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Plastics Treaty: Phase Out Fossil Fuels to End Pollution and Protect Human Rights

As the detrimental impact of plastic pollution continues to escalate, governments, businesses, and civil society organizations are convening in Paris for the second round of negotiations on a Global Plastics Treaty. While waste removal and recycling efforts are crucial, Human Rights Watch emphasizes that the true solution lies in addressing the root cause: the production of plastics derived from fossil fuels. With the climate crisis intensifying and human rights at stake, it is imperative for countries to commit to more ambitious actions and prioritize the phaseout of fossil fuels in plastic production.

The Role of Fossil Fuels in Plastic Pollution:

The production, use, and disposal of plastics contribute significantly to the climate crisis, exacerbating its impact on human rights globally. Human Rights Watch highlights that 99 percent of plastics are derived from fossil fuels, making them the primary driver of the climate crisis. Alarmingly, current projections suggest that plastics and petrochemicals will account for 30 percent of oil demand growth by 2030 and nearly half of the growth by 2050. To effectively address plastic pollution, it is crucial to acknowledge the link between fossil fuel production and its detrimental consequences.

The Need for an Ambitious Treaty:

The United Nations Environment Programme has outlined potential components for the new treaty, taking into account submissions from governments. However, the suggested reduction of plastic production fails to propose the necessary phaseout of fossil fuels and related subsidies. In contrast, countries like New Zealand, Rwanda, and Norway, along with the High Ambition Coalition, have called for a reduction in plastic production linked to fossil fuels, as well as the reduction or elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. These progressive approaches should serve as a blueprint for all nations involved in the negotiations.

Protecting Human Rights:

Plastic pollution poses a grave threat to human rights, with far-reaching implications for health and well-being. Human Rights Watch has documented the adverse impact of plastic recycling on the health of workers and nearby residents. Additionally, the exportation of plastic waste from countries with lax environmental regulations to those with limited oversight and low labor costs contributes to severe human rights harm. To safeguard the rights of individuals, the new treaty must incorporate comprehensive human rights protections for workers and others affected by plastic pollution.

Banning Harmful Practices:

The United Nations’ options paper acknowledges the dangerous nature of certain waste management methods, such as plastic incineration, waste-to-energy processes, and chemical recycling. However, it falls short of proposing an outright ban on the shipment of plastic waste. Notably, the European Parliament has taken a significant step by adopting proposals to ban plastic waste exports outside of the European Union, with ongoing negotiations in the Council of the EU. Countries participating in the treaty negotiations, including France, should lend their support to an export ban at the EU level and within the framework of the new treaty, amplifying the global effort to protect vulnerable communities.

Conclusion:

To effectively combat the plastic crisis and avert a climate catastrophe, urgent and collective action is imperative. Governments must prioritize the phaseout of fossil fuels in plastic production, recognizing their central role in exacerbating the climate crisis and violating human rights. The forthcoming Global Plastics Treaty represents an opportunity to rectify these issues by establishing a binding legal instrument that comprehensively addresses the link between fossil fuels and plastic pollution while safeguarding the rights of affected individuals. By committing to more ambitious actions, we can build a sustainable future for generations to come.

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