France’s Macron urges end to plastic pollution at global talks

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday warned that global plastics pollution was a "time bomb", as diplomats began five days of talks in Paris to make progress on a treaty to end plastic waste.

A plastic bottle on the beach in Plomeur, western France.
A plastic bottle on the beach in Plomeur, western France. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

Representatives of 175 nations with divergent ambitions met at UNESCO headquarters for the second of five sessions with the aim of inking an historic agreement covering the entire plastics life cycle.

Macron urged nations negotiating a world treaty against plastic pollution to put an end to today’s “globalised and unsustainable” production model.

“Plastic pollution is a time-bomb and at the same time already a scourge today,” he said in a video message, in which he called for an end to a system where richer countries export plastic waste to poorer ones.

He added that the first priorities of the negotiations should be to reduce production of fossil-fuel-based plastics and to ban “as soon as possible” the most polluting products like single-use plastics.   

NGOs – as well as representatives of plastics companies and lobbyists, much to the chagrin of environmentalists – will also take part in the negotiations.

READ ALSO: Top court orders French govt to take more climate steps

In February 2022, nations agreed in principle on the need for a legally binding UN treaty to end plastic pollution around the world, setting an ambitious 2024 deadline.

Host country France organised a ministerial summit on Saturday with 60 countries to kick-start the talks.

“If we don’t act now, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans”, said French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.


“Combatting plastic pollution will make our lives easier, both in terms of fighting climate change and in terms of preserving our oceans and biodiversity”, noted Christophe Bechu, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition.

The stakes are high, given that annual plastics production has more than doubled in 20 years to 460 million tonnes, and is on track to triple within four decades.

Two-thirds of this output is discarded after being used once or a few times, and winds up as waste. More than a fifth is dumped or burned illegally, and less than 10 percent is recycled.

But scaling up recycling is not a silver bullet, the head of the UN Environment Programme told AFP.

“It is one of many keys that we will need to make this work,” Inger Andersen said before the talks opened. “We can’t recycle our way out of this mess.”

Policy actions to be debated during the talks include a global ban on single-use plastic items, “polluter pays” schemes, and a tax on new plastic production.

Environmental groups are encouraged global plastics pollution is finally being tackled, but are concerned the treaty may not include targets to reduce overall plastic production.

“There is a consensus on the issues at stake and the will to act”, Diane Beaumenay-Joannet, an advocate at the Surfrider Foundation, told AFP. But “the precise content of the obligations is going to be complicated, particularly as regards reducing production.”

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‘River of mud’ prompts evacuations in northern France

A "river of mud" triggered by a sudden storm flooded dozens of houses in northern France, prompting evacuations, authorities said on Wednesday.

'River of mud' prompts evacuations in northern France

The 20 minute “deluge” hit villages in the east of the Somme département, not far from the border with Belgium, late on Tuesday, local government chief Stephane Haussoulier told AFP.

The storm triggered large mudslides in some places and set loose a “river of mud” in the worst-hit village of Sailly-Laurette, he added.

Sixteen vehicles were swept away at Sailly-Laurette, which is on the banks of the River Somme. Eleven homes were flooded, some roads destroyed and 24 people evacuated, Haussoulier said.

Locals were out Wednesday clearing a thick layer of mud from streets and gardens, an AFP journalist saw.

At least 10 more villages in the eastern Somme were affected by mudslides.

Videos posted to social media showed flows of mud oozing through the streets of several municipalities.

In some places, it completely covered the wheels of cars struggling to make headway.

The flooding “caused material damage to around 100 homes”, the Somme departement’s préfecture said in a statement.

It added that firefighters had responded to 83 calls.

Earlier this month, a 57-year-old woman was killed in a mudslide in Courmelles, around 100 kilometres south of Sailly-Laurette.