Japan joins anti-plastic coalition ahead of Paris treaty talks, leaving US isolated

After Japan joined the high ambition coalition against plastics production, the US is now the only major developed country not a member

A Break Free From Plastic message lights up the night near the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. (Photo credit: Tim Aubry/Greenpeace)


Japan has joined a group of countries pushing for a reduction in plastic production, ahead of plastics treaty talks in Paris next week. 

The self-proclaimed “high ambition coalition against plastic pollution” (Hac) already includes the other G7 countries, with the exception of the United States.

To lengthy applause and whistles from the UN officials, ministers and campaigners in the room, Takeshi Akahori from Japan’s foreign ministry told a Hac briefing: “Japan is pleased to attend this event today in Paris as a new member of the high-ambition coalition. We do so because we share the ambition of the high-ambition coalition.”

Campaigners celebrated the announcement. The Environmental Investigation Agency’s Chris Dixon told Climate Home that it was a “significant position shift” as Japan is a ” high producer, consumer and exporter of plastic waste, with a track record in investing in incineration as a solution to dealing with plastics”.

Andres Del Castillo, from the Center for International Environmental Law,  also welcomed the move but added that he hoped it was “in good faith and we will closely be monitoring their engagement”.

The Hac’s members (light blue) include all G7 countries but the US

US isolated

The move leaves the USA as the only big wealthy country outside of the coalition as government negotiators gather for the second round of talks on setting up a treaty to tackle plastic pollution. Its official Jose Hernandez spoke as a guest at the HAC briefing.

While the USA and Saudi Arabia favour measures to encourage plastic recycling, the high-ambition coalition wants “binding provisions” to “restrain and reduce the production and consumption of primary plastic polymers”.

Hernandez said the US agrees with the Hac in several areas but did not mention reducing the production of plastic.

UN advises against offsets for carbon removal technologies

As the use of oil and gas to make electricity and power cars is forecast to decline, the oil and gas industry hopes that more of its product is turned into plastic.

Plastics are responsible for an estimated 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions through their lifecycle.

Plastics industry’s position

Joshua Baca is vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade association whose board includes representatives of oil and gas companies Shell and Total.

He said: “We continue to believe that an ambitious agreement that ends plastic pollution is the right approach. However, restricting the production of plastic materials essential to delivering clean water, renewable energy, and sanitary medical and personal care products is the wrong approach.”

UK sued over plan to import more polluting Australian beef

Freedom of information requests from Unearthed and Climate Home News show close coordination between the ACC and the US’s plastics negotiators at the Environmental Protection Agency, including before the previous round of plastics treaty talks in Uruguay.

Dividing lines

In Paris next week, talks will centre on whether the treaty should be bottom-up, like the Paris Agreement on climate, or top-down with more binding measures.

Voting rules will also be debated as the European Union is facing attempts to weaken its power to vote on behalf of its member states in treaty negotiations.

As with climate talks, finance will be a key issue, with developing countries asking for money and technology from richer nations in order to tackle plastic pollution.

Governments aim to set up a treaty by 2024 and begin holding annual Cop-style talks between treaty members after that.

Read more on: World | |