Friday 18 October 2019

World does plastics pact without US

Trump opts out of UN deal as Joe Biden tries to appeal to both sides of environmental divide

Climate balance: Biden aims to appeal to both sides. Photo: PA
Climate balance: Biden aims to appeal to both sides. Photo: PA

Tom Miles

Nearly every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework to reduce the pollution from plastic waste - except for the United States.

United Nations officials said an agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged last Friday at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals.

Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and rivers and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

Rolph Payet, of the United Nations Environment Programme, said the "historic" agreement linked to the 186-country, UN-supported Basel Convention means countries will have to monitor and track the movements of plastic waste outside their borders.

The deal affects products used in industries such as healthcare, technology, aerospace, fashion, food and drink.

Mr Payet said: "It's sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world - to the private sector, to the consumer market - that we need to do something."

Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, Mr Payet added. And countries that did not sign up, like the US, could be affected by the accord when they ship plastic waste to countries on board with the deal.

Mr Payet credited Norway for leading the initiative, which first was presented in September.

The time from that proposal to the approval of a deal set a blistering pace by traditional UN standards for such an accord.

Meanwhile, writes Valerie Volcovici from Washington, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden is crafting a climate change policy he hopes will appeal to environmentalists and the blue-collar voters who elected Donald Trump, according to two sources, carving out a middle ground approach that will likely face heavy resistance from green activists.

The backbone of the policy will likely include the United States re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement and preserving US regulations on emissions and vehicle fuel efficiency that Trump has sought to undo, according to one of the sources, Heather Zichal, who is part of a team advising Biden on climate change. She previously advised President Barack Obama.

The second source, a former energy department official advising Biden's campaign who asked not to be named, said the policy could also be supportive of nuclear energy and fossil fuel options like natural gas and carbon capture technology, which limit emissions from coal plants and other industrial facilities.

A spokesman for Biden's campaign, TJ Ducklo, declined to comment on Biden's emerging climate policy or his advisers, but said Biden takes climate change seriously.

"Joe Biden has called climate change an 'existential threat,' and as vice president was instrumental in orchestrating the Paris Climate Accord," Ducklo said in an emailed statement.

On Twitter, Biden echoed the statement and said he plans to unveil policies that reflect the urgency of climate change.

"I'll have more specifics on how America can lead on climate in the coming weeks," he said.

The approach, which has not been previously reported, will set Biden apart from many of his Democratic rivals for the White House who have embraced much tougher climate agendas, like the Green New Deal calling for an end to US fossil fuels use within 10 years.

That could make Biden, vice president under Obama, a target of environmental groups and youth activists ahead of next year's primary elections.

Sunday Independent

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