There's a growing sense among advocates for an ambitious plastics treaty that the recent round of talks in Kenya ended somewhere between a failure and a disappointment, and that major changes will be needed to salvage an effective agreement.
The problem, they say, is that a relatively small number of countries with large oil and plastics production stalled progress by blocking important technical work that happens between formal negotiating sessions and by weakening the draft treaty language.
At the talks in Kenya, oil-producing nations including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and others announced a coalition to advocate for the benefits of plastics and focus the agreement more around downstream measures like waste management.
But observers said those countries were at odds with a majority of nations who supported a broader treaty that would look beyond waste management to consider topics like chemical toxicity and lists of products to phase out.
David Azouley, a negotiator at the talks for the Center for International Environmental Law, said during a Nov. 27 webinar that the round in Nairobi, Kenya, which concluded Nov. 19, could be considered a failure.
"What we got was everybody trying to negotiate except for a small number of countries, who then blocked progress towards the end, and lead to the relative failure that we saw in Nairobi," he said on the webinar, organized by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
One plastics industry group called it a missed opportunity that the Nairobi talks didn't make more progress.
Brussels-based Plastics Europe pointed to shortcomings with the draft treaty language, and to the inability of countries to agree on an agenda for technical consultations ahead of the next formal round of talks, slated for late April in Canada.
"We are disappointed that the negotiating parties were unable to agree a way forward by the end of this negotiating round," said Virginia Janssens, the group's managing director, in a statement. "This is a missed opportunity.
"The inability to agree to a mandate for technical work between INC-3 [the meeting in Kenya] and the next negotiating round was avoidable and will only serve to delay the overall negotiations," she said. "Additionally, it will further shorten the time available to address deficiencies in the 'zero draft,' specifically the lack of focus on measures required to accelerate the transition to a circular plastics system."