Plastic-free planet: Negotiations on Global Plastics Treaty underway, the story so far

This meeting is the international community’s chance set the stage for negotiations on a global deal to end plastic pollution

By Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh
Published: Monday 29 May 2023
Members attend discussions during the session in Paris, France. Photo: @andersen_inger / Twitter.

On May 29, 2023, members of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) gathered in Paris for the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution, also known as INC-2. 

INC-2, a successor of INC-1, held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, last year, is the international community’s chance set the stage for negotiations on a global deal to end plastic pollution. 

A negotiation process is the key to developing any legally binding instruments. There are several stakeholders involved in the processes. Member states are the primary stakeholders who negotiate the instrument; most pacts are member state-led. Or, treaties are delegated from member nations who actually decide what they agree on and don’t. Every member state gets to make an intervention (highlighting their interests and expectations from the instrument) within three minutes.

Major stakeholders

Apart from the member states, there are nine major groups and stakeholders: Non-profits, women, workers and trade unions, the scientific community, farmers, indigenous communities, children and youth, local authorities, businesses and industry. 

The major groups and stakeholders get to make joint interventions in the negotiations to put forward their concerns and suggestions. They get two minutes to make their interventions. These organisations are the ones that feature in the list of accredited organisations of the UNEP.

Accredited organisations can also be observers in UNEP meetings. Observer status is a privilege granted to non-members to allow them to participate in the organisation’s activities. Accredited organisations can also be observers in such meetings. Observers are not allowed to make interventions during the process of the negotiations. However, the observers are seen as agencies that can influence the priorities and decisions taken by certain member states.

Also read: Plastic-free planet: Evolution of Global Plastics Treaty

In UNEA resolution 5/14, the assembly mandated an ad hoc open-ended working group (OEWG) to lay the groundwork for negotiations. This included establishing rules that will affect the decision-making, participation, timeline for negotiations and other important provisions shaping the negotiations. So far, two meetings have been conducted since the historic resolution was adopted.

One of the key tasks of the OEWG was establishing Rules of Procedure which govern INC. Some discussions around the INC meetings pitched for a hybrid format to make the meeting more inclusive. However, many member states asserted that substantive negotiations should strictly be carried out in person. It was also discussed how important it is for observers to have regular and ample opportunities to contribute through their expertise in the entire process.

OEWG was also asked to devise a schedule for INC meetings, keeping in mind the ambitious deadline of 2024 for completing the negotiations.

The Uruguay round was the first formal meeting of the body tasked with preparing the future legal instrument on plastics. The meeting focused on the administration and organisation of the negotiating body, including the election of a bureau (a body that guides the secretariat in organising the meetings of the INC) and adoption of the Rules of Procedure (a document that sets forth the ‘rules’ on how the committee will operate and is critical to the long-term success of the negotiations and the treaty).

INC 1 ended without a resolution as the negotiating body could not agree on these items. Voting on them is at the top of the agenda for INC 2.

What happened between the 2 meetings?

In December 2022, the INC secretariat invited written submissions from all the member states on the various elements of the treaty. A template was circulated, and the member states, major groups and stakeholders were asked to propose what the global plastic treaty should entail. Of the 193 member states, 67 have made the written submission. Based on the written submissions, the UNEP has released a ‘potential options for elements’ paper — a consolidated version of the inputs member states gave in their written submissions. This paper is the basis of negotiations in the INC-2.

The substantive elements and provisions in this options paper include:

  • Objectives of the treaty
  • Core obligations, control measures and voluntary actions
  • Implementation measures
  • Means of implementation

In the INC-2 meeting — apart from the plenary where member states make general statements, two parallel contact groups have been established. Contact group 1 will focus on the treaty’s objectives and core obligations, including control measures and voluntary actions. While contact group 2 will focus on the implementation measures and the means of implementation.

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