Global Plastics Treaty: Draft slated for November

The UN’s second round of negotiations on a legally-binding Global Plastics Treaty to confront plastic pollution concluded last Friday (2 June) with an agreement between more than 165 countries to publish a first draft by November 2023.

Plastic pollution
Image credit: Nick Fewings (Unsplash License)
The draft Global Plastics Treaty will be drawn up by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) Chair and Secretariat ahead of the next round of negotiations (INC-3) – to be held in Nairobi in November.

This round of negotiations (INC-2) began on 29 May in Paris, with the aim to have completed negotiations by 2024 – putting an end to further plastic pollution by 2040.

A Global Plastics Treaty

The process to define a Global Plastics Treaty first began in February 2022 during the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) when the commitment to create an international legally binding instrument was agreed upon.

It is currently predicted that by 2040, ocean plastic will have increased threefold, with current efforts only slowing this increase by seven per cent.

The first round of negotiations (INC-1) occurred in Uruguay between 28 November and 2 December 2022. INC-2 discussed the resulting ‘options paper’ from last year’s discussions. It features possible obligations, with options for both legally binding and voluntary measures that address the full life cycle of plastics.

Negotiations ‘plagued by disputes’

However, the discussions were described as ‘plagued by disputes’, with a heavy emphasis on the voting system used in the negotiations rather than the substance of the future treaty.

Countries are split into multiple camps. The informal ‘High Ambition Coalition To End Plastic Pollution’ was created in August 2022 and includes 20 countries, such as Britain, Canada, France, and Germany. The coalition is advocating for a treaty which includes global standards, bans, and restrictions on plastic. Reuters revealed last year that the US is likely to oppose such an approach, preferring an approach that keeps the focus on the individual efforts of countries rather than setting universal rules.

Campaign groups and NGOs have accused countries – such as Saudi Arabia – as having ‘vested interests’ and as having been lobbied by companies that profit from plastic production and the use of fossil fuels.

Plastic pollution as a global issue

Plastic pollution comes with a host of issues to human and environmental health. It is also partly responsible for some of the greatest effects tangibly being seen from climate change.

Tearfund estimates that 218 million people – amounting to three per cent of the world’s population – are at significant risk of further severe flooding aggravated by plastic which clogs drainage systems and water-borne diseases such as cholera.

A further concern highlighted during negotiations is that recycling is likely not the solution. Research in Scotland has found that mechanical recycling may result in a release of between six to 13 per cent of incoming plastic waste into microplastics. Despite filtration measures, wastewater from the studied recycling plant was found to contain as much as 75 billion microplastic particles per cubic meter, amounting to 3 million pounds of microplastics released annually.

Dr Tiwonge Gawa, Activist and Tearfund campaigner in Malawi, commented: “In Malawi, we see burning and dumping of plastic waste every day, harming people’s health and increasing the risk of flooding. These negotiations have shown that change is coming, but it will not come easily.

“There are some who profit from this plastic crisis and want to keep ambition as low as possible. But citizens around the world are demanding change, and many governments are listening, recognising that justice for those most affected must be a core part of this treaty.”

Sian Sutherland, Co-Founder of A Plastic Planet and PlasticFree, added: “With so much frustration around Paris, disquiet regarding obstructive member states and not-so backroom petro-lobbying, I believe that the gathering marks a turning point.

“The decision to bracket Clause 38, demonstrates a willingness to advance the dialogue and find common ground. This move signifies the commitment of participating nations to now move forward to a zero-draft Treaty for the next INC in Nairobi before the end of the year.

“I hope in the remaining INC gatherings leaders are empowered to listen to science and remove their foot from the brake which has hampered progress up until this point. As stated by the Plastic Health Council and a vast cross-section of stakeholders, the human health crisis spawning from plastic should be the catalyst for the utmost urgency in taking decisive action on this insidious form of pollution.

“The time has come for nations to unite, set aside their differences, and forge a path toward a sustainable future that safeguards both the health of humanity and the planet. Lasting action will require meaningful negotiation, I hope that this will be the case in the near future.”

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