Eradicate the "scourge" of plastic pollution. A five-day session of intense talks opens on Monday 29 May in Paris to try to move towards a treaty to end plastic pollution.

Representatives of 175 nations with divergent ambitions are meeting at UNESCO headquarters for a second session of the international negotiating committee, out of five planned to reach a historic agreement covering the entire life cycle of plastic. NGOs, but also representatives of companies in the plastics sector, much to the regret of environmental defenders, will also be present to attend the debates.

Just over a year ago in Nairobi, Kenya, an agreement in principle was reached to end plastic pollution worldwide, with the ambition to develop a legally binding treaty under the auspices of the United Nations by the end of 2024.

A summit with ministers or representatives of sixty countries was organized by the France on Saturday in Paris, to give impetus to the negotiations. "If we do not act, in 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans," said French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.

See also "40 kilos of plastic rain": in Paris, an unprecedented weather to fight against pollution

Recycling at the heart of negotiations

"Fighting against plastic pollution means making our lives easier to fight climate change on the one hand and to ensure that we preserve our oceans and biodiversity," said the Minister of Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu.

The stakes are high as annual production has more than doubled in 20 years to reach 460 million tonnes (Mt). It could triple again by 2060 if nothing is done.

However, two-thirds of this global production has a short lifespan and becomes waste to be managed after one or a few uses. 22% (landfills, open incineration or discharge into the wild) are abandoned and less than 10% is recycled.

"We must be careful that the issue of recycling does not replace the debate on reducing the production of plastics," warned Christophe Béchu.

"There is a consensus on the issues at stake and the will to act," Diane Beaumenay-Joannet, advocacy manager at the NGO Surfrider Foundation, told AFP. She says she is "rather optimistic about the fact that we are moving forward on a draft treaty" but believes that "on the precise content of the obligations, it will be complicated, especially on the part of reducing production".

"Ending plastic pollution by 2040"

This reduction is supported by the Coalition for High Ambition, led by Rwanda and Norway and composed of about fifty countries, including the European Union, Canada, Chile and, in recent days, Japan. His hope: "to end plastic pollution by 2040".

But other nations are more reluctant, insisting on recycling and better waste management: this is particularly the case of China, the United States, Saudi Arabia and more generally OPEC countries, which intend to protect their petrochemical industry.

The debates are also crossed by the question of North-South relations, with issues concerning "development aid, technology sharing and financing", says Diane Beaumenay-Joannet. "It is the most consuming (developed) countries that are the most polluting, and it is also those that will produce in other countries and send their waste back to other countries," she said.

Plastic, derived from petrochemicals, is everywhere: packaging, clothing fibers, construction equipment, medical tools... Garbage of all sizes ends up at the bottom of the oceans, in the pack ice, the stomachs of birds and even on the top of mountains. Microplastics have been detected in blood, breast milk or placenta.

Plastic also poses a problem for its role in global warming: it accounted for 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2019, 3.4% of global emissions, a figure that could more than double by 2060 according to the OECD.

With AFP

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