500 proposals were submitted by governments, and participants in the stalled negotiations to deliver the world’s first treaty on plastic pollution.

During a week-long meeting known as INC3 in Nairobi, negotiators discussed how to control plastics, which create 400 million tonnes of waste annually.

More than 1,900 delegates participated in INC-3, representing 161 Members, including the European Union and over 318 observer organisations struggled to advance a draft of the treaty amid accusations that oil-producing countries employed stalling tactics.

The outcome of the summit has drawn criticism from environmental advocates who argue that the failure to progress jeopardises the fight against plastic pollution.

While the INC3 negotiations stumbled, the Ramsar Convention, a global treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, has highlighted the critical role wetlands play in the fight against plastic pollution. Despite the setbacks in the plastic pollution summit, the Ramsar Convention remains actively engaged in the international negotiating committee on the plastics treaty.

Dr Musonda Mumba the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands said, “Plastics move from land to sea through wetlands as a mechanism or as a transient, transporting space. Micro and nanoplastics, found in human blood, are being transported through water, much of which passes through wetlands.”

Reports indicate that, despite a lack of specific targets, the Ramsar Convention has been reporting on the alarming increase in plastic debris in wetlands, leading to a reduction in ecological character.

Ramsar Convention stresses the importance of justice, equity, and adaptive strategies in wetland conservation. The convention advocates for the wise use of wetlands, emphasising the need for a balance that supports both local communities and the preservation of these vital ecosystems.

As the plastic pollution summit faced challenges, the Ramsar Convention looks ahead to initiatives focusing on successful community-led efforts, promoting South-South and North-South learning, and providing tangible solutions to reduce plastic pollution by 2030.

“We want to showcase locations where communities are successfully managing plastics. South-South and North-South learning is critical. Our convention advocates for the sharing of lessons and solutions, aiming to reduce plastic pollution and protect biodiversity by 2030,” Mumba. said.

Environmental groups have pointed fingers at oil-producing countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, for hindering the negotiations and diluting the proposed treaty. Delegates were tasked with discussing a draft released in September, reflecting inputs from the first two meetings. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics aims to establish the first international, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution through five rounds of negotiations.

Less than 10 percent of plastic waste is currently recycled, leading to approximately 400 million tonnes of waste annually. Moreover, an estimated 14 million tonnes of plastic find their way into oceans each year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Speaking during the closing of the sessions Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) expressed her encouragement for the forward motion of the negotiations towards a treaty that ends plastic pollution.

“Continue to be ambitious, innovative, inclusive, and bold. And use these negotiations to hone a sharp and effective instrument that we can use to carve out a better future, free from plastic pollution,” she said.

“I urge all of us to listen to the scientific community and the diversity of stakeholders that can and do bring evidence, experience, and knowledge to these negotiations. Their work is evolving and developing every day,” said incoming INC Chair, Ambassador Luis Vayas.

“I thank Ambassador Meza-Cuadra for his steady leadership of the process up to this midway point and will do my utmost to work with Members and all stakeholders for the success of the INC process, delivery of the instrument, and implementation to end plastic pollution, protecting human health and the environment.

“Many proposals were presented, providing us with additional talking points ahead of the upcoming negotiations. While hope is not lost, another opportunity awaits to formulate more conclusive resolutions on plastic,” said Brian, a waste management and recycling expert in Nairobi.

The negotiations were the third of five rounds. The next talks will take place in Ottawa, Canada in April 2024. Delegates have until the end of 2024 to produce a final draft.

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