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Negotiations on plastic agreements: China is being constructive

A global agreement against plastic pollution will be negotiated in Nairobi until Sunday. New alliances are emerging.

Plastic waste on the floor

Plastic waste in a canal in Bangkok, Thailand Photo: Matt Hunt/ZUMA Wire/imago

NAIROBI taz | In the third round of negotiations on the global plastics agreement in Nairobi, clear allocations and classic alliances are difficult to identify. This is clear from China’s behavior. Just six months ago at the previous conference in Paris, the Chinese government took a stand on procedural issues; To the frustration of many delegates, there was a standstill for days. Things are different in Kenya. According to observer circles, the debates are going “almost smoothly” – at least for UN negotiations.

China wants to be perceived as a constructive negotiating partner and not be included in the “blocker round”. “The appearance is not unconstructive,” says Florian Titze from WWF, “the Chinese delegation is not actively positioning itself as a blocker, like Saudi Arabia, for example. However, it belongs to the group of countries who are not yet taking the measures necessary to avert the plastic crisis.”

The ambivalent attitude is explained, on the one hand, by experiences with the severe environmental pollution caused by plastic, which ultimately led to a government-imposed import ban on plastic waste in the East Asian country in 2018. The Chinese government is well aware of the problem. On the other hand, China has a large petroleum and plastics industry that is interested in growth and therefore has an economic interest in placing the agreement’s focus on the lower end of the value chain – on improvements in recycling, disposal and product design.

According to the Scientist Coalition, an association of independent scientists, what is necessary for an effective agreement is, above all, to limit the production of plastic.

China clearly rejects this. “Production caps are not solutions to the cause of plastic pollution,” says a position paper from the delegation. However, this does not necessarily apply to single-use plastic products such as straws, plastic bags and cutlery. Here the Chinese delegation would probably even go along with bans in some cases.

Money for China is controversial

The question of financing the fight against plastic waste, which will come into focus for the first time during the negotiations in Nairobi, will also be exciting. Some developing countries are demanding financial support from the countries responsible for the pollution, especially countries from the Global North from which they import their waste.

China is somewhere in between. It is (or was) heavily affected by littering, but at the same time it is also one of the biggest causes. Many industrialized countries will probably want to avoid China gaining access to financial resources from the plastics agreement. There is therefore great potential for conflict here.

Led by the two parties to the conflict, Saudi Arabia and Iran, a group of “like-minded” oil-producing states emerged at the conference. They want to more or less block the agreement. However, the power of individual outliers on the path to a plastics agreement is limited. Instead of making decisions based on the consensus principle (as is usual at other UN conferences), a 70 percent majority is sufficient in the current negotiations.

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