Plastic Watch: G20 Issues Pathetic Declaration

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The G20 on June 29 took action on plastic waste by committing to the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, with the goal of stopping all plastic entering the oceans.

If this is the best they can come up with, I almost wish they’d done nothing instead.

For starters, the deadline for achieving this – 2050 – must be someone’s idea of a joke.

Even this limited, slowly rolled out scheme is “voluntary”.

And the means to the end? Invoking our old friend, the recycling fairy (see Plastic Watch: Recycling Woes and Waste Watch: US Dumps Plastic Rubbish in Southeast Asia for a discussion of some of the myriad problems with this approach).

I kid you not.

Here’s the relevant section of the G20 Osaka leader’s declaration, from the Japan Times:

39. We reiterate that measures to address marine litter, especially marine plastic litter and microplastics, need to be taken nationally and internationally by all countries in partnership with relevant stakeholders. In this regard, we are determined to swiftly take appropriate national actions for the prevention and significant reduction of discharges of plastic litter and microplastics to the oceans. Furthermore, looking ahead beyond those initiatives and existing actions by each member, we share, and call on other members of the international community to also share, as a common global vision, the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision” that we aim to reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050 through a comprehensive life-cycle approach that includes reducing the discharge of mismanaged plastic litter by improved waste management and innovative solutions while recognizing the important role of plastics for society. We also endorse the G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter.

Details are sketchy on how even these vague commitments would be achieved.

Japanese Policy

The run-up to the Osaka G20 summit saw a full-scale propaganda onslaught, focusing on how Japan – the world’s second-largest abuser of plastics, only surpassed by the US, on a per capita basis – wished to lead on this issue.

That would have been a good thing, as there’s plenty about the way that Japan uses plastic that needs to change (see this recent Quartz piece, Japan’s single-use plastic problem on display at the G20 Summit, which includes plenty of depressing photos documenting the Japanese penchant for swathing everything in plastic)

Alas, the way Japan wishes to lead is as by relying on technofixes – which are far from certain   to be realized. Chasing these false promises will instead likely only delay the day of ultimate reckoning (as I discussed further in Plastic Watch: Debunking the Technofix Fairy, Biodegradable Bags Don’t Degrade). According to this Reuters account, G20 plastic trash reduction goal doesn’t address ‘excessive’ production: activists:

G20 host Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to make tackling the issue a priority at the G20 summit in Osaka this past weekend. He has said he wants Japan to lead the world in this mission, including by developing biodegradables and other innovative alternatives.

So, the resulting Osaka Blue Ocean Vision is underwhelming, to say the least. I’m not surprised actually. It’s far easier to wave one’s hands and say something must be done – at a date sufficiently far in the future – than to tackle the problem by banning use of most plastics.

To do that would require taking on an entire industry that profits from manufacturing and selling plastic. And, after all, all that excess fracked shale gas has to be used somehow, doesn’t it? (see this cross-post from DeSmogBlog’s Sharon Kelly, Why Plans to Turn America’s Rust Belt into a New Plastics Belt Are Bad News for the Climate, and my earlier post, Fracking Boom Further Spurs Plastics Crisis).

Cost-free Virtue Signalling Rather than Taking on the Plastic Pushers

How pathetic is the G20 initiative? Well, so pathetic that the plastic pushers praised the plan! Allow me to quote from Plastic Makers Welcome G20 Osaka Blue Ocean Vision to End Ocean Plastics at length, released by the American Chemistry Council:

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2019)—The G20 countries adopted a Leaders’ Declaration today in Osaka. The American Chemistry Council issued the following response, which may be attributed to Steve Russell, vice president of ACC’s Plastics Division:

“America’s plastic makers welcome the G20’s Osaka Blue Ocean Vision to end plastic leakage into the ocean, and we applaud Japan’s leadership in addressing this important issue. We look forward to working with G20 countries to help make this vision a reality.

“Eliminating ocean plastics will require innovations in products, systems and technologies; global deployment of waste management infrastructure, particularly in areas where the most leakage is occurring; and strong public-private partnerships. Plastics makers are helping to promote advancements in each of these areas.

“Plastic waste is an urgent problem, and importantly, it’s one that can be solved with ongoing cooperation, innovation, and investment.

“Plastics offer numerous environmental benefits, such as helping to conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Lightweight, efficient plastics can help the world’s growing population live more sustainably—but we need to do a better job of capturing and repurposing used plastics, to create a more circular economy, while continuing to meet society’s needs.

“Many of America’s plastic makers are among the founders of and contributors to the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a new nonprofit with a goal of deploying $1.5 billion to help develop the systems, knowledge, and infrastructure needed to collect and repurpose waste, including in regions where most environmental leakage occurs. Other key members of the Alliance include brand owners, plastic processors, and recyclers.”

Not a word about reducing use of plastics. Yes, I suppose it unlikely that the people who make the stuff would utter any such sounds.

What Do Activists Say?

Those who don’t get paid by plastic manufacturers understand how inadequate the G20 commitment is.  According to Reuters:

“It’s a good direction,” said Yukihiro Misawa, plastics policy manager at WWF Japan. “But they’re too focused on waste management.

“The most important thing is to reduce the excessive amount of production on the global level,” he said.

