UN Plastics Treaty

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.

INC-1

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.

INC-2

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.

INC-3

In November 2023, the third negotiating session of the UN Plastics Treaty (INC-3) was held in Nairobi, Kenya—approximately 5 miles, as the crow flies, from the Dandora dump site, a massive heap of plastic and other wastes, some imported from other nations as part of the globalized, industrial waste trade. INC-3 concluded with some encouraging new developments, including substantive discussions and a greater recognition for participation by Indigenous and other non-Civil society groups (hereafter referred to as “third-sector” groups). Negotiators also faced obstacles that continue to threaten the integrity of the agreement: Experts emphasized that plastic, petrochemical, and fossil fuel industry presence and influences on the negotiations and during INC-3 are a primary concern. Some countries proposed a national rather than global approach for binding treaty provisions, though binding rules are needed to significantly reduce plastic production. And while delegates dug into reading, substantially discussing, and developing the treaty’s initial starting document—the Zero Draft—during INC-3, UN Member states failed to reach an agreement on intersessional work to revise the draft ahead of INC-4.

INC-4

In April 2024, the fourth negotiating session of the UN Plastics Treaty (INC-4) was held in Ottawa, Canada. During INC-4, there was increased acknowledgment of the harmful effects of plastics on human and planetary health. There was increased presence of fossil fuel, plastic, and petrochemical industry representatives at INC-4 despite attendee calls for conflict of interest policies, while Indigenous and frontline groups were denied full and equitable participation in the session. Still, a handful of nations took an ambitious approach to limit plastic production at the source and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals throughout the full life cycle of plastics.

While it was agreed to conduct intersessional work before INC-5, countries compromised to exclude upstream measures, which will make it challenging to include key extraction or production reduction measures in the draft plastics treaty. This compromise is a missed opportunity to comprehensively address the root causes of plastic pollution: fossil fuel and plastic production. INC-5, set to take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, beginning in late November 2024, is the final planned session and will be a critical moment to deliver a strong global plastic treaty.

Future Sessions

The timeline for the forthcoming negotiation meetings for the UN Plastics Treaty are tentatively planned as follows:

This page will be updated as the UN Plastics Treaty is negotiated.

Recent Articles

  • Plastic Waste Transparency Project Hub

    On the Plastic Waste Transparency Project Hub, activists, policy makers, academics and industry stakeholders can find up-to-date information on the global trade in plastic waste, the countries and actors engaged in it, as well as campaign information to combat the unsustainable trade in plastic waste.

  • Plastic soup, plastic islands

    If business continues as usual, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean will nearly triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tonnes per year, equivalent to 50 kilograms of plastic for every metre of coastline worldwide. UNDP outlines how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) can end plastic pollution.

  • Civil liberties group to intervene in Federal Court plastics ban case

    The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) has been granted intervenor status in the legal challenge to a federal plastics ban being heard on June 25 and 26 at the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA).