India Pollution, COP28 and Plastics Treaty are all Intertwined

Image by Mark Harpur.

The citizens of New Delhi were faced with unimaginable levels of pollution recently when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reached an unimaginable and whopping 999 (between 0-50 is considered “good”).

Across the Arabian Sea, in Kenya, a UN-led meeting on plastic pollution failed to reach a consensus supposedly after oil-producing countries placed obstacles to prevent agreements. No international, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution exists and it is the job of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics to achieve such an agreement.

An AP report notes that the world “produces more than 430 million tons of plastic
annually, and two thirds of that are products that are disposed of soon after use, becoming waste and, often getting into the human food chain, according to the United Nations. Global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Plastics are often made from oil, or other planet-warming fossil fuels.”

Toward the end of the month, approximately 70,000 people are expected to descend upon Dubai’s Expo City including activists, global leaders, negotiators, climate advocates, industry representatives, and diplomats from numerous countries.

For 13 days beginning Nov. 30, thousands of people will debate the failures and successes to date of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

India’s severe pollution problem as well as plastic production and waste are all part of the growing global crisis and COP28 is meant to address these very issues.

The main discussion at the conference will almost certainly focus on further plans to cut the use of fossil fuels and how wealthy nations will assist poorer nations suffering from the effects of global warming.

But some people believe this is not enough and more forceful action must be taken to convince people that more needs to be done.

The populist rage and backlash in Europe over government policies has seen protestors pour onto the streets of Britain. Just Stop Oil, a British activist group opposed to new U.K. fossil fuel projects, has protested vehemently in order to raise public awareness and combat climate change on a grassroots level.

In 2015, at COP21, more than 190 countries approved the Paris Agreement which was aimed at limiting global warming to an ambitious 1.5 degrees.

This year’s conference is not without controversy. CNN reported that “the backlash to this year’s host — the United Arab Emirates — has been particularly sharp; not only is the UAE a major oil-producing nation, it has also appointed a top fossil-fuel executive as its COP president. Critics say it’s a conflict of interest to have Sultan Al Jaber, the head of the UAE’s national oil company, taking charge of the most important climate conference of the year. In facing that criticism, the UAE has embarked on a major campaign to boost its green credentials ahead of the summit…”

Heads of states and governments will deliver speeches at the start of the summit and more than 160 member nations, including the UK, France, Germany and Japan, have confirmed their attendance.

Perhaps the highest-profile attendees will be King Charles III, who will deliver an address at the summit’s opening ceremony, and Pope Francis, who will be the first pontiff to attend a COP. At the moment, it appears US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping will not be attending.

The excitement over the potential of COP28 may be there but the expectations among delegates are still low. And they are not the only ones worried about another climate conference going nowhere.

On Monday, the UN Environment Programme tweeted on X, “As the world gears up for #COP28, a climate reality check reveals worrying trends. UNEP will be in Dubai to showcase solutions and advocate for a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.”

It is true that last year’s climate conference, COP27 at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh,
closed with a breakthrough agreement to provide loss and damage funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by floods, droughts and other climate disasters.

But this is only one step of many that must be taken to mitigate the crisis. The crucial steps include reducing greenhouse emissions and moving away from fossil fuels to green energy.

One of the greatest producers of plastics, China, is not yet fully on board to tackle the climate crisis, and India, the next greatest polluter on Earth, is also not
prepared to deal with this issue head-on. Of all nations, it is these two that must be fully aware of the crisis as their cities are literally blanketed in dangerous levels of smog and pollution.

At the same time, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met recently in San Francisco and published a joint statement in which they pledged to commit to results at COP28.

“The United States and China recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world,” the statement said. “They will work together… to rise up to one of the greatest challenges of our time for present and future generations of humankind.”

Hopefully, COP28 will yield satisfactory results and we will begin to see the slow move towards a greener and healthier planet.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.