The Global Plastics Treaty negotiations ended on a precarious note

Pacific Environment and Break Free From Plastic members worldwide respond to the main high and low points after a week of negotiations
Date: June 2, 2023

Paris, France (June 2, 2023) – The second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) for a global agreement to end plastic pollution concluded today at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with civil society organizations appealing to governments not to allow the use of dilatory tactics and procedural questions to set back progress and lower the ambition of the potential treaty.

Xuan Thi Quach, Vietnam Country Director at Pacific Environment and leader of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance said, “It is shameful that many countries sought to delay the progress of negotiations. And most major primary plastics-producing countries blamed plastic pollution on mismanagement — but plastic pollutes throughout its life cycle causing serious harm to people, animals and the environment.”

According to the mandate adopted at the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in 2022, countries have until the end of next year (2024) to hammer out the terms of the legally binding agreement. While some progress was achieved in Paris, half of the INC-2 session was mired in meandering debates around the Rules of Procedure.

The outstanding issues include whether EU Member States will each have a vote or whether they will be treated as a single bloc during voting, and whether decisions should only be arrived at via consensus. A consensus-only process could harm the chance for strong measures to reduce plastic production. Countries agreed to an interpretive statement on rule 38.1 (the adoption of decisions by a two-thirds majority as a last resort if every effort to reach consensus has been exhausted), but civil society groups predict that the “provisional” draft Rules of Procedure could come up again at INC-3 and again eat up precious negotiation time.

Positive outcomes included some countries, including Rwanda, Ecuador, Mexico, Senegal, New Zealand, the European Union, and others calling for global reduction targets on plastic production, calling for disclosure obligations akin to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, applying the precautionary principle when addressing microplastics, recognizing the need for human rights to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and for a just transition to safer and more sustainable livelihoods for workers across the plastics supply chain.

There were many concerning outcomes as well. Some countries continued to promote chemical recycling, which releases toxins and greenhouse gases and is not proven at scale, and many countries were still predominantly focused on recycling and managing plastic pollution  downstream. In addition, there was little discussion during the negotiation of the treaty about the climate impacts of plastics, though plastic is sourced from fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases throughout its life cycle.

Xuejing Chen, Plastics Campaign Manager at Pacific Environment said, “Treaty negotiators need to better understand the science and climate impacts from plastics. To keep emissions from the plastics life cycle aligned with the 1.5 degree temperature change target, at least, 75% of plastics must be reduced by 2050. The treaty won’t be successful without a control target on Reduction.”

Leading up to the negotiations in Paris, registered and accredited non-governmental participants were provided with conflicting information about being allowed inside the negotiation rooms or even the venue where discussions were held. After a peaceful solidarity action outside the UNESCO campus and calls from governments for broader participation, meaningful access to the negotiations was finally allowed for registered representatives of civil society, scientists, Indigenous Peoples, Global South advocates, and other rights-holders. The industry, however, continues to have a large presence during the negotiations.

Industry interference in the negotiations is concerning because the global plastics crisis continues to be driven by ever-increasing production of plastics and, if left unchecked, can only escalate and worsen the major planetary threats the world faces today, including the climate emergency, serious biodiversity loss, unprecedented toxics, and microplastic pollution, all with profound implications on human health and human rights.

“The Global Plastics Treaty is a once in a lifetime opportunity to end plastic pollution, for our health, our planet, and for our children,” said Kristen McDonald, Pacific Environment. “But to be effective we need a binding treaty that actually reduces plastic. We hope all nations will rise to the occasion to solve our plastic pollution crisis which means looking at the source of the problem — the plastics and petrochemical industry,”

In terms of future INC venues, country delegates agreed to host the INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya, in November, INC-4 in Ottawa, Canada, in April or May 2024, and INC-5 in the Republic of Korea in October or November 2024.

Pacific Environment is a member of the Break Free From Plastic Network. Break Free From Plastic members react to the end of the Plastics Treaty INC-2:

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. If we are to achieve a strong plastics treaty, Member States must listen to and represent their people, not the very industry that is profiting from this crisis.”

Jane Patton, Plastics and Petrochemicals Campaign Manager, Center for International Environmental Law (USA and Switzerland), said: 

“Advocates have effectively raised the alarm on the full breadth and depth of the plastics crisis, and this INC is hearing our calls–even as we were forced to demand our proper access to this week’s deliberations. I am awed by the 200 civil society and rightsholding experts from dozens of countries that came together in Paris this week to call out false solutions, resist silencing, and demand just solutions. The work of the next six months is crucial: Countries will be negotiating a draft of a potential treaty before the end of the year, and civil society and rightsholders must continue to claim our rightful place in those discussions. We will not be sidelined or silenced, especially as those with a vested interest in producing ever more plastics continue their desperate attempts to pursue new markets while obscuring the obvious impacts of this crisis. Every hour wasted on false, end-of-pipe solutions is another hour that families breathe in the toxic air pollution from plastic production and waste.”

