In a little under two weeks, thousands of negotiators and observers will gather in Paris, France, for the second intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC-2) to advance a plastics treaty. Center for International Environmental Law staff will join allies and partners representing rightsholders, workers and trade unions, scientists, Indigenous Peoples, and people living on the frontlines of the plastics crisis to ensure that negotiators deliver a high-ambition treaty that actually delivers on its promise to end plastic pollution.
Coming out of UNEA-5.2, the mandate End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument, sets out a goal for the treaty to be negotiated before the end of 2024. Its an extremely ambitious timeline that will require significant amounts of work over the next two years. As we head into INC-2, there are still outstanding questions about the treatys design, reach, function, and how the work will proceed.
In December 2022, Member States came together for INC-1 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Coming out of the session, the INC Secretariat requested that Member States and stakeholders submit documents outlining potential elements for the future treaty. Common themes that emerged include strong ambition in acknowledging the health, climate, biodiversity, and human rights harms that come from the full life cycle of plastics not just the end of life. Some Member States also included controls on production volumes and hazardous chemicals. Based on Member State submissions, the Secretariat produced an Options Paper that serves as a partial menu of options for the future treaty. The paper will serve as the basis for negotiations during INC-2.
UNEP has set forward the expectation that there will be an initial draft of treaty text a zero draft produced and available ahead of INC-3. To start, there will be votes on outstanding issues from INC-1, including the Rules of Procedure (the rules that govern how the negotiations will proceed), the election of a Bureau, and agreement on future dates and sites. Once completed, the negotiations will quickly pivot to examining the options paper and crafting a path forward to ensure that a zero draft can be delivered on schedule. Key to this will be developing a working objective for the future treaty, and establishing a mandate to develop a zero draft of the text.
- Attempts to pigeonhole the future treaty into having a primary focus on waste. Plastic pollution is more than visible plastic waste. For the treaty to fulfill its mandate, it must take into account the emissions and risks that result from plastics production, use, waste management, and leakage in the scope, organization of work, and content. Failing to do so ignores the profound health, environmental, and human rights impacts of the plastics crisis.
- An agreement that the treatys objective should encompass health and the environment. Decisions about the treatys objective will necessarily impact the instrument’s scope, provisions, and implementation. Ahead of INC-2, the Secretariat offered three possible objectives for the treaty as a starting point. Two objectives center on human health and the environment, while the third focuses on waste and the fabled circularity of plastics. Central to this discussion will be negotiators ability to coalesce around a working definition of plastic pollution. Less ambitious States may use the objective and definition of plastic pollution to renegotiate the mandates wide scope indirectly. For the treaty to meaningfully address the impacts of plastic, the objective must consider both the seen and unseen impacts that arise from the production, use, and disposal of plastics on health and the environment.
- Negotiations that focus on mandatory, legally-binding provisions, not voluntary ones. Replicating a Paris-style agreement with voluntary, nationally-determined targets for action on plastic would result in a weak treaty. At this stage of negotiations, Member States should focus their time, energy, and resources on provisions that will apply to all future Parties rather than developing voluntary provisions.
- Commitments to significant intersessional work. To stay on schedule, preparatory work must continue in the periods between INCs. To ensure this happens, the negotiations should outline recommendations for tasks that can be accomplished in parallel. Such items might include but are not limited to, establishing working groups, creating listings of the most problematic plastic precursors (e.g., chemical additives, polymers, and monomers) and plastic products to be addressed at the time of the treatys adoption (dirty firsts), developing clear criteria and principles for expanding the lists subject to the future treatys control measure, and collecting ideas for innovative funding mechanisms.
- Ensuring adequate participation for stakeholders. The mandate requests the broadest possible public participation. The site of the negotiations the UNESCO headquarters holds a maximum of 1,500 individuals, with some rooms slated for negotiations holding a maximum of 200 people. As of May 8, nearly 2,700 delegates and observers have registered for the negotiations. The Secretariat has announced that each observer organization will receive one badge for entry, severely limiting observers ability to participate. This broadly includes business and industry, children and youth, farmers, Indigenous Peoples, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, scientific communities, women, workers and trade unions.
The mandate passed at UNEA-5.2 provides a framework to deliver a high-ambition treaty. Now, it will be imperative to ensure that the treaty text itself lives up to that vision. The good news is that we already have the knowledge and the solutions to address the plastics crisis we know that the answers lie in listening to scientists, people living on the frontlines of the petrochemical buildout, waste workers, civil society organizations, and more. It will take prioritizing those perspectives over polluters interests to ensure that the treaty is a step forward not back.