UN member countries have tasked the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with convening and managing the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process, which aims to implement a historic resolution adopted in 2022 to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
The aim is to complete negotiations by the end of 2024 and create a global, legally binding plastics treaty.
The various INC meetings have stressed the need for a holistic approach to tackle the growing plastic pollution crisis. Humanity produces around 460 million tonnes of plastic a year, a figure that ¬– without urgent action – will triple by 2060. Globally, 46 per cent of plastic waste is landfilled, 22 per cent is mismanaged and becomes litter, 17 per cent is incinerated and 15 per cent is collected for recycling, with less than 9 per cent actually recycled after losses.
The second session of the INC concluded in Paris on June 3 with 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 December.
More than 1,700 participants in Paris - over 700 Member State delegates from 169 Member States and over 900 observers from NGOs – attended the session, hosted by France at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris.
“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,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “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,” she added. “The INC has the power to deliver this transformation, bringing major opportunities for everyone.”
“My appeal to you at the beginning of this session was that you make Paris count. You have done so, by providing us with a mandate for a zero draft and intersessional work,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the INC Secretariat. “The momentum you have built up here in Paris will guide our work in the intersessional period and at our future sessions. I look forward to continuing our important work together and to welcoming you all to Nairobi for our third session.”
Prior to the Paris session Jyoti Mathur-Filipp answered some key questions on fighting plastic pollution, the importance of a circular economy for plastics and why the global plastics treaty is critical in a UNEP interview.
What is the circular economy?
Jyoti Mathur-Filipp (JMF): The circular economy is a resource efficient economy where waste and pollution are eliminated, products and materials are kept in use at their highest value for the longest time possible, and natural systems are regenerated.
We know that recycling alone won’t end plastic pollution. We need to take a life cycle approach, which means reexamining how products are designed, produced and distributed. Approaches that only target one element of the economy, such as recycling, fall short of addressing the issue. We need systemic change.
Key to this is ensuring that there are financial incentives to reuse products and that there is buy-in among the high-consuming sectors, primarily companies focused on plastic packaging and manufacturing. The current economic model and its underlying policies and incentives favours short-term gains and ignores the externalities caused by economic activities, such as resource depletion, environmental degradation, or human health implications. Shifting economic incentives to penalize pollution and reward resource efficiency will increase the economic attractiveness of circular economy solutions.
The plastics circular economy’s three tenets: eliminate, innovate and circulate, offer a new vision of a sustainable future. This means that we should strive to eliminate plastic products we don’t need; innovate, so all plastics that we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.
Why is it important?
JMF: Plastic pollution is a huge threat to ecosystems, the climate and ultimately, human wellbeing. According to one UN Environment Programme (UNEP) study, more than 14 million metric tonnes of plastic enters and damages aquatic ecosystems annually, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to account for 15 per cent of the total emissions allowable by 2050 if humanity is to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Why is the global plastics resolution so significant?
JMF: Never before had governments come together to end plastic pollution globally. The resolution acknowledges the importance of an international approach to preventing plastic pollution and its adverse effects on human well-being and the environment. It shows what is possible with international cooperation. In particular, the resolution recognizes the significant contribution made by workers in informal and cooperative settings to the collecting, sorting and recycling of plastics in many countries.
What is the INC?
JMF: UN Members States gave UNEP the mandate to convene the INC - the committee tasked with the development of the international legally binding instrument, with the aim of completing its work by the end of 2024, time when the treaty would be ready for ratification.
What could the treaty cover?
JMF: The global treaty needs to address plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, and could include both binding and voluntary approaches based on the full life cycle of plastics and taking into account, among other things, national circumstances and capabilities. According to the UNEA Resolution, the treaty is to include a series of technical provisions, that would consider how to promote sustainable production and consumption of plastics from product design to environmentally sound waste management, through resource efficiency and safe and just circular economy approaches that are feasible for all Member States.
What is the INC doing now?
JMF: The first session of the INC – known as INC-1 – took place from 28 November to 2 December last year in Uruguay, where more than 1,400 in-person and virtual delegates from 147 countries took part in the meeting which set the foundation to shape the global agreement to end plastic pollution. The meeting set the foundation to shape the global instrument, with many governments confirming their desire to have an instrument that addresses the full life cycle of plastics, protecting human health and the environment, with special attention paid to the unique circumstances of those countries most in need.