The third round of the plastics treaty negotiations concluded Nov. 19 on a very mixed note, with countries agreeing to move forward but with environmental groups delivering sharp warnings that the talks risk failure over resistance from oil-producing states.
Nearly 2,000 negotiators from 160 countries and observers from nearly 400 other groups, including plastics companies, wrapped up seven days of intense talks at United Nations offices in Nairobi, Kenya.
Early reactions from environmental groups, who issued the most detailed comments, were largely negative on the long-term prospects.
An initial statement from a plastics industry group pointed to more opposition to plastic production caps, which the industry opposes.
The environmental groups noted that the talks did not achieve their goals of getting a clear mandate for a new draft text ahead of the next round of talks, in late April in Ottawa, Ontario. They warned that without more progress, the goal of completing an ambitious treaty by the end of next year looked increasingly unlikely.
"This week made clear that an overwhelming majority of countries demand an ambitious treaty that covers the full lifecycle of plastics," said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, in a statement.
"That treaty is still achievable in these talks, but only if negotiators acknowledge and confront the coordinated campaign by fossil fuel and petrochemical exporters to prevent real progress of any kind," Muffett said.
A representative of the plastics industry pointed to progress in the text and to signs of more countries noting concerns over production caps at this session than in the previous round in Paris in May.
Stewart Harris, a spokesman at the talks for the International Council of Chemical Associations, said the talks "made good progress at gathering ideas from member states and putting them on the table. This is an essential part of any multilateral negotiation."
"ICCA appreciates the advancements made by governments but we do think the current text could have stronger support for solutions that accelerate a circular economy," said Harris, who is also senior director of global plastics policy for the American Chemistry Council. "Member states also expressed a lot of interest in the plastics additives database that ICCA is developing."
He also said more countries at this third meeting of the treaty's intergovernmental negotiating committee, or INC, seemed skeptical of pushes within the talks for caps on plastics production.
"Compared to INC-2, we did see more governments publicly express concerns with production caps of primary plastic polymers," Harris said.