ASH’s Policy Director Chris Bostic is attending the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Conference (INC-1) of the United Nations treaty to end plastics pollution in Punta del Este, Uruguay from November 28 – December 3, 2022. He will share updates and progress here for our community to stay engaged and informed.
November 30, 2022 – Today, several delegations mentioned the need to ensure basic human rights as we hammer out a treaty to end plastics pollution. This got me to thinking. It should be all about human rights. In the discussions leading up to INC-1, as I’ve mentioned previously, “inclusiveness” has been the watchword. But participation should not be equal; stakeholders exist on a wide spectrum in terms of benefitting or suffering from plastics pollution. Small Pacific Island countries are awash in plastics, choking their beaches, taxing their ability to manage waste, and destroying their main source of food and livelihood, all the while producing no plastics. Their “stakeholderness” is miles apart from plastics producers, who make billions in profit while remaining blind and immune to the devastation their products create after consumption.
And yet as far as the negotiating process is concerned, they are the same, and solutions must equally benefit everyone on the spectrum of harm.
Nearly all human rights are touched by the epidemic of plastics pollution – the rights to health, life, a healthy environment, and development; of children, of women, etc. Note that there is no human right to profit. Perhaps we should be thinking of human rights as the basic framework for discussion. As a human rights and public health lawyer, this is the only way I can look at the conversation. A human rights lens would help us differentiate among stakeholders and focus our work on solving the most intractable problems first. We should be considering the relative impact of plastics pollution – and the remedies we develop – on people, starting with the communities most impacted.
I have no doubt the majority of countries share this sentiment, but the odds are still against them. Plastics producers and the fossil fuel companies that feed them tend to congregate in very rich countries, which can use their financial leverage to bully others into following their lead.
The climate change talks – which have been going on for 30 (!) years – embraced corporate stakeholders and we are further from a solution than ever. We can’t let it happen again.