The head of the United Nations agency organizing the plastics treaty talks is warning countries that the agreement needs firm targets and control measures, or it risks repeating mistakes that have weakened climate pacts like the Paris Agreement.
Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, made the plea Sept. 19 to an audience of diplomats at a side event of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, urging them not to postpone hard decisions in the plastics treaty until later technical rounds.
"It took us 21 years to get to Paris, and we still don't have a price on carbon," Andersen said. "We do not have 21 years to agree on something more detailed, so this one, it has to have the targets, it has to have the control measures, and it has to has to have the holistic span for the 193 countries so that it can work.
"Let us not say let's agree on something in general and have these things later on; that is not the way to go," she said. "This treaty … will not be a broad framework where we say let's have the protocols later on."
Andersen spoke at an event organized by the Nordic Council, a coordinating body for Scandinavian governments, where the council released a report on 15 policy interventions the treaty should have, like virgin plastic fees, bans, reuse targets and extended producer responsibility. The council's report said those steps collectively could reduce mismanaged plastics by 90 percent by 2040, and it estimated they would also reduce annual virgin resin production by 30 percent by 2040 compared with a 2019 baseline.
It said there would be corresponding growth in recycled plastics. It noted, however, that even deeper cuts in virgin plastic production would be needed to meet the world's climate warming limits under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
"I think the key finding for me from this analysis is the fact that most member states want to end plastic pollution by 2040," said Yoni Shiran, the author of the report and plastics lead at consulting firm Systemiq. "But at the same time, the control measures being put forward by many member states are not ambitious enough to deliver on that target."
The Nordic Council, whose members generally favor a more ambitious treaty, released its report to influence the next round of talks in November at UNEP headquarters in Kenya.
The Sept. 19 event featured diplomats, executives from multinational companies and environmental groups taking the stage to outline what they want to accomplish in Kenya, which will be the first formal session since the UN released detailed draft text of the treaty in early September.