On Friday, December 2, 2022, the first round of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution concluded with an agreement, but there is a split over whether goals and efforts should be global and mandatory, or voluntary and state-led.
More than 2,000 envoys from 160 countries, meeting in Uruguay for the first of five planned sessions of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, seek to craft the first legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by the end of 2024.
The negotiations took place in the coastal city of Punta del Este between a “highly ambitious coalition” of members of the European Union against countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia, which own the world’s largest plastics and petrochemical companies.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said plastic is “a fossil fuel in another form,” urged countries to crack down on pollution and production. “I call on countries to look beyond waste and turn off the plastic tap,” he said on Twitter.
Members of the United Nations agreed in March to conclude a treaty to deal with the scourge of plastic waste, but they disagree on key issues, including whether to reduce plastic production, phase out plastics and harmonize global rules.
The highly ambitious global coalition of more than 40 countries, including EU members, Switzerland, host country Uruguay and Ghana, wants the treaty to be based on mandatory global measures, including production restrictions.
“Without a common international regulatory framework, we will not be able to meet the global and growing challenge of plastic pollution,” Switzerland said in a statement. This approach contrasts with the country-by-country pledges advocated by countries such as the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Washington said it wanted the agreement to be similar to the structure of the Paris climate agreement, in which countries set their greenhouse gas reduction goals and action plans.
Saudi Arabia has stated that it wants a treaty focused on plastic waste based on a “bottom-up approach and based on national circumstances”. Critics say such an approach would weaken the global treaty.