Stockholm (NordSIP) – The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2), took place last week at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. INC-2 is the second in a series of meetings expected to culminate in a global agreement by the end of 2024, as stipulated in United Nations Environment Assembly resolution 5/14. The objective is to tackle the plastic waste crisis on the same level as climate change and biodiversity, with similar targets and guidelines for institutional investors on the horizon.
A small step towards a plastics treaty
Today June 5, 2023 is the UN-sponsored World Environment Day, with a special emphasis on plastic pollution. Unfortunately, there has at best been a muted response to the outcome of INC-2, which involved more than 1,700 delegates in discussions spanning 5 days. The only tangible result was a mandate for the INC Chair and secretariat to begin preparing a “zero draft” agreement for discussion at INC-3, which is scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya between 13 and 17 November 2023. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said: “Plastic has been the default option in design for too long. It is time to redesign products to use less plastic, particularly unnecessary and problematic plastics, to redesign product packaging and shipping to use less plastic, to redesign systems and products for reuse and recyclability and to redesign the broader system for justice. The INC has the power to deliver this transformation, bringing major opportunities for everyone.”
Accusations of dilatory tactics
Members of international campaign group BreakFreeFromPlastic (BFFP) expressed concerns over perceived dilatory tactics aimed at slowing the process down and undermining the eventual global plastics treaty. These included procedural issues such as whether to count the Europen Union (EU) as one bloc vote or whether to allow individual member states a vote each. At first, registered members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were also reportedly excluded from the INC-2 proceedings. It was only following a joint protest outside the conference venue that NGO members, civil society representatives, scientists, Indigenous Peoples and Global South advocates were readmitted to the negotiations. Ana Rocha, Director of the Global Plastics Program, GAIA (Tanzania), said: ““INC-2 hosted at least 190 industry lobbyists, who used their access and infinite resources to promote tech-fixes like chemical ‘recycling’ and plastic credits, while fenceline communities, waste pickers, indigenous peoples, youth, and other members of civil society most impacted by plastic pollution had very limited opportunity to hold the mic.”
The bulk of the work lies ahead
There were some positive signs of potential future progress, with the EU joining several other individual nations in calling for global plastic production reduction targets, stringent reporting obligations, action on microplastics and the incorporation with the draft treaty of references to human rights to sustainable livelihoods and a clean environment. Nevertheless, there was considerable alarm at some nations’ calls for weaker reduction targets and an excessive emphasis on downstream measures such as recycling. Delegates also reported unproven plastic offsetting being promoted at industry-sponsored INC-2 side events.
Supranational organisations and the scientific community have made is abundantly clear that the climate, biodiversity and plastics crises must be addressed with the utmost urgency. It remains to be seen whether the UN-convened decision-making structures that have been put in place are fit for purpose in that respect. INC-3 is shortly followed in November 2023 by the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP28) in Dubai, with the biodiversity-focused COP16 scheduled to take place next year in Türkiye. NordSIP will continue reporting on developments as these crucial international discussions progress.