World Looks to Ottawa to Build Momentum for A Global Plastic Treaty

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This week, the global community will anxiously turns its gaze towards Ottawa, Canada, as diplomats, environmentalists, and industry stakeholders convene for the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4). The mission? To propel forward the much-needed international treaty aimed at turning the tide on the global problem of plastic pollution which is threatening our ecosystems and future generations.

Plastic pollution is a pervasive issue that transcends national borders, posing an existential risk to marine life, people and the planet. It is estimated that over 100 million marine mammals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. This figure doesn’t include countless fish, birds, and smaller organisms, so the total number of marine animals affected could be much higher. Plastic pollution also affects the health of the planet’s ecosystems, including rivers, and oceans. On people, plastic pollution has a significant impact on human health at every stage of its lifecycle, from production to disposal. Whether this is through exposure of workers during extraction of oil, or through the toxic chemicals that are in plastics or through microplastics that enter the food chain or by polluting the water we drink or by open burning of plastic waste on landfills contributing to air pollution. Plastics also contributes to climate change, as the production and disposal of plastic generate greenhouse gas emissions.

The production and waste of plastic are set to triple by 2060, with up to 400 million tons of plastic waste being generated each year. Less than 10% of plastic ever made has been recycled. This leaves a legacy of health and environmental impacts for future generations. It is projected that 37 million metric tons of plastic pollution could be entering our oceans every year by 2040. On the other hand, the cost of plastic pollution is more than $2 trillion every year, a burden largely held by local communities.

Without new and effective control measures, and increased international cooperation, the global plastic pollution crisis will intensify.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC)

In response to this crisis, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was formed in March 2022, by the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) resolution 5/14 titled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards a Legally Binding Instrument,” to develop an international, legally binding plastic pollution treaty.

The INC has since held three sessions of treaty talks, in Uruguay, France and Kenya, with negotiators from about 175 countries, industry representatives, environmentalists, and others meeting to develop the treaty. Focus now turns to Ottawa, Canada, from April 23 to April 29, for the fourth session of the INC (INC-4) at the Shaw Center. INC-4 represents the penultimate moment to unite the world around a shared goal to end plastic pollution.

The previous INCs have faced several criticisms, including that of program structuring, delays in reaching consensus, the formation and management of work groups, and agreements on language. The third session of INC, held in Nairobi, particularly faced deep criticisms, including that of welcoming a large number of lobbyists from the petrochemical sector, outnumbering delegates from 70 of the smallest UN Members States. The other criticisms for this INC included limited formal progress and missed opportunity for additional intersessional work.

The Road Ahead

Negotiation sessions at INC-4 will continue to work through the possible scope, wording, and mechanisms, including financial tools, to include in the plastic treaty. No final agreement is however anticipated at this INC, however, it is the critical point to build the foundations for a successful conclusion to the negotiations at INC-5 in the Republic of Korea later this year.

As the world looks to Ottawa, the hope is that these negotiations will bring us one step closer to a global plastic treaty that can effectively address the plastic pollution crisis. The world will be keenly watching, as the stakes are high.

If successful a global plastic treaty will be crucial in addressing the plastic pollution crisis effectively. It would establish a common framework for countries to manage plastic waste and reduce plastic production. The treaty could include measures such as setting targets for reducing plastic waste, promoting alternatives to plastic, and improving waste management systems. It could also provide a platform for sharing best practices and technologies among countries.