Nairobi summit sets the stage for historic plastic pollution treaty amid geopolitical dynamics

  • 17 Nov 2023
  • 2 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Jewel Tete

In a critical milestone toward addressing the global plastic pollution crisis, international delegates recently convened in Nairobi, Kenya, to advance discussions on a landmark treaty to fight global plastic pollution. The urgency of this mission was underscored by Kenyan President William Ruto on the first day of the talks, emphasising the pressing need to reach an agreement before the end of 2023, a deadline set in March of the previous year.


The meeting, held at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters, served as the backdrop for deliberations on the alarming pollution stemming from the annual production of over 400 million metric tonnes of plastic waste. Against a backdrop where less than 10 per cent of plastic waste undergoes recycling, and at least 14 million metric tonnes find their way into the oceans, the imperative to find effective solutions was palpable.


During the summit, delegates faced the pivotal decision of whether to adopt a comprehensive approach addressing the entire production and life cycle of plastic or to opt for a more limited focus on waste management. Notably, countries like Kenya advocated for a robust and binding agreement, emphasising a thorough examination of the plastic problem. In contrast, powerful players in the plastics industry, including major petrochemical suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, leaned towards a more restricted approach, possibly to protect their interests.


Over 2,000 delegates, spanning sectors such as the oil and gas industry, environmental organisations, and civil society groups, participated in this critical negotiation. Pamela Miller, co-chairperson of the International Pollutants Elimination Network, revealed the eagerness of the majority of nations to propel negotiations forward. However, she also highlighted a smaller coalition of countries, predominantly major fossil fuel, petrochemical, and plastic exporters like Saudi Arabia and Russia, actively resisting progress, potentially driven by their vested interests.

Beyond the geopolitical intricacies, an intriguing facet of these negotiations emerges—an invitation for reflection not only from nations but also from key producers in the private sector. 


The corporate world, particularly those in the plastics industry, is transforming environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations to take centre stage. This shift prompts a critical evaluation of the role these private entities play in the production and life cycle of plastic. A notable concept gaining traction in this realm is extended producer responsibility (EPR). As nations deliberate on waste management strategies, there is a growing expectation that producers take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products. This involves not only manufacturing but also addressing the disposal and environmental impact of their products. For major producers in the plastics industry, adopting EPR could be a strategic move, aligning their operations with evolving global sustainability expectations.


The negotiations in Nairobi transcend geopolitical boundaries, demanding a collective effort to confront a shared challenge. The outcome of this landmark treaty will not only shape the future trajectory of plastic pollution but also set a precedent for international collaboration in addressing environmental crises. As the world reflects on the pervasive issue of plastic waste, there lies the potential to reshape industry practices, inspire global cooperation, and pave the way for a sustainable and plastic-free future.