Australian news, and some related international items

Big oil plans to flood Africa with plastic

Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.  

Faced with plunging profits and a climate crisis that threatens fossil fuels, the industry is demanding a trade deal that weakens Kenya’s rules on plastics and on imports of American trash.  NYT,  By Hiroko TabuchiMichael Corkery and Carlos Mureithi, Aug. 30, 2020

Confronting a climate crisis that threatens the fossil fuel industry, oil companies are racing to make more plastic. But they face two problems: Many markets are already awash with plastic, and few countries are willing to be dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste……..

Last year, Kenya was one of many countries around the world that signed on to a global agreement to stop importing plastic waste — a pact strongly opposed by the chemical industry. Emails reviewed by The Times showed industry representatives, many of them former trade officials, working with U.S. negotiators last year to try to stall those rules.

The industry thinks it has found a solution to both problems in Africa.

According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

Plastics makers are looking well beyond Kenya’s borders. “We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement,” Ed Brzytwa, the director of international trade for the American Chemistry Council, wrote in an April 28 letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The United States and Kenya are in the midst of trade negotiations and the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has made clear he is eager to strike a deal. But the behind-the-scenes lobbying by the petroleum companies has spread concern among environmental groups in Kenya and beyond that have been working to reduce both plastic use and waste.

Kenya, like many countries, has wrestled with the proliferation of plastic. It passed a stringent law against plastic bags in 2017, and last year was one of many nations around the world that signed on to a global agreement to stop importing plastic waste — a pact strongly opposed by the chemical industry.

The chemistry council’s plastics proposals would “inevitably mean more plastic and chemicals in the environment,” said Griffins Ochieng, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development, a nonprofit group based in Nairobi that works on the problem of plastic waste in Kenya. “It’s shocking.”

The plastics proposal reflects an oil industry contemplating its inevitable decline as the world fights climate change. Profits are plunging amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the industry is fearful that climate change will force the world to retreat from burning fossil fuels. Producers are scrambling to find new uses for 

an oversupply of oil and gas. Wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, and governments are weighing new policies to fight climate change by reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

Pivoting to plastics, the industry has spent more than $200 billion on chemical and manufacturing plants in the United States over the past decade. But the United States already consumes as much as 16 times more plastic than many poor nations, and a backlash against single-use plastics has made it tougher to sell more at home……….

The Kenya proposal “really sets off alarm bells,” said Sharon Treat, a senior lawyer at the nonpartisan Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who has worked for more than a decade advising trade talks in both the Trump and Obama administrations. Corporate lobbyists “frequently offer up very specific proposals, which the government then takes up,” she said. ………..

The plastics industry’s proposals could also make it tougher for to regulate plastics in the United States, since a trade deal would apply to both sides.

The records, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by Unearthed, a London-based affiliate of the environmental group Greenpeace, paint a picture of close ties between the trade representatives, administration officials and industry representatives. …………..

Kenya isn’t the only country taking measures to curb plastics. A recent report by the United Nations counted 127 countries with policies on the books to regulate or limit use.

In response, the industry has tried to address the plastics issue. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste — formed by oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as well as chemical companies like Dow — last year pledged $1.5 billion to fight plastic pollution. That figure, critics point out, is a small fraction of what the industry has invested in plastic infrastructure.

Manufacturers “say they will address plastic waste, but we say plastic itself is the problem,” Mr. Ochieng said. “An exponential growth in plastics production is just not something we can handle.”………….

Despite the industry opposition, last year more than 180 countries agreed to the restrictions. Starting next year, the new rules are expected to greatly reduce the ability of rich nations to send unwanted trash to poorer countries. The United States, which has not yet ratified the Basel Convention, won’t be able send waste to Basel member nations at all……

That setback has re-energized industry to seek deals with individual countries to boost the market for plastics, and find new destinations for plastic waste, analysts say.

In Nairobi, local groups are worried. “My concern is that Kenya will become a dumping ground for plastics,” said Dorothy Otieno of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development. “And not just for Kenya, but all of Africa.”


August 31, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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