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HomeNewsDivergent Views on the Advancement of Global Plastic Policies at INC4

Divergent Views on the Advancement of Global Plastic Policies at INC4


At the recent Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) meeting in Canada, which concluded on April 30, there were signs of progress toward a Global Plastics Treaty. This latest session marked a significant shift as negotiators began to discuss the actual text of the proposed treaty, a first in the series of meetings. Although this move from conceptual discussions to concrete treaty language was seen as a positive development by delegates and observers, there still remains contention over whether to implement worldwide restrictions on plastic production. This meeting was the fourth in a series of five planned sessions.


Erin Simon, Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste and Business at WWF-US, highlighted the critical momentum at the INC-4 meeting, emphasizing that the global attention spurred negotiators to make essential yet gradual improvements. These improvements are seen as crucial components for a successful treaty.


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation observed that the potential for progress extended beyond mere incremental steps, noting a stark division among Member States. Some nations backed binding global regulations, while others favored policies tailored to their national contexts. Furthermore, the Foundation pointed out a significant unresolved issue: the lack of consensus on reducing primary plastic polymer production versus primarily focusing on enhancing plastic recycling and waste management.


Rob Opsomer, Executive Lead of Plastics and Finance at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, expressed a collaborative vision with the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty. He emphasized the need for comprehensive strategies that address the entire lifecycle of plastics. This approach aims to phase out unnecessary plastics, foster innovation in materials and business models, and ensure the reuse of plastics that remain in circulation, striving towards a future where plastics do not end up as waste or pollution.


One of the most debated topics in the treaty discussions is the proposal to cap plastic production, which has faced significant resistance from countries and companies involved in plastic manufacturing, as well as oil and gas exporters, given that most plastics derive from fossil fuels and chemicals.


Matt Seaholm, President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), acknowledged the crucial stage of the negotiations. He supports global efforts to eliminate plastic pollution but argued that the focus should not primarily be on halting plastic production.


As the Ottawa negotiations concluded, the committee decided to advance the treaty's development ahead of its concluding session in South Korea later this year.


Simon stressed the urgency of the upcoming final meeting. "Significant efforts are needed before the last negotiation round to achieve an effective, legally binding treaty that meets the expectations of both humanity and the environment," she remarked.


As negotiators prepare for the final session of the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, their focus will be on three key areas: funding the treaty's implementation, evaluating hazardous chemicals in plastic products, and exploring improvements in product design. Despite these topics, Rwanda's delegate expressed concerns that the critical issue of limiting plastic production remains unaddressed, referring to it as the "elephant in the room."


Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, the executive secretary of the committee, emphasized to the Associated Press that the treaty discussions transcend the mere drafting of text or procedural aspects. "This is fundamentally about securing a better future for coming generations and our loved ones," she stated.


Meanwhile, Stewart Harris, representing the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), noted that the industry prefers a treaty centered on enhancing plastic recycling and promoting a circular economy. The ICCA opposes any restrictions on plastic production and the inclusion of chemical regulations in the treaty. Harris commended the collaborative spirit of the governments in agreeing to undertake further work, particularly concerning financial aspects and product design.


At the INC-4 negotiations, the Scientists' Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty played a vital role, offering research on plastic pollution to assist negotiators and counteract misinformation. Bethanie Carney Almroth, an ecotoxicology professor from the University of Gothenburg and co-leader of the coalition, clarified a common misconception reported by the AP. "It's completely incorrect to say there's no data on microplastics; in fact, there are over 21,000 studies on micro and nanoplastics," she stated.


Professor Almroth also highlighted the challenges faced by scientists, including harassment and intimidation by lobbyists. She recounted an incident where a lobbyist confronted her aggressively during the meeting.


Despite these tensions, Walter Schuldt, Ecuador's chief negotiator, emphasized the shared commitment among the countries present to progress in the treaty discussions. He confirmed that all parties are united in their aim to advance the treaty process.


Walter Schuldt, in a poignant interview, emphasized the gravity of the treaty talks: “We’re discussing the future survival of life on this planet—not just human life, but all life forms.” This statement encapsulates the urgency felt during these negotiations.


The treaty process was initiated in December 2022 in Uruguay following a resolution proposed by Rwanda and Peru in March 2022. Since then, discussions have slowly progressed through sessions in Paris and Nairobi, with nations debating procedural rules.


As the Ottawa meeting convened, Luis Vayas Valdivieso, the committee chair from Ecuador, urged the numerous negotiators and observers to strive for a future free from plastic pollution and to set ambitious goals.


The delegates focused on various crucial topics, including the scope of the treaty, chemicals of concern, problematic and unnecessary plastics, product design, and the financial and logistical aspects of implementation. They also managed to streamline the extensive array of options that had accumulated from previous discussions.


Björn Beeler, International Coordinator for the International Pollutants Elimination Network, acknowledged the significant progress made with the drafting of text for negotiation, but he lamented the lack of political will to tackle the issue of escalating plastic production.


Meanwhile, Greenpeace expressed disappointment, arguing that the negotiations had succumbed to the interests of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. Graham Forbes, Head of Delegation to the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations and Global Plastics Campaign Lead at Greenpeace US, noted some progress facilitated by the active involvement of states like Rwanda and Peru. However, he criticized the compromises made during negotiations, particularly the neglect of necessary reductions in plastic production, which distance the treaty further from the demands of science and justice. “We are heading towards disaster, and with time running out, we urgently need a Global Plastics Treaty that cuts plastic production and ends single-use plastic," Forbes emphasized.


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