Plastic Production: Latest Views from Scientists and the Public

April 16 , 7:00 am 8:00 am EDT

This event, co-organized with Greenpeace, within the framework of the Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues, stresses the importance of globally-binding obligations to reduce plastic production.

Many expert studies continue to be carried out by different bodies to highlight the need for the reduction of plastic production, with a particular focus on the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production as a clear metric to show that we need to reduce production volumes.

In preparation for the next round of negotiations on a legally-binding instrument on plastic pollution, to take place in Ottawa, Canada in April, this event will stress the importance of globally-binding obligations to reduce plastic production.

At this event, Greenpeace will present its newly commissioned global public opinion polling in 19 countries about supporting a strong and ambitious Global Plastics Treaty (GPT) focusing on key questions, including reducing plastic production in line with 1.5°. Other experts  presented other perspectives and data on why production reduction is important, including biodiversity and human health impacts.

On October 31, 75-year-old Diane Wilson, International Monitor Formosa Alliance (IMFA), and hundreds of people around the world launched a hunger strike in solidarity to demand that Formosa Plastics Group and its subsidiaries take action to adequately address the Ha Tinh steel plant’s 2016 industrial pollution disaster. As the environmental toll of industrial pollution globally grows with the size of polluting industries including Formosa Plastics Group, more communities are suffering from the ecological, health, and social injustices of being targeted for polluting infrastructure and activities. 

IMFA co-founder Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimp boat captain who has spent more than 30 years documenting Formosa Plastics Group’s pollution, led the hunger strike in front of Gate 3 of the Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort, Texas, throughout November. IMFA is an international alliance representing human rights, peace, justice, environmental, and commercial fishing organizations that seeks justice for victims of Formosa’s industrial pollution in Vietnam—and beyond. Following the 30-day strike, the 24/7 encampment inspired by Wilson’s leadership continues to be occupied indefinitely in the same spot by activists calling for change. IMFA was established last year by Wilson of San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, with Nancy Bui of Justice for Formosa Victims, and Sharon Lavigne of Rise St. James, largely to rally behind Vietnamese fisherpeople’s quest for justice.

Formosa Plastics Group is a Taiwan-founded industrial conglomerate currently operating in eight countries and nearly 100 companies, including many heavy industries such as petrochemicals, plastics, and steel. In 2016, the company discharged toxic waste from its steelworks at Ha Tinh, Vietnam, into local waterways. This disaster killed huge numbers of fish and other marine animals, hurting the local environment impacting more than four million people living across four different provinces of Vietnam. It decimated the livelihoods of more than 179,000 fisherpeople in the region. Formosa even publicly admitted it caused the pollution after scientists revealed the pollution.

As a result of its pollution being brought to light, Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to the Vietnamese government to pay out those impacted—but how it came up with that figure was unclear. What’s more, due to legal loopholes and government collusion, tens of thousands of people received no payment and others received compensation that did not match their losses. More than 7,000 Vietnamese fisherpeople have received no cleanup or compensation from the company, causing elevated rates of unemployment and poverty. Lawsuits calling for action have been dismissed. Those who have called for an independent investigation, oversight, and transparency have been intimidated and harmed, and currently, 24 people remain imprisoned.

Hunger Strike for Justice in Vietnam

Diane Wilson, surrounded by supporters from Houston, TX, and Lake Charles, LA, communities, in front of Formosa Plastics at Point Comfort during her hunger strike kickoff event on October 31, 2023. Photo by IMFA
Diane Wilson, surrounded by supporters from Houston, TX, and Lake Charles, LA, communities, in front of Formosa Plastics at Point Comfort during her hunger strike kickoff event on October 31, 2023. Photo by IMFA

During the hunger strike, which ended on November 30, participants and supporters underscored their demands that Formosa Plastics Group and its subsidiaries take action to adequately address the Ha Tinh disaster, including to

  1. Provide equitable and fair compensation directly to the victims.
  2. Commission an independent inquiry to confirm the cessation of pollution, cleanup of the impacted environment, and restoration of the livelihoods and communities of those affected.
  3. Advocate for the immediate release of all political prisoners associated with the cause.
  4. Cooperate fully with any investigations into Formosa Plastics Group and subsidiaries.

These demands are outlined in an organizational sign-on letter representing more than 7.5 million people that Diane and fellow activists have been hand-delivering to Formosa Plastics daily, which includes the support of major national and international groups, including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth US, the Center for International Environment Law, EarthDay.org, Break Free From Plastic, and many more, including Plastic Pollution Coalition. Company officials have acknowledged receipt of the letter, but there has yet to be any other response. 

