Paris — Negotiations for a plastics treaty got off to a rocky start this week with some sources suggesting that disputes over potential caps on resin production were a significant reason.
The gathering of 170 nations saw delays in organizational meetings May 29 and May 30, putting into question how much progress they could make in the five days scheduled for the Paris talks.
Their goal is to emerge from Paris with clear enough direction to write an initial draft of a treaty to then debate at a follow-up diplomatic conclave in six months.
One group of 55 nations, the High Ambition Coalition that includes many European countries, put out a public statement of negotiating positions on May 26 calling for "binding provisions in the treaty to restrain and reduce the production and consumption of primary plastic polymers to sustainable levels."
At a news conference of environmental groups at the close of the diplomatic meetings May 29, a negotiator for the Center for International Environmental Law said some countries were seeking to delay the plenary meetings.
"Clearly one of the main drivers, what we've seen today in the actual plenary, because a lot of those companies are seeing the writing on the wall," said David Azouley, an attorney with CIEL who has participated in many United Nations treaty negotiations on other topics. "They're feeling threatened in their capacity and possibility to continue to build facilities and to continue the expansion of plastic production.
"That's why we believe we saw the kind of resistance and delay tactic we saw today," he said.
Plastics industry sources declined to comment on the record, but one said a member of the delegation of their home country, a European nation, said the issue of production caps was at least in part behind the difficulties in the diplomatic plenary meetings.
At the plenary, countries did not name production caps as an issue, and said they were concerned about procedural elements and how the treaty process will make decisions in the next two years as delegates hash over language.
A negotiator for Greenpeace agreed with CIEL's assessment in an interview midday May 30.
"We all know how important this treaty is and how consequential it is from a climate perspective, biodiversity, human rights, the stakes are very high, and the problem fundamentally is plastic production," said Graham Forbes, global plastics project leader at Greenpeace.
"That problem is going to have an impact in some countries that are major oil producing nations ... are going to have more at stake than some of the others in terms of what the production cuts are going to mean for their economies," he said. "The problem that we are seeing right now is we are sort of negotiating some of those differences through the rules of procedure."
Observers in Paris expected that countries would ultimately come to some agreement to move forward to more substantive discussions but the dispute seems to highlight some flash points of negotiation going forward.
At a separate U.N. news conference at the close of the talks on May 29, the head of the U.N. negotiating committee, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, a former minister of foreign affairs for Peru, said it's normal to have disputes in diplomatic gatherings.
"Regarding the discussions today, I think we never thought it was going to be easy to have a legally binding agreement," he said.
"We are going step by step and it's normal at the beginning of negotiations to have discussions on the composition of the bureau, the rules of procedure. So, we hope that we can pass this stage and enter to the negotiations."