UN plastic treaty talks end with mandate for first draft agreement

Plastic waste beach

Following the latest round of UN plastic treaty talks in Paris, participating countries have agreed to develop a first draft of the agreement on plastic pollution by November 2023.

The UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) says there is now a mandate for the INC Chair, with the support of the Secretariat, to prepare a zero draft of the agreement ahead of the next session, due to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023.

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), concluded on Saturday (3 June).

In March last year (2022), Heads of State, Ministers of Environment and other representatives from UN Member States endorsed a resolution at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024. The resolution addressed the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal.

Between 29 May and 2 June, more than 1,700 participants in Paris – over 700 Member State delegates from 169 Member States and 900 observers from NGOs (non-governmental organisations) – attended the session, hosted by France at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris. The second session follows INC-1, which was held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in November 2022.

Plastic has been the default option in design for too long.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), commented: “I am encouraged by progress at INC-2 and the mandate to prepare a zero draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

“I look forward to INC-3 in Nairobi and urge Member States to maintain this momentum. The world is calling for an agreement that is broad, innovative, inclusive and transparent, one that leans on science and learns from stakeholders, and one that ensures support for developing nations.

“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.”

To accelerate circularity, we need to create market pull for circular plastics.

Commenting on the agreement, Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of Plastics Europe, said: “Finding a way to end plastic pollution by 2040 requires urgent and ambitious action. To accelerate circularity, we need to create market pull for circular plastics, the rapid global expansion of collection, sorting and recycling, and create a financing system to support the massive investments required.

“The difficulty of negotiating such an ambitious and important agreement is reflected in the intensity of the discussion to date. It is essential that these negotiations continue with the required urgency if we are to meet the objectives and timeline for the Agreement.

“Therefore, we welcome the decision to mandate UNEP to proceed with drafting a first proposal – the so-called ‘zero draft’ – which will provide a basis for further substantive discussion and negotiation at INC-3.”

How the negotiations unfolded

Eiffel Tower

According to a report by Reuters, the first two days of negotiations were focused on the rules of procedure for the talks; with Saudi Arabia, Russia and China asking for treaty decisions to be adopted by a consensus, where one country could block decisions, rather than by a majority vote.

Following the conclusions of the negotiations, the issue was still a sticking point and will be discussed at the next round of talks.

On the first day of the session, Member States elected Georgia, Estonia, Sweden and the US to the Bureau. Following discussions on voting rights, they also agreed on an interpretive paragraph for the Draft Rules of Procedure that apply on a provisional basis to the work of the INC.

We have no time to lose. Now we have less time to lose.

An informal group of countries made up of EU countries alongside Japan, Chile and island nations, known as the “High Ambition Coalition”, called for global targets to reduce plastic production and pollution, according to Reuters; whereas, countries including the US and Saudi Arabia preferred national plans.

Speaking on behalf of small island nations at the talks on Wednesday, the representative for Samoa, said: “We have no time to lose. Now we have less time to lose.”

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