A Mandate for a UN Plastics Treaty
At the conclusion of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in March 2022, heads of State, environment ministers, and other representatives from 175 nations agreed on a mandate to create a first-of-its-kind international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. Central to this agreement is the establishment of an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) tasked with producing a legally binding instrument—a UN Plastics Treaty— addressing “the full life cycle of plastics,” which has yet to be defined for the purposes of the Treaty, but which could be considered to span from extraction to disposal, by the end of 2024. More than 1,000 civil society groups, hundreds of scientists, millions of individuals, and numerous government representatives had called on the UN to commit to negotiating such a treaty ahead of and during UNEA-5.2.
In December 2022, the first negotiating session of the UN Plastics Treaty (INC-1) convened in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, where delegates discussed procedures and foci to set the stage for forthcoming negotiations. There, it became apparent that despite widespread agreement that a UN Plastics Treaty is urgently needed, there is disagreement over what that should look like. Major oil-and-gas-producing nations like the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and some Asian countries proposed the creation of country-specific National Action Plans to set their own non-binding targets. On the other end of the spectrum, a “high-ambition coalition” of countries led by Norway and Rwanda called for a reduction in plastic production as well as a phase-out of certain plastic products and toxic chemical additives. Other UN member states, including many countries in Africa, as well as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Switzerland are calling for a more global approach to addressing the plastic pollution crisis.
In May and June 2023, the second negotiating session of the UN Plastics Treaty (INC-2) was held in Paris, France. There, talks kicked off with various challenges and delays, including last-minute attendance caps that limited the participation of members of civil society—particularly underserved frontline groups, including Indigenous peoples, as well as procedural delays that hampered progress of discussion. After several days of little progress, delegates formed two parallel “contact groups”: one focused on the what of the treaty (objective and core obligations), and the other focused on the how (financial mechanisms, capacity building, and national action and implementation plans). At the end of the negotiation week, parties agreed that the Chair, with the support of the INC Secretariat, would produce a first “zero” draft prior to the start of INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023. Informal intersessional work on the zero draft is necessary to keep negotiations on track.
The timeline for the forthcoming negotiation meetings for the UN Plastics Treaty are tentatively planned as follows:
- INC-3, 13-19 November 2023 at UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya
- INC-4, April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada
- INC-5, October/November 2024 in the Republic of Korea
- Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries to adopt a Plastic Pollution Treaty, mid-2025 in Ecuador, Rwanda, or Senegal
This page will be updated as the UN Plastics Treaty is negotiated.