Swathi Seshadri, Institute for Critical Action Centre in Movement (CACIM), (India), said: 

“Major fossil fuel and petrochemical producing countries stonewalled the negotiations from the start, delaying substantive negotiations by opposing a democratic decision-making process, which many of these supposedly thriving democracies uphold in their own countries. None of these countries’ opening statements even mentioned the reduction of production and consumption of polymers. Despite several calls for keeping polluters out of the negotiations, representatives of over 190 corporations, including major polluters like Total Energy and Coca-Cola, registered to participate. This is a clear conflict of interest and a furthering of the state-industry complex. If we are to see a treaty truly reflecting UNEA’s 5/14 resolution, member countries need to stop playing second fiddle to the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry and truly own their role as representatives for the millions of people they represent. Member countries need to stop aligning with the interests of corporate greed and start ensuring a healthy environment for all.”

John Chweya, President of Kenya Waste Pickers Welfare Association (Kenya), said:

“This Treaty cannot be just if it does not center the voices and needs of the most vulnerable workers in this value chain, especially those in informal and cooperative settings. The world has a historical debt to waste pickers and has yet to recognize the expertise we’ve acquired since the origins of waste. The Treaty should set the conditions for a fair, equitable, and inclusive transition for our communities. This would include integrating us into all systems to collect, sort, transport, and add value to recyclables; and working with us as partners in design throughout this entire process.”

Aline Maigret, Director of Policy for Zero Waste Europe (Belgium), said:

It is unfortunate that certain countries haven’t been able to overcome their national interests and are either derailing negotiations or solely focusing on waste management issues. Others, however – the EU included – seem to acknowledge our limited plastic budget. Indeed, it will be critical that most single-use plastic will need to be phased out and replaced with non-disposable options. For packaging, this means replacing single-use with prevention and reuse options. Hence the need for the Plastics Treaty to properly define reuse, put forward binding reuse targets, develop guidance and standards for reuse packaging and ensure financial support for the construction of reuse infrastructure.

Yuyun Ismawati, Founder of Balifokus (now Nexus 3) and convenor of the Indonesian Zero Waste Alliance (Indonesia), said:

Plastic offsetting and other false solutions pose a real threat to the plastics treaty negotiations process. We have seen many consumer-facing businesses commit to reducing their use of plastic packaging. Yet, this week, the INC-2 negotiations have shown how the same companies promoting these schemes are given space to influence the talks. Future discussions must focus on real solutions that genuinely tackle the source of the plastic pollution crisis. A real reduction in plastic production, combined with a redesign of packaging that focuses on toxics-free materials, will prevent plastics from ending up in landfills or being burned and poisoning communities.

Rafael Eudes, Steering Committee Member of Zero Waste Alliance Brazil and Break Free From Plastic Youth Ambassador (Brazil), said:

“The plastics produced today are the crisis of a future generation. The youth did not create this issue, but we will live with most of the impacts of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss, and pollution. We can no longer accept countries delaying the plastics treaty’s progress. We demand a strong and agile plastics treaty, created together by the youth and leaders around the world without interference by corporations with conflicts of interests.”

Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), said: 

“The actions of oil producers and the fossil fuel industry in the negotiations make it clear they intend to delay and water down the treaty, an unacceptable move given the urgency and gravity of the plastic and climate crises which has brought about serious impacts on people and ecosystems across the world but especially in the Global South. To adequately address these problems and move the world away from its plastic addiction and fossil fuel dependence, the Global Plastics Treaty must tackle plastic production head-on. We cannot allow the interests of the few to delay progress and weaken this instrument.  A treaty that does not include reducing plastic production will fail to end plastic pollution and protect people and our planet.”

Satyarupa Shekhar, Asia Pacific Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic (India), said: 

“We cannot lose sight of the urgency to act now and act decisively. To eliminate plastic pollution, the treaty must include provisions to freeze and phase down plastic production. We must not allow polluters and fossil fuel interests to delay, derail and distract us from the mandate of the INC. The continued fixation on voluntary measures, recycling, and the promotion of false solutions like plastic offsetting, waste-to-energy, and so-called ‘chemical recycling’, only serve to delay and distract us from the need to address the root causes of this crisis.”

Additional reactions from BFFP members and allies (including additional countries) are available here.


Notes to the editor

About Pacific Environment Pacific Environment is a global environmental organization that protects communities and wildlife of the Pacific Rim. We support communities to address climate change, protect the oceans, and move away from fossil fuels toward a green economy.

About BFFP #BreakFreeFromPlastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,700 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain – from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.

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