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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Negotiations for Global Plastics Treaty 4th meeting in Ottawa conclude setting intercessional work for a Bridge to Busan.

Photo Credit: Ottawa march for a Plastics Treaty coutesy FoEI via X

The United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Global Plastics Treaty is holding its fourth meeting in Ottawa, Canada from 23–29 April 2024 to prepare a treaty by the end of 2024. Global Plastics pollution is an escalating Crisis that interlinks with the Biodiversity Crisis and Climate Crisis. The Health and environmental impacts of plastics, microplastics and nanoplastics are of increasing concern as more research is done. (See Background Science).

The process for a Global Plastics Treaty was started in March 2022 at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2). See my reports of INC1, INC2, INC3.

A Zero Draft of the treaty has been prepared with elements of both common rules for all parties, and a nationally driven policy framework, and many procedural issues still to sort out. Australia is a member of the High Ambition Coalitionto End Plastics Pollution, which put out this joint Ministerial statement before INC4. 

UNEP INC4 website | CIEL INC4 preparatory work | Break Free From Plastic News | 
IPEN | Minderoo Foundation

INC4 wrapped up with some progess made, decision on intercessional work covering several issues but excluding polymer production and reducing production, and kicking the big decisions on plastics regulation down the road. The failure of the High Ambition Coalition to speak up and push more strongly for more ambition by including more in intercessional work at the last plenary is a lost opportunity that may knobble ambition in the treaty that results.

The next negotiation meeting - INC5 - is due in November in Busan, South Korea.

29 April - Day 7

Media on INC4 outcomes:

The Guardian: Developed countries accused of bowing to lobbyists at plastic pollution talks

AP News: At plastics treaty talks in Canada, sharp disagreements on whether to limit plastic production

Zero Waste Europe: Global Plastics Treaty – another brick in the wall?

UNEP media release: Road to Busan clear as negotiations on a global plastics treaty close in Ottawa

Comments on the final day and hours of negotiations:

Negotiations wrapped up at 3.17 am local time in Ottawa with the call from the dais: “Plastics may last forever, but this INC should not!”.

Miko AliƱo (@mikoalino) commented on X: "The bridge getting to an ambitious #PlasticsTreaty became much more challenging after #INC4 delegates chose to exclude production reduction measures from intersessional work – a compromise that ignores the full plastics life cycle, contrary to the UNEA Resolution 5/14 mandate."

Earth Negotiations Bulletin (@IISD_ENB) commented on X: "Despite a growth of brackets and new text when #INC4 was meant to streamline, there were some signs of #PlasticTreaty progress, such as agreeing to set a legal drafting group to ensure the text of the new instrument on #plasticpollution is legally sound."

Greenpeace Canada summarised the outcome in a statement highlighting the failure in the High Ambition Coalition (that includes Canada, Australia) to push more strongly for "inclusion of any reference to plastic production or polymers in intersessional work, despite strong support by various countries, scientists and civil society groups. While Canada supported in principle a proposal from Rwanda to add a reduction of production in the intersessional work, the country and various other high ambition coalition governments did not push for it  in the final plenary, resulting in a compromised outcome."

Graham Forbes, Greenpeace Head of Delegation to the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations and Global Plastics Campaign Lead at Greenpeace USA, said:

“The world is burning and member states are wasting time and opportunity. We saw some progress, aided by the continued efforts of states such as Rwanda, Peru, and the signatories of the Bridge to Busan declaration in pushing to reduce plastic production. However, compromises were made on the outcome which disregarded plastic production cuts further distancing us from reaching a treaty that science requires and justice demands. People are being harmed by plastic production every day, but states are listening more closely to petrochemical lobbyists than health scientists. Any child can see that we cannot solve the plastic crisis unless we stop making so much plastic. The entire world is watching, and if countries, particularly in the so-called ‘High Ambition Coalition’, don’t act between now and INC5 in Busan, the treaty they are likely to get is one that could have been written by ExxonMobil and their acolytes.

“We are heading towards disaster and with time running out – we need a Global Plastics Treaty that cuts plastic production and ends single-use plastic. There is no time to waste on approaches that will not solve the problem.”

Break Free from Plastics in a statement -  INC-4 negotiating countries fail to respond to the magnitude of the plastics crisis - also highlighted the non-inclusion of plastics production in intercessional work as a lost opportunity making the achievement of an ambitious treaty more difficult:

"Today’s decision to exclude upstream measures from the intersessional work means it will be more daunting to include extraction or production reduction measures under the ambit of the draft plastics treaty. This compromise diminishes the ambition of this process as it ignores the central role of plastics production in fueling the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises. This is not only an utter disappointment, but also a missed opportunity to tackle the root causes comprehensively." 

