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6th December 2023 (10 Topics)

The Status of the UN treaty to end plastic pollution


Members of a committee met in Nairobi in November to develop an international treaty to end plastic pollution.


International Efforts and the Role of INC:

  • The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), operating under the United Nations Environment Programme, convened in Nairobi from November 13-19 2023 for its third round of negotiations aimed at crafting a global treaty to eradicate plastic pollution by 2025.

Key Milestone:

  • Under UNEA Resolution 5/14, INC's mandate is pivotal in formulating a binding international instrument to combat the pervasive issue of plastic pollution globally.
  • The recent INC-3 gathering was crucial, marking a turning point in the negotiations.

Evaluation of the 'Zero Draft':

  • The 'zero draft,' meticulously prepared by the Committee's Secretariat, initially presented robust options for a binding treaty.
  • However, during negotiations, significant dilutions occurred, particularly in core obligations related to primary polymer production, chemicals of concern, and problematic plastics.

Contentious Issues and Divergent Perspectives:

  • Contentions emerged over the treaty's objective and scope, with a group of nations, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Iran, and some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, advocating for economic considerations by appending a clause on sustainable development.

Industry Influence and Opposition to Production Reduction:

  • Industry influence was evident, with a notable 36% increase in lobbyists from the fossil fuels and chemicals sector. Resistance to discussing a reduction in plastic production underscored thechallenge of aligning economic interests with environmental goals.

Financial Mechanism Debate:

  • The zero draft proposed financial mechanisms, such as a plastic-pollution fee, contested by nations advocating for their deletion.
  • The implications of these provisions extend to potential shifts in fossil-fuel subsidies and investments in environmentally adverse technologies.

Trade Restrictions and Misinterpretation of WTO Rules:

  • A bloc of countriesopposed trade restrictions on polymers, chemicals, and plastics, citing sovereignty concerns.
  • However, analysis by the Centre for International Environmental Law revealed a misinterpretation of WTO rules, suggesting ample scope for such restrictions when vital for health and environmental protection.

INC-3 Outcomes and Stalling Tactics:

  • INC-3 faced challenges in adopting a mandate for developing the first draft of the treaty.
  • Stalling tactics, primarily by like-minded countries, led to a lack of consensus on key provisions, hindering progress.

Implications for Future Negotiations:

  • The inability to reach a consensus on inter-sessional work before INC-4 is a setback, impeding the refinement of definitions, targets, and timelines.
  • The influence of industry and the resistance of certain member states to a robust, binding treaty were laid bare during INC-3.

Way Forward:

  • INC-3 exposed the intricate dynamics in negotiating a global treaty on plastic pollution, emphasizing the need for a delicate balance between environmental imperatives and economic considerations.
  • The journey towards an effective and comprehensive treaty continues, navigating challenges and striving for a collective commitment to combat plastic pollution.

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