Toward a Sustainable Future: Balancing Economic Interests and Environmental Concerns

Spread the love
By David Arome 

Just over two years ago, the United Nation’s highest environmental decision-making body, UNEA, decided that the world should negotiate a new treaty to stop plastic pollution. It was a historic decision. This can become a landmark agreement, rallying nations around a global commitment to end plastic pollution and safeguard the health of our planet and people for generations to come.

The timeframe for completing the treaty negotiations is ambitious. Negotiating such agreements typically takes several years, but we expect this one to be ready by the end of 2024. The challenges are significant, and the interests are even greater. Plastic pollution is central to the world’s three global environmental crises: pollution, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

A large group of scientists signed a petition demanding that the new treaty be based on science, not guesswork or wishful thinking before the negotiations started. It is clear to us that the success of a new treaty does not necessarily depend on how many countries sign it but on how bold they dare to be, says Karen Landmark, managing director of GRID-Arendal.

GRID-Arendal is a non-profit environmental communications centre based in Norway, established in 1989 by the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment to support environmentally sustainable development by collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners. GRID-Arendal converts environmental data into innovative, science-based information products and provides capacity-building services that enable better environmental governance.

The organization’s vision is to create a society that understands, values, and protects the environment on which it depends. A major focus for GRID-Arendal is supporting the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, and other regional and international commitments.  The organization’s work is organized into programs on Polar and Climate, Marine Environment, Waste and Marine Litter, and Transboundary Governance and Environmental Crime, supported by the Project Support Office and the Productions and Communications Office.

GRID-Arendal has been following the treaty process, known as the INC process, which is now more than halfway through. The fourth negotiation meeting will take place in Canada at the end of April, and the success of the outcome remains uncertain. Previous negotiation meetings have been characterized by a lot of stalling tactics. There have been numerous strategies employed to weaken the treaty that the world urgently requires.

Oil-producing countries, in particular, have used many diplomatic means to delay the process. They haven’t even been able to agree on a “negotiating protocol.” This is the first time in an environmental treaty negotiation that there is no agreement to allow the majority to decide in case of a lack of consensus on an issue. In practical terms, this implies that each country has the power to veto, impeding the necessary progress due to the limited timeframe, as Karen Landmark explains.

The Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) compiled a summary after the last negotiation meeting, showing that 143 lobbyists from the chemical and oil industries participated in INC-3, an increase of 36 percent from INC-2. Delegations from small countries had 70 participants, and 38 scientists attended the same meeting. It will be interesting to see how the numbers develop for INC 4 and 5.

The challenge is that when large industrial interests are so massively present, with their resources, civil society organizations (NGOs), scientists, and environmental activists struggle to get their message across to the delegates, says Karen Landmark.

Leaked documents from the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) recently exposed a public relations campaign by the fossil fuel industry targeting this issue. In their report, “The Fraud of Plastic Recycling,” they claim that the oil and plastic industries have deceived the public for decades and caused the plastic waste problem.

A new treaty is not about a total ban on plastic. It’s about finding solutions to a global environmental challenge that no single country can solve alone. Therefore, the negotiations should focus on reducing production to a sustainable level and limiting the use of chemical additives, so we can ensure that the plastic we surround ourselves with is not harmful to nature or our health. Furthermore, it entails designing plastic products that can be reused and recycled.

  • Over the past year, GRID-Arendal has actively worked with delegations from five West African countries to ensure that they know what will benefit their countries the most. This is not only from an economic standpoint, but also from a nature perspective. We cannot let the chemical and oil industries dictate the future of environmental treaties. The problems are too big for that, and without courageous political decisions, we will lack action, says Karen Landmark.
  • The UN Environment Programme is working intensely to facilitate the negotiations and result in a treaty by the end of the year. However, few dare to predict the exact date of a treaty; instead, they focus on the process of “negotiating” one. This clearly shows that we have a challenge that more people should become aware of and get involved in. The challenge is to land a treaty, no matter how ambitious it will be. Karen Landmark asserts that we aim to amplify the voice of nature.




Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *