IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

As Plastic Treaty Delegates Head to Canada, A Plea From the Arctic

Indigenous people from Arctic communities are calling for environmental protection in the runup to this month’s round of negotiations aimed at securing a global treaty to end plastic pollution.

U.N. talks resume April 23 in Ottawa and are expected to draw delegates from nearly 180 countries to Canada who seek to advance a plastics treaty with an ambitious charge: to embrace a broad definition of the problem that encompasses “the full life-cycle” of plastics.

At the meeting, Alaskan Natives and Canadian First Nations indigenous people will urge delegates to focus on industrial chemical pollutants – including micro- and nanoplastics – that travel through ocean and air currents to far northern latitudes. They will share a new report that reviews the latest science on how chemicals and plastics are now found in traditional food sources such as walruses and seals and threaten Arctic people’s health and environment.

“To learn that these microplastics are ending up in our main foods, but also in our bodies, is yet another alarm for the decision makers,” said Vi Waghiyi, environmental health and justice director with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based environmental justice organization.

Waghiyi is a co-author of “The Arctic’s Plastic Crisis: Toxic Threats to Health, Human Rights and Indigenous Lands from the Petrochemical Industry,” a report released Tuesday by Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a global network of more than 600 nongovernmental organizations in 128 countries working to eliminate toxic pollutants.

“The Arctic is a hemispheric sink for chemicals and plastics that are transported on atmospheric and oceanic currents from lower latitudes through a process known as global distillation or the grasshopper effect,” according to the report. It points to “the combined effects of chemicals and plastics in the Arctic that are exacerbated by rapid climate warming, all of which are consequences of destructive exploitation by the fossil fuel, chemicals, and plastics industries.”

The meeting in Canada will be the delegates’ fourth in a two-year process to reach an agreement on plastics by year’s end. Talks bogged down five months ago in Nairobi when fossil fuels lobbyists came out in force to weaken proposals. A final meeting is planned for late November, and there is some hope that the Canada talks could re-set the effort.

Still, environmental groups are worried that oil-producing countries, including the United States, could stall or weaken efforts to address what the United Nations has identified as “a triple planetary crisis” of climate change, nature loss and pollution.

“This meeting is, to a degree, make or break,” said Björn Beeler, the international coordinator with IPEN.

The timeline will be in doubt if delegates “come out of Ottawa with the same type of uncertainty, as the last meeting in Kenya,” Beeler said. The talks will determine if the agreement is “a skeleton framework to be completed later” or, a plan of accountability that will have “plastic control measures, and hold the plastic industries responsible to address the exploding plastic crisis they created,” he said.

Read the full story from Inside Climate News.