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Status of the UN Treaty to end Plastic Pollution

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) under the United Nations Environment Programme met in Nairobi for its third round of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution.

More about the news

  • The INC, guided by UNEA Resolution 5/14, aims to deliver a global plastics treaty by 2025. The objective is to end plastic pollution and protect human health and the environment.
  • The Committee discussed the ‘zero draft’ text, which initially contained strong options for a binding treaty. However, during negotiations, core obligations were watered down, particularly related to primary polymer production, chemicals of concern, problematic plastics, trade, and financial mechanisms.

Contentious Issues

  • A group of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Iran, and some Gulf Cooperation Council members, argued for including economic development considerations in the treaty’s objective.
  • Reduction in the production of primary polymers faced opposition, with some arguing it was beyond the scope of the mandate.
  • There were disagreements on the starting point of the plastics lifecycle: whether at raw material sourcing or product design.
  • Opposition to provisions on eliminating compounds of concern, problematic plastics, and a ‘null option’ proposed by a like-minded group.
  • The treaty’s financial mechanism, including a plastic pollution fee and reducing financial flow into high carbon footprint projects, faced opposition from some countries, leading to their deletion from the draft.
  • The bloc opposed restrictions on the trade of polymers, chemicals, plastic products, and waste, citing concerns about national freedom and sovereignty. The WTO rules were cited to argue against trade restrictions.
  • The rules of procedure, debated at INC-2, remained provisional at INC-3. Lack of consensus on decision-making procedures impacted negotiations.
  • The African group and Small-Island Developing States advocated for strong binding provisions, emphasizing human rights and public health perspectives. They supported waste-pickers and Indigenous peoples’ voices.

Challenges

  • The INC-3 did not adopt the mandate to proceed with developing the first draft due to stalling and blocking by some member states. No intersessional work is scheduled before INC-4, hindering progress on definitions, targets, and timelines.
  • Industry influence and opposition from certain member states were evident, revealing challenges in achieving a strong binding treaty to end plastic pollution.
  • Some delegates expressed frustration at the influence of industry and opposition within the Committee, emphasizing the need for collective action and a strong binding treaty to address plastic pollution.

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