Read IMFA co-founder Nancy Bui’s recent letter to Formosa Plastics Group here.

On the 30th day of the hunger strike, Diane Wilson and Nancy Bùi entered the administration office to deliver a 6-point demand letter to Michael River, the Manager of the Formosa Plant at Point Comfort, urging him to forward the letter to the Chairman of Formosa Plastics Group in Taiwan. Photo by IMFA
On the 30th day of the hunger strike, Diane Wilson and Nancy Bùi entered the administration office to deliver a 6-point demand letter to Mike Rivet, Executive Director of Formosa Plastics, TX, at its Point Comfort plant, urging him to forward the letter to the Chairman of Formosa Plastics Group in Taiwan. Photo by IMFA

Following the hunger strike, IMFA’s demands remain unchanged. Activists are calling the latest stage of their campaign #OccupyFormosaPlastics as an encampment is maintained at Formosa’s Point Comfort, Texas, petrochemical and plastics factory. Wilson and other activists have pressed for accountability in Texas, too, where Formosa has faced numerous costly penalties for its pollution, particularly of microplastics, as well as serious explosions, fires, and toxic chemical releases into waterways.

IMFA is a “Vital Alliance”

Father Peter Nguyen Văn Hùng and a group of Vietnamese labor workers in Taiwan protesting to express their support for Diane's hunger strike. Photo by IMFA
Father Peter Nguyen Văn Hùng and a group of Vietnamese labor workers in Taiwan protesting to express their support for the hunger strike. Photo by IMFA

IMFA works to amplify the voices of people facing corporate negligence in Vietnam, Texas, and everywhere else Formosa Plastics Group and other industries have caused serious environmental, health, and human rights issues due to their pollution and practices. The group was formed in 2022 by a leading group of activists facing Formosa in their local communities. 

In March 2019, Nancy Bui of Justice for Formosa Victims brought together a coalition of Vietnamese Americans who traveled to Point Comfort, Texas, to support the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper and Diane Wilson in their lawsuit against Formosa Plastics, Texas, and Formosa Plastics, USA. Later that year, Formosa would pay $50 million, the largest settlement ever won in a Clean Water Act suit filed by an individual, for pollution monitoring and prevention. Bui and Wilson’s collaboration also came about as Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James worked with her community to stop Formosa’s proposed 2,400-acre, $12-billion plastic factory called the “Sunshine Project.” 

Brought together by their activism, Bui, Wilson, and Lavigne advocate for people all over the world who are harmed and threatened by Formosa’s industrial businesses. The company has been accused or found guilty of polluting in every country in which it operates. Unfortunately, Formosa is one of many industrial corporations polluting the planet and, particularly in the most systemically oppressed and underserved communities—particularly those that are rural, poor, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). 

Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop and two priests from the Formosa disaster-affected area protested in front of Formosa Steel Ha Tinh, the site of the 2016 environmental disaster, to show solidarity with the hunger strike. Photo by IMFA
Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop and two priests from the Formosa disaster-affected area protested in front of Formosa Steel Ha Tinh, the site of the 2016 environmental disaster, to show solidarity with the hunger strike. Photo by IMFA

Take Action 

Formosa Plastics is responsible for devastation across the world. In Texas, they illegally released billions of plastic pellets into waterways for years. In Louisiana, they’re trying to build a giant plastics complex in an area so polluted that it’s nicknamed Cancer Alley. And in 2016, a Formosa plant’s toxic release ruined the livelihoods of MILLIONS of people in Vietnam. IMFA and frontline communities need your help to call on Formosa to take responsibility, provide compensation for victims, support the release of prisoners, and clean up its act in Vietnam and beyond. 

Support those speaking out at the front lines at the encampment in Point Comfort. Donate to the encampment here

The fossil fuel industry threatens to sabotage COP28 as United Nations (UN) climate talks open today at Expo City, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There is no shortage of talk about conflicts of interest as industries, investors, and complicit government representatives attend talks where UN delegates are expected to plan a phase down or phase out of industries’ extraction and use of climate-warming oil, gas, and coal.

This, as swift, effective action to address the climate crisis has never been more urgent. COP28 is being held during the hottest year ever recorded, one of destructive storms, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters. It’s clear further delay in implementing the real solutions needed to take effective action on a global, systems scale will only continue to harm people and the planet.

Fossil Fuel Industry Interests Flood COP28

Much public controversy was stirred up well ahead of COP28, starting with the mere fact that the UN talks are being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is one of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels, the main ingredient in plastics and many of plastic’s toxic additives.