Reuters also quoted a US source who condemned the G20 initiative in stronger terms:

“Ultimately, this is very disappointing,” said Neil Tangri, global plastics policy adviser at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives in Berkeley, California, said of the G20 statement.

“The focus is on collecting and disposing of plastics instead of reducing the quantity produced,” he said. “Japan has the opportunity to lead on this issue by reducing the production and use of plastic. They’re fumbling the opportunity.”

What’s necessary, at minimum, and even now may be too little, too late, is to curtail drastically production and use of plastics, particularly of the single-use variety. Unfortunately, the largest and richest countries have yet to get around to doing so.  Both the US and Japan last year rejected the G7 ocean plastics charter – non-binding commitments to work towards recycling or reusing plastic by 2030 (see my earlier post. US, Japan Reject G-7 Ocean Plastics Charter). The European Union’s policy is marginally better; the European parliament passed legislation earlier this year to ban single-use plastic in all member states.

Instead, African and South Pacific countries have led on banning single use plastics.

What Is to Done?

Just as does climate change, the plastic issue fills me with despair. I wish I could be more optimistic, like my late friend Renee Sørensen, who focused on helping the small Maldivian island of Maafushi to develop a better waste management system (see Dengue on My Mind: Spending on ‘Diseases of Poverty’ Not Enough to Create Effective Vaccines). Renee regarded plastic pollution as a challenge to be met rather than as a cause for despair.

Alas, Renee died suddenly last year, from dengue fever.

And now, a mere year later, plastic water bottles still sully Maafushi harbor,  and plastic straws and other rubbish are ubiquitous.

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16 comments

    1. John Zelnicker

      @Synoia
      July 1, 2019 at 2:17 pm
      ——-

      The original saying is “Never trust anyone over 30″, from the Berkley Free Speech Movement in 1964. Jack Weinberg, 24 years old at the time, is credited with coining the phrase.

      As regards climate change, and the progressive movement in general, that might not be such a bad idea for today. It seems the younger generations are far ahead of their elders in recognizing the dystopian future we are setting up for ourselves, and motivating themselves to actually do something about it.

      Reply
  1. polecat

    I don’t know what, if anything can be done, considering the inertia of billions of human beings, all in the process of trying to catch as catch can – some catching much more than others ….
    But, on a long enough time-line, we’re all geologic goo or strata, so there’s that …

    Gaia will do her will regardless, whether we do anything or not !

    Reply
  2. verifyfirst

    Well, don’t worry, the Kroger grocery store chain here in the states has big signs up proclaiming they will phase out single use plastic bags…..by 2025! So, that should fix everything.

    Maybe I don’t understand, but as best I can tell, the feedback loops already underway are going to doom humanity in fairly short order (like, 20 years), no matter what we do now. These feedback processes are well underway–ice melt, methane release, etc., and there is nothing we can do to stop them.

    https://truthout.org/articles/how-feedback-loops-are-driving-runaway-climate-change/

    From the article:

    Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit).

    …now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced.

    …as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell.

    “The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe….

    Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said….“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.

    ….there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.

    Reply
  3. polecat

    And don’t assume the State, whatever it’s form .. or even large international institutions, will do what’s good or right for the long term. They won’t as long as bought and grifting self-interested participants rule the roost ! Roguing them out will be problematic at the least ..
    Embrace stair-step collapse, because that is the trajectory that we’re on .. while doing what you can personally, within your local, or regional perimeter .. if that’s even possible, knowing that any beneficial changes will be haphazard at best !

    Reply
  4. oaf

    2050??? how far down the road can you kick the can??? Pathetic. Disgusting. Criminal???
    !

    oafstradamus

    Reply
  5. Ignacio

    Lack of leadership from the leaders. Last week I started taking my cotton bags for my vegetables & fruits purchases in the spmkt. The only thing I have bougth by Amazon this year. I estimate that I will eliminate the use of about 250 single use plastic bags per year. The cashier at the supermarket liked the bags very much and promised to buy a pack.

    Reply
  6. sharonsj

    Everything I’ve read and the scientific videos I watched pretty much confirm that we are doomed. I won’t be around to see the carnage but I might last long enough to see the last glacier melt in Glacier National Park. I wonder what they’ll rename it?

    Reply
  7. p fitzsimon

    I belong to a local group concerned with confronting global warming and sea level rise. The group is almost entirely over 60 and many think recycling and unplugging device chargers will do the job. They also believe that young people will save the world. We live a block from the high school where the streets are packed with student cars including an assortment of 4x4s. Never see a student on a bike. Most live within a 2 mile radius. Are they really going to save the planet?

    Reply
  8. Vic Cruz

    Sorry to hear about the death of your friend Renee from Dengue.
    There exists a cheap natural way to counter Dengue, by drinking boiled root extract from an “unwanted weed” that grows abundantly here in the Philippines called “tawa-tawa”. Taken everyday with hardboiled quail eggs, this cure has been proven(unofficially accepted by medical field) but testimonies from my Electrical Engr who had his 2 daughters aged 7 and 9 hospitalized for many days due to dengue till platelet count went down to critical 35,000, can literally die in hours.
    A friend convinced him to try and “smuggle” tawa-tawa amd quail egg into the hospital, gave to his daughters and in 24 hrs platelet count went up to 50,000.

    Reply

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