International delegates have convened in Kenya in the hopes of making further progress towards a landmark treaty to fight global plastic pollution.
Addressing the first day of the talks in the capital, Nairobi, on Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto said that time is running out to reach a deal before the end of 2023, a deadline set in March of last year.
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“I urge all the negotiators to recall that 2024 is only six weeks away and [there] are only two other meetings to go,” Ruto said.
The meeting is taking place at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as leaders try to address the scourge of pollution resulting from more than 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste produced each year.
The UNEP says less than 10 percent of plastic waste is recycled, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature said at least 14 million metric tonnes of it makes its way into the world’s oceans.
Progress has been slow at previous summits, and delegates in Nairobi will have to decide between a wider focus on the production and life cycle of plastic or a more limited emphasis on waste management.
Countries such as Kenya have advocated for a firmer and more binding agreement whereas the powerful plastics industry and petrochemical suppliers such as Saudi Arabia have pushed for a more limited approach.
More than 2,000 delegates are attending the meeting, including representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental organisations and civil society groups.
“The vast majority of countries are eager to advance the negotiations to get the job done,” said Pamela Miller, co-chairperson of the International Pollutants Elimination Network, a global public interest group.
“On the other hand, a small group of like-minded countries of mainly major fossil fuel, petrochemical and plastic exporters like Saudi Arabia and Russia are actively attempting to take us backwards,” she said.