What’s more, the appointed presiding host of the talks is the head of Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company), Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. In addition to being hosted by the head of the United Arab Emirates’ biggest oil company, investigations suggest that ahead of the talks, Adnoc was preparing to strike fossil fuel deals with negotiating nations. Two days before COP28, Jaber rejected accusations that the UAE planned to market fossil fuel dealings during the climate talks. 

Also ahead of COP28, fossil-fuel friendly Saudi Arabia was outed for quietly developing a significant global investment plan—the oil demand sustainability program (ODSP)—to drive demand for its oil and gas in developing nations. And we learned the United States has produced record-setting amounts of oil and gas in 2023, and only plans to continue expanding. Meanwhile, global production of plastic is expected to triple by 2060, with fossil fuels increasingly used to make the material due to rules clamping down on fossil fuel uses for combustion.

This is far from the first time industry interests have attempted to take over global climate talks. In the last 15 years, COPs have also been held in fossil-fuel friendly Egypt and Qatar. However, this year’s leadership by a major representative of the fossil fuel industry is unprecedented. Continued and increasing fossil fuel presence at COPs and in other climate change talks is widely viewed as part of the industry’s attempt to avoid regulation.

Future of People and the Planet at Stake

COP has been held annually since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was ratified in 1992. As human-driven climate change intensifies, increasingly warming the Earth and its inhabitants, urgency for solutions grows. 

In addition to potentially negotiating an agreement to phase down or phase out fossil fuels, UN delegates are also expected to finalize the details of a “loss and damage” fund for compensating poorer countries that have been disproportionately harmed by the climate crisis while not having greatly contributed to global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the fund text, in its current form, fails to require wealthy nations to pay into it while also housing the fund in the World Bank, which continues to fund unjust, unhealthy, and damaging coal projects.

This year’s meeting is especially important, as it represents the first Global Stocktake of progress for the 196 UN parties that have agreed to take action to slow global warming. The focus of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially from fossil fuel use and production, in order to stay below the threshold of a 1.5 degree Celsius (or more) rise in average global temperature above pre-industrial times by 2100.

But according to the UN’s own experts, humanity realistically now has only a 14 percent chance of meeting the 1.5 degree target. We are far more likely to see a nearly 3 degrees Celsius rise in average global temperature by the end of the century due to industries’ continued extraction, processing, transportation, storage, use, and sale of fossil fuels. According to scientists, if we exceed 3 degrees of heating, the Earth could pass several catastrophic, deadly, and irreversible tipping points, including mass desertification of rainforests and total melting of ice sheets. This would put the survival of much life on Earth, including human lives, at risk.

Our Allies Speak Out at COP28

Climate experts stress that real solutions to the climate crisis begin with keeping existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We must also address climate-warming greenhouse emissions from major industries such as industrial agriculture, transportation, shipping, and of course production of plastics. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies and some governments continue to hide behind technologically focused fixes like “advanced” recycling of plastics and carbon-capture-storage (CCS), which only perpetuate pollution and injustice, and do not actually diminish human dependence on fossil fuels. 

In a world where limits are increasingly placed on fossil fuel combustion, production of plastics has been identified by industries as an area for continued growth and profits—despite plastics causing widespread harm to people and human rights, wildlife, the planet, and the climate. 

To help communicate key facts and stress the need for urgent, effective action to address the interconnected climate and plastic crises, Plastic Pollution Coalition Executive Advisory Board Member Dr. Michael K. Dorsey, and Youth Ambassadors Xiye Bastida and Sophia Kianni are among some of our allies participating in COP28. In Dubai, on December 7, Youth Ambassador AY Young will host “THE RECHARGE,” a solar-powered music-meets-climate-solutions event with many special guests. In all, the UN estimates more than 70,000 attendees will be present at the talks. 

Though the challenges ahead are great, a growing sense of awareness is driving people to take action. And, as the Dalai Lama pointed out as the talks opened today, there are many inspiring people making the change we need today.

Take Action

We see worrisome signs that the industries, investors, and governments driving the climate crisis are serious about resisting the change they must make to avert the most severe impacts of global warming. Representatives from the U.S. and China—the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters—who plan to attend COP28 include U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. However, absent from the talks are the nations’ Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of the United States and China. 

Despite identifying the climate crisis as a focal point of attention and action, President Biden has allowed the fossil fuel industry to continue to grow under his leadership. You can help show the world that we demand that industries and governments act to protect the environment, and put people before—and not after—profits. Tell the president to stop approving new and expanded petrochemical and plastic facilities to help protect communities from pollution and the climate crisis.

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