Request Free Trial
April 30, 2024

Editor’s note: ‘dirty looks’ distract EU at plastic negotiations

Some campaigners at the latest talks on a Global Plastics Treaty claimed the EU was failing to live up to its rhetoric on plastic pollution and allowing itself to be ‘bullied’ by petrochemical companies © HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Some campaigners at the latest talks on a Global Plastics Treaty claimed the EU was failing to live up to its rhetoric on plastic pollution and allowing itself to be ‘bullied’ by petrochemical companies © HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

Reactions as the fourth round of negotiations on a Global Plastics Treaty ended in Ottawa, Canada, last night were mixed. Some campaigners were cautiously optimistic about progress, but others suggested the US was missing in action, while the EU was failing to live up to its rhetoric on plastic pollution and allowing itself to be “bullied” by petrochemical companies.

For Ana Rocha, global plastics policy director at the environmental justice network GAIA, the week’s negotiations were “a turning point in the fight against plastic pollution, despite petrostates’ and industry efforts to block progress and lower ambition”.

“The drumbeat to reduce plastic production is growing from countries worldwide,” says Rocha. However, she makes it clear the momentum to reduce plastic production at source is coming from countries in Africa, Latin America and small island developing states. Rwanda and Peru called for the production of primary plastic polymers to be reduced by 40 per cent by 2040. 

The non-profit Center for International Environmental Law was scathing about the role of the EU and the US. “When the time came to go beyond issuing empty declarations, we saw the same developed member states, who claim to be leading the world towards a world free from plastic pollution, abandon all pretence as soon as the biggest polluters looked sideways at them,” says CIEL director of environmental health David Azoulay.

CIEL president Carroll Muffett asks whether “the US delegation to the plastics treaty simply missed the memo on protecting health and human rights from the plastic threat, or whether the Biden administration forgot to send it”. 

“The EU made some very strong statements about the need for controls on plastic production, but refused to allow proposals from countries like Rwanda and Peru for intersessional work [the discussions that take place between the main negotiations] on plastic production reduction to be included, even though the G7 countries meeting in Italy are expected today to commit to reducing plastic production to tackle pollution,” Azoulay tells me over the phone from Ottawa.

“The EU seems to be allowing itself to be bullied by a group of petrochemical producers, to lose their ambition when anyone from this group gives them a dirty look, and to subsequently back away from what they know is necessary,” he adds.

All in all, Christina Dixon, ocean campaign leader at the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency, suggests “the negotiations ended with a whimper rather than a bang”.

Sustainable Views will bring you a full analysis of the talks later today, and what needs to happen ahead of the final round of negotiations in Busan, South Korea, in November if a treaty is to be agreed by the end of the year.

In other news, Alex reports on how pressure is mounting on California governor Gavin Newsom to fund two pieces of state climate legislation, namely California’s Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act and the Climate-related Financial Risk Act approved in October 2023. 

The state is struggling to balance the books, but John Morton, a former climate adviser to the Obama and Biden administrations and now head of advisory services at consultancy Pollination, says failure by Newsom to fund these laws “would be a significant step back from the leadership position he has carved for himself on this issue”.

Florence, meanwhile, has been examining data showing more than 80 per cent of companies not subject to the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive still intend to align some or all of their reporting strategies with the legislation. The data, from a survey by US reporting software company Workiva, finds in North America 86 per cent of respondents not subject to the CSRD still intend to comply, along with 72 per cent of UK respondents. 

Alex also reports on research from Fitch underlining the important role multilateral development banks will need to play in scaling up climate finance for emerging markets. The rating agency ends with the rather depressing conclusion that even with reforms to MDBs and support from governments, their backing “will never be sufficient to address the sheer scale of climate-related challenges faced” by emerging markets. 

Finally, Owen Bethell, environmental impact lead, global public affairs and ESG engagement, at Nestlé, argues businesses and investors are central to changing the dynamic around the agro-industry and stopping the sector causing more environmental harm than good.

Until tomorrow,

Philippa

Philippa Nuttall is the editor of Sustainable Views 

A service from the Financial Times