Indian based NGO Centre for Financial Accountability (@cfa_ind) did a thread summary of outcomes on X:

"The fourth meeting of the INC for a global agreement to end plastic pollution concluded on April 29 after a plenary full of huddles and the regrettable decision to not include discussions on primary plastic polymers in the intersessional work. "

"Countries decided to move forward with intersessional work on the financial mechanism, as well as on plastic products, chemicals of concern in plastic products, product design, reusability, and recyclability."

"Member States agreed to include observers’ participation during this work. They also decided to create a legal drafting group that will conduct a legal review of the text and provide recommendations to the plenary. "

"The exclusion of upstream measures from intersessional work, however, weakens the plastics treaty's scope. Ignoring plastics production's impact on climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises undermines comprehensive solutions."

"This compromise diminishes ambition and highlights the need for holistic solutions. It's not just disappointing; it's a severe setback in our efforts to combat the plastic pollution crisis." 

WWF said in a statement while progress had been made, most of the big decisions that determine how ambitious the treaty will be are still to be made:

“Countries have made important progress in Canada with constructive discussions on what the treaty will actually do, but the big decisions still remain: will we get the strong treaty with common global rules that most of the world is calling for, or will we end up with a voluntary watered-down agreement led by least common denominator values?

"Negotiators need to recognise that plastic pollution is an accelerating global crisis that cannot be solved with fragmented national approaches. Governments must now employ all possible means to step up progress between the meetings on measures that will have the biggest impact on addressing plastic pollution across plastic’s full lifecycle, in particular, global bans on high-risk products and chemicals, global product design requirements and a robust financial package to secure a just transition,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead, WWF International.

IISD/ENB noted the Conference outcomes in Highlights and images for 29 April 2024:

During the closing plenary, INC Chair Luis Vayas Valdivieso (Ecuador) proposed, and delegates agreed to establish a legal drafting group to ensure legal clarity in the text of the future agreement. The Committee also established two intersessional expert groups to:

develop an analysis of potential sources and means that could be mobilized, for implementation of the objectives of the instrument, including options for the establishment of a financial mechanism, alignment of financial flows, and catalyzing finance; and 

identify and analyze criteria and non-criteria based approaches with regards to plastic pollution and chemicals of concern in plastic products and product design, focusing on recyclability and reusability of plastic products and their uses and applications.

During the course of the day, delegates had considered and modified the streamlined parts of the Revised Draft Text (PDF), on issues related to just transition, the preamble, objective, scope, and the principles that will govern the new agreement, as well as the technical issues to be addressed in the future instrument. 

Global Alliance Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Global South media conference (Starts 11 mins in):

Europe proposes to adjourn INC4 and hold an INC4.2 to further work

Delphine Levi Alvares (@delphinelevialv) comments on X At 2.16 am, "EU proposes to adjourn rather than close #INC4 and hold an INC4.2 to continue the work. GCC countries are obviously saying no. The group of 'like-minded countries' is brought up again and still has not disclosed who is part of it... Are they ashamed of working together?"

Earth Negotiations Bulletin (@IISD_ENB) on X: "Delegates at #INC4 discuss a European Union, proposal calling for additional time for negotiations before INC-5, calling to adjourn INC-4 and resume the work to identify common areas and landing spots before November 2024. "

Rwanda and Peru propose 40% by 2040 plastics production reduction target

Rwanda and Peru submitted a conference room paper calling for a compilation report of scientific and technical information on sustainable levels of consumption and production of primary plastic polymers, and an open-ended working group to consider options for primary plastic polymers including the implication of no option.

"The science tells us that current and projected levels of plastic consumption and production are unsustainable and far exceed our waste management and recycling capacities. Moreover, these levels of production are also inconsistent with the goal of ending plastic pollution and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees." said a Rwanda statement on intercessional work.

A motion submitted by Rwanda and Peru sets out a global reduction target, ambitiously termed a “north star”, to cut the production of primary plastic polymers across the world by 40% by 2040, from a 2025 baseline. 

It says: “The effectiveness of both supply and demand-side measures will be assessed, in whole or in part, on their success in reducing the production of primary plastic polymers to sustainable levels.” (Guardian

The motion was supported by 29 countries including Australia, Denmark, Nigeria, Portugal, the Netherlands and Nigeria, who signed a declaration, “the Bridge to Busan”, calling on all delegates to ensure plastic production was addressed.

Final Plenary Video: 

28 April - Day 6

The IISD/ENB In the Corridors informal summary of Sunday's negotiation report:

Delegates arriving for the penultimate day of official negotiating time for INC-4 hunkered down, with some Subgroups spending considerable time validating streamlined texts, while others proceeded with line-by-line negotiations. Discussions had become heated in one group late Saturday evening, with some delegations noting that their considerations did not appear in the streamlined text. “Any discussions on polymers goes beyond the mandate of the INC,” charged one delegation, noting that they had made strong calls to delete that part of the text, and were concerned that it was still reflected in the Co-Facilitators’ streamlined text. In response, another delegate stated that “we must be able to discuss polymers in order to consider the full lifecycle of plastic.”

