Spike in fossil fuel lobbyists at UN talks to cut plastic pollution: CIEL analysis - Hindustan Times
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Spike in fossil fuel lobbyists at UN talks to cut plastic pollution: CIEL analysis

ByJayashree Nandi
Apr 25, 2024 09:39 PM IST

Fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumbered the combined 180 representatives of the European Union delegations

NEW DELHI: Around 196 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists have registered for the United Nations negotiations on the first global treaty to curb plastic pollution in Ottawa, according to an analysis by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a nonprofit law group.

Activist Dianne Peterson places a sign on a public art installation outside a United Nations conference on plastics on April 23 (AP)
Activist Dianne Peterson places a sign on a public art installation outside a United Nations conference on plastics on April 23 (AP)

This represents a 37% increase in the number of registered industry representatives from the 143 lobbyists registered at the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in November last year, the analysis released on Thursday said. It added that fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumber the combined 180 representatives of the European Union delegations.

“The total number of fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists registered is three times greater than the 58 independent scientists from the Scientists’ Coalition for An Effective Plastic Treaty and seven times greater than the 28 representatives of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus. 16 lobbyists for the fossil fuel and chemical industry registered across nine different country delegations, including four in Malaysia, three in Thailand, two in Iran and the Dominican Republic, and one each in China, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Turkey, and Uganda,” CIEL, which used registration data provided by the U.N. Environment Programme, which is overseeing the talks, said.

The Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) collectively registered 73 representatives, meaning they are outnumbered more than two to one compared to the fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists, the analysis added.

Negotiators started talks on Tuesday on a proposed global treaty to reduce plastic pollution, which is found everywhere from mountain tops to ocean depths. In 2022, countries agreed to finalise a treaty by the end of 2024 with concrete measures to battle plastic pollution around the world.

The meeting in Ottawa is the penultimate session before a final round of negotiations in South Korea later this year.

Around 99% of plastics are derived from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel industry continues to clutch plastics and petrochemicals as a lifeline. The chemical and fossil fuel industries oppose cuts to plastic production, falsely claiming that the plastics crisis is not a plastic problem, but a waste problem.

“The outcome of these talks is of critical importance to countries and communities around the world, and it is vital to expose and confront the role of corporations whose agendas are fundamentally in conflict with the global public interest. Access to the negotiations is just one piece of the puzzle. Some may argue that everyone enjoys equal access, but that is simply not true. Lobbyists are appearing on country delegations and are gaining privileged access to Member State-only sessions, where sensitive discussions unfold behind closed doors. Beyond the troubling number of lobbyists present at the negotiation talks, behind-the-scenes industry lobbying activities and events take place around the world in the months leading up to negotiations,” said Delphine Levi Alvares, Global Petrochemical Campaign Coordinator at the Center for International Environmental Law.

Plastic pollution activist Satyarupa Shekhar said: “We know that fossil fuels are causing the climate crisis, and we know that oil and gas companies have spent massive amounts of money misleading the public and politicians about climate science. There were nearly 2,500 industry lobbyists at COP28, and nearly 200 are at the ongoing Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Canada. They are bombarding Treaty delegates with advertisements on taxis and trucks. They are hungry for huge profits and do not care if the world goes up in literal flames.”

HT reported on April 17 on a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report on companies increasing oil and gas production for polymers, in anticipation of a serious response to climate change that could curb the production of fossil fuels. The global report titled “Global Plastic Treaty Negotiations” also highlighted that India, Russia, the United States of America, and China in certain cases, are not agreeable to reducing primary plastic polymer production; reducing chemicals from polymer production; or phasing out single-use plastic. This is based on an analysis by CSE researchers of submissions made by countries during INC negotiations.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 99% of plastics are made from polymers derived from non-renewable hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas). Polymers, commonly known as plastics, are larger units of smaller molecules (monomers) that are joined together by chemical bonds.

The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) in their factsheet said many harmful chemicals are used during the production of plastics, either as building blocks for the plastic material itself (such as bisphenols) or as additives to provide certain properties such as durability, colour, flexibility, or other qualities.

The impact on human health from these chemicals can be profound. Even small exposures can result in disruptions to reproductive systems, impaired intellectual functions, delays in physical development, and cancer. For example, endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from some plastics are linked to health problems at very low doses.

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