Written by Ina Hassan and Gayatri Balasubramanian, Staff Reporters

Ottawa Transition: Formalizing Discussions on Global Plastic Treaty

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) on the global plastics treaty convened in Ottawa from April 23-29, 2024. The meeting signaled a significant turning point in the negotiations.

Discussions transitioned from brainstorming and idea-sharing to the negotiation of treaty language, according to Santos Virgílio, Angola’s chief negotiator. Virgílio expressed frustration over previous meetings, citing wasted time due to prolonged debates. However, he noted a shift in the current discussions, with an advanced draft text of the treaty and an agreement on intersessional work that will take place before the fifth session, INC-5, in November in Busan, South Korea. 

Background

A historical resolution “End plastic pollution: towards an international legally binding instrument (UNEA 5/14) was adopted at the 5th session of the United Nations (UN) environmental assembly in March 2022. The resolution was an acknowledgement of the serious environmental problem globally due to the increasing level of plastic pollution. The resolution mandated the UN Environment Programme Executive Director to gather an INC to create a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution that considers the entire life cycle of plastics. Before INC-4, the previous three meetings (INC-1, INC -2, and INC-3) was conducted towards a global plastics treaty, which could be developed at the end of 2024.

The open-ended working group (OEWG) met in Dakar, Senegal in May 2022 and submitted the draft provisional rules of procedure to the INC. Next to that, to negotiate an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, the member states conducted the first meeting of INC (INC-1) in Punta del Este, Uruguay from 28 November 2022 to 2 December 2022, which necessitated a second meeting of INC (INC-2) in Paris, France from 29 May 2023 to 2 June 2023, during that time it was tasked the chair to prepare the Zero draft of the global plastics treaty prior to INC-3. From November 13 to 19 2023, H.E. Amb. Luis Vayas Valdivieso, Ambassador of Ecuador to the United Kingdom was elected as chairperson of the INC process at the third session of INC (INC-3) in Nairobi, Kenya, and delegated directed the Secretariat to conduct a meeting of INC-4 based on a “revised Zero draft text” (UNEP/PP/INC.4/3) compiled by the secretariat.

Intensive Talks in Ottawa 

With 99% of the plastics derived from fossil fuel Industry and it uses plastics and petrochemical as a lifeline, some members focused on that industry. The negotiations were well attended by industry lobbyists prompting Indigenous representatives and environmental activists voicing concerns about undue industry influence and lack of representation for impacted communities.

Over the course of a week, INC members engaged in intensive discussions focused on a revised draft text of the legally binding instrument, covering a wide range of critical issues. Key topics on the agenda included emissions and releases of plastic throughout its lifecycle, a contentious issue that remains a priority for many nations. Delegates also grappled with the complex question of limiting plastic production, a measure seen as essential by environmental groups but facing opposition from plastic-producing countries and industries.

 Inter-sessional Initiatives and Legal Drafting Group Propel Plastics Treaty

In a significant development, INC members agreed to undertake intersessional work between the official negotiating sessions, with the aim of catalyzing convergence on key issues ahead of INC-5. The intersessional work includes meetings focused on the financial mechanism of the treaty, addressing plastic production, regulating chemicals of concern in plastic products, and improving product design for reusability and recyclability.

INC members also made the decision to establish an Open-ended Legal Drafting Group that will convene for the first time at INC-5. The Group will be serving in an advisory capacity by reviewing elements of the revised draft text to ensure legal soundness and coherence.

The inclusion of intersessional work and the Open-ended Legal Drafting Group demonstrates a commitment by member states to maintain momentum and address critical issues in a structured manner between negotiating sessions,

The final INC-5 meeting is scheduled for November 2024 in Busan, South Korea. At that meeting, we should know if inter-sessional work will facilitate progress and convergence a treaty that actually results in a reduction in plastic pollution.