Is India‘s draft resolution to tackle plastic pollution practical

India’s framework proposed a voluntary approach rather than a legally-binding one

By Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh
Published: Tuesday 22 February 2022

India released a draft resolution to address plastic pollution January 28, 2022, a month ahead of the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) to be held in Nairobi. 

India’s framework proposed a voluntary approach rather than a legally binding one, unlike drafts presented by some other countries. 

The focus of UNEA, established in 2012, has always been marine plastic debris and micro-plastics for dealing with plastic waste, and the last four meetings covered these concerns.

India’s draft, with the proposed title Framework for addressing plastic product pollution including single use plastic product pollution, recalled its resolution made during UNEA-4 in 2019. Plastic pollution and marine litter mostly originate in land-based sources, India mentioned. 

The draft also addressed concerns about increased use of single-use plastic (SUP) and the role of packaging in the increase in the volume of disposable SUP. 

India emphasised the need for all the relevant stakeholders to get involved.

India’s draft resolution encouraged member states to improve resource efficiency, implement extended producer responsibility (EPR), develop sustainable packaging products and develop policies for promoting recycling. 

India also invited member states to prepare national / regional action plans to reduce use of single-use plastic, enhance cooperation in scientific research for SUP alternatives and provide statistical data to UNEP.

It also requested the executive director of UNEP in partnership with UN agencies, funds and programmes to organise the following forums:

  • Legal and policy forum
  • Technology forum
  • Finance forum
  • Monitoring and reporting forum

India has notified phasing out of selected single-use plastic items from July 1, 2022. It has also notified the draft EPR regulations in the subcontinent, which focus on collection targets, recycling targets, reuse and use of recycled content in packaging. 

Other draft resolutions in consideration

Rwanda and Peru jointly had presented a resolution at the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in September 2021. Japan also presented a resolution in December 2021. These two resolutions have convergence and differences at various levels.

Convergences in Rwanda-Peru and Japan resolutions:

  • Call for quick negotiation
  • Call for a legally binding instrument
  • Call for Intergovernmental negotiating committee
  • Propose common elements like national plans, technical support, capacity building and considerations for economies in transition

Differences in scope of Rwanda-Peru and Japan resolutions:

  • The Rwanda-Peru resolution seeks to address plastic pollution in all the compartments of the environment (land, air and water), whereas the Japan resolution focuses specifically on marine plastic pollution.
  • The Rwanda-Peru resolution promotes a full lifecycle approach with interventions at upstream, midstream and downstream. The Japan resolution mentions a “lifecycle” but emphasises heavily on downstream interventions like monitoring and reducing discharge into the marine environment by 2050. 
  • The Japan resolution also has deleted at least a couple of operative paragraphs on sustainable production and consumption and product design, both of which are important interventions at an upstream level.

Rwanda-Peru draft favoured

Co-facilitators from member states are in the process of conducting informal virtual meetings by dividing up the member states into clusters, and discussing the co-facilitators draft that has taken elements from both the Rwanda-Peru draft and the Japan draft. 

In the first meeting, it was found that close to 60 member states are in favour of the Rwanda-Peru resolution that follows the entire value chain of plastic right from production to end of life disposal.

India has presented the resolution quite late in the conversation. It has added some elements that should be considered and incorporated in the legal instrument. However, India is going to have a tough time getting member states to support it. The only way India can get its voice heard is by nominating a senior-level delegation with enhanced negotiation skills.

The way forward

The plastic treaty has to be legally binding and not voluntary as suggested by the draft resolution presented by India. 

Moreover, the entire plastic life cycle right from extraction to dumping has to be taken into consideration. 

Developing a treaty that just focuses on marine litter and micro-plastics should be avoided, due to the fact that both marine litter and micro-plastics are both sourced from plastic waste generated by post-consumer use primarily from land based sources.

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