As delegates worked through the text, it was sometimes difficult to see the shape the future instrument will eventually take. “There are so many no-text options, the final document may just be one page,” joked one delegate. Others were encouraged by the proposals for intersessional work, although how to fit all the potential issues to consider into the six months before INC-5 will be challenging.

The heavy sighs among participants were palpable in the hallways and contact group rooms as many realized the sheer amount of work they will need to get through before the end of 2024. What will the output of INC-4 be? How useful will it be for their deliberations at INC-5? Will a foundation of convergence on key concerns among delegations be possible to advance an agenda leading to a robust ILBI on plastic pollution? While the somber mood spoke volumes, the path towards candid textual negotiations offered a glimmer of hope.

27 April - Day 5

The IISD/ENB In the Corridors informal summary of Saturday's negotiation report:

As the energy waned in the halls of the Shaw Center in Ottawa, delegates slogged through the Revised Zero Draft to make headway on narrowing down the options, thereby streamlining the text.

Spending a considerable amount of time during the day addressing issues of finance, the testy discussion about breaking the traditional approach to financing, that developed countries should pay, has reared its head over the past few days. If all countries are responsible for plastic pollution in the environment, all countries pay to clean it up, correct? And what about historical responsibility? Should we compel the plastics industry to pay for plastic waste generated further down the plastics value chain? Delegations grappled with these questions, as one delegate reminded others that to effectively implement the new treaty, every cent, from every source, will count.

In the corridors, and behind closed doors, many participants were involved in fevered conversations about the status of the Draft and the nature and magnitude of intersessional work ahead. “They’ve spent so much time streamlining the text that we really may not get to the heart of the textual negotiations at this meeting,” lamented one worried observer. One participant said that “at this stage, we don’t know if we are taking one step forward and two steps back, or two steps forward and one step back.” On intersessional work, one delegate was overheard saying, “this cannot be a repeat of Nairobi… the earlier we hear what is planned, the sooner we can agree.” One seasoned delegate, commenting on the sheer volume of work remaining, wondered if INC-4 would benefit from “one additional day of negotiations.” A plenary scheduled for Sunday may give additional guidance.

26 April - Day 4

The IISD/ENB In the Corridors informal summary of Friday's negotiation report:

On a Friday that felt like a Wednesday, delegates continued streamlining the Revised Draft Text. Many were excited to discuss the issue related to fishing gear in a joint Subgroup, with some being reminded that the issue of marine litter was what kickstarted the global discussions on marine plastic which grew into these negotiations towards a plastic pollution treaty. A seasoned delegate expressed optimism that “consensus was likely achievable,” hoping that an “easy win” could infuse the rest of the process with much needed energy. But what initially appeared to be a low-hanging fruit proved to be rather more complex, with developing countries wondering who would pay for the artisanal fishing industries to obtain alternative, biodegradable fishing gear.

In the morning, some were surprised to see the daily program showing three contact groups meeting in parallel. The schedule remained fluid, with some delegates arriving in the right rooms at the wrong time, and others missing out on short sessions altogether. “My delegation cannot be in three different places at the same time, didn’t we agree we wouldn’t do that?” complained one delegate.

Meanwhile, rumors were circulating about the possibility of a resumed INC-4 (INC-4.2) that could be convened prior to INC-5. In hushed conversations, some delegations shared that convening a “jamboree” would not be as effective as holding structured intersessional talks, targeted at the most contentious issues that remain on the agenda. Unfortunately, the late-night plenary did not shed more light on the status of intersessional work.

What is abundantly clear is that delegates will have their hands full for the rest of the meeting, with three meetings running in parallel to get through another reading of the text.

26 April - Plenary Video:
Debate on whether to proceed with 3 sub-groups running in parallel to speed work in the limited time at INC4. Australia spoke in favour of this. Many small countries have small delegations and would be unable to attend 3 groups in parallel. Chair decides to proceed with two meetings in parallel.with a third stream when exceptional circumstances dictate.

26 April 2024 - Canada's First Nation declares emergency due to excessive chemicals emission (Yahoo News)

26 April 2024, Greenpeace ramps up pressure on UN delegates to cut plastic production, by delivering a “Global Plastics Factory” outside the Shaw Centre (Greenpeace)

26 April 2024, Plastics Offsetting project by Danone in Bali called into question 

A plastic offsetting project backed by the food and drink giant Danone has been suspended, following allegations that a recycling facility was built illegally close to a Balinese community and without proper consultation, an Unearthed investigation has found. Danone’s project was set up as an attempt by the French multinational to offset its enormous plastic footprint in Indonesia, and part of its promise to recover more plastic than it uses in the country by 2025. (Greenpeace Unearthed)