UN Global Plastics Treaty: Divergent views on how to stop plastic pollution

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The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) concluded on 20 November 2023, in Nairobi, Kenya, aimed at developing an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in marine environments.

Increased attendance of lobbyists from the fossiel fuel and chemical industries

The session drew participation from more than 1,900 individuals representing 161 countries and over 318 observer organizations. The discussions incorporated input from governments and participants worldwide, totaling more than 500 proposals. However, a closer examination reveals a concerning trend: More than 140 lobbyists from the fossil fuel and chemical industries registered for attendance. This marks a notable 36 % increase compared to the previous session in Paris (RecycleMe reported). Therefore, more lobbyists joined the discussions at the critical phase of the treaty than delegates of the 70 smallest member states participated in the talks.

Groundwork for an international fight against plastic pollution

Based on the Zero Draft presented in September, the discussions aimed to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive international agreement on the fight against plastic pollution. Instead of narrowing down options, the draft expanded, prompting intense discussions during the week-long meeting. The initial draft presented options for reduction targets, including a global approach and nationally determined contributions. Oil-producing countries, however, were impeded in their push for individual nation-focused targets by the High Ambition Coalition, comprising over 60 countries, including major European economies. Delegates proposed options to strengthen global rules throughout the plastic lifecycle. The High Ambition Coalition, led by Rwanda and Norway, aimed for a treaty addressing plastic pollution at every stage, while some oil-producing countries wanted to focus on the end-of-waste phase and the enhancement of waste-management processes. The plastics industry and petrochemical exporters, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, emphasized recycling and re-use whereas countries such as Canada, Kenya, and the EU pressed for limits on plastic production.

Introduction of the Global Coalition for Plastics Sustainability

During the INC-3 negotiations, Iran introduced the formation of the ‘Global Coalition for Plastics Sustainability,’ with Saudi Arabia also acknowledging its formation. The coalition’s mentioned members, including Russia, Bahrain, China, and Cuba, have yet to confirm their involvement publicly. The coalition’s focus solely on waste management, while rejecting upstream solutions, has raised skepticism about its commitment to addressing plastic pollution at its source. Environmental groups, including Break Free from Plastic, expressed concerns on the formation of this group, as those countries are known for hindering progress in the meetings, given these nations’ roles as major fossil fuel producers, contributing to 99% of global plastics.

Contrasting views and no consensus on priorities

With contrasting views on production limits, recycling, and global vs. national measures, the negotiations highlighted the complex task of aligning diverse interests towards a unified global approach to combat plastic pollution.

The meeting ended without a consensus on priorities for intersessional work prior to the next meeting. Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdiviezo (Ecuador) was elected as new Chair for the rest of the INC process.

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