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UN Plastic Treaty negotiations convene May 29 – June 2; what you need to know

The following information is from a series of six excellent webinars provided by the UN to prepare negotiators and accredited observers like OpenOceans Global. The many deserving attributions to this information can be found by reviewing the sessions.

On March 2, 2022, “175 nations agreed to develop a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by 2024, prompting a major step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production, use, and disposal.”

The first session of the Plastic Treaty’s International Negotiating Committee (INC-1) took place at the end of November in Uruguay, resulting in "delegates addressing the scope, objectives, and structure of the instrument; potential elements of the instrument; standard articles on final provisions; and sequencing and recommended further work to be undertaken."

The second negotiating session (INC-2) convenes May 29 to June 2, 2023, in Paris and will focus on developing the content of the treaty.

Scope of the Problem

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEDC) estimates that plastic production and plastic waste will triple by 2060. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that ocean plastic will nearly triple from 11 million metric tons to 29 MT by 2040.

Global plastics use is on course to almost triple by 2060

Plastic Use to Triple OECD.png

Image credit: OECD Global Plastics Outlook 2022

Options Developed for Consideration

INC-2 will review options for the following which are detailed in an options paper. These are the categories of options to be considered at the highest level.

  • Objectives
  • Core obligations
  • Options for means of implementation, including:
    • Determining whether the provisions should be stand-alone or integrated
    • Financial assistance
    • Capacity building
    • Technical assistance
    • Technology transfer on mutually agreed terms
    • National reporting
    • Compliance
    • Assessment, monitoring, and evaluation
  • Additional matters
    • Awareness-raising and education
    • Exchange of information
    • Research
    • Cooperation and coordination
    • Stakeholder engagement

What Can We Do.png

Image credit: UNEP/Life Cycle Initiative

Science Informing Decision-Making Is Essential

The discussions recognize that science is an essential ingredient to strong policy and will lead to some of the following results:

  • Strengthened waste management
  • Eliminate the release and emissions of plastic to land, air, and water
  • No or reduced plastics in the environment or people
  • No or reduced direct or indirect impacts from manufacturing, use, and disposal of plastics
  • No or reduced open burning of plastics
  • No or reduced GHG emissions and action to mitigate climate change
  • Reduced economic costs,
  • Incentivizing new material, plastic, and/or products

An Open-Ended Working Group Will Inform Negotiators

An Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) has been convened to inform negotiators and to:

  • Identify issues of relevance to policymakers.
  • Assess current issues and identify evidence-based options to address these issues.
  • Provide up-to-date and relevant information, including gaps in scientific research.
  • Facilitate information sharing with countries.

3,200 Chemicals in Plastic Are of Potential Concern

Chemicals in Plastic.png

Image credit: UNEP/Chemicals in Plastic: A Technical Report

The UN has recognized the danger of chemicals in plastic, with 13,000 chemicals having been identified or detected in plastic and 3,200 that are of potential concern. Suggestions include counting plastic’s uncounted costs to human health, the environment, the global economy, and social justice across the entire plastic life cycle.

Control Measures Will Span Each Stage of the Plastics Value Chain

The plastics value chain is characterized as follows:

  • Raw materials (hydrocarbons)
  • Upstream (polymer pellets)
  • Midstream (products and parts)
  • Downstream (plastic waste or residues)
  • Recovery (from land or water bodies)

A number of control and mitigation measures are being matched with each element of the value chain. They include options within these categories:

  • Trade/border measures (such as quotas, tariffs, and export and import quotas and licenses)
  • Internal market measures (such as phasing out subsidies, labeling, design, and quality standards)
  • Reducing plastic waste
  • Shifting from single-use to reusable products (consumers have more control over the impact of reusable products than single-use products)

Resource Mobilization and Financial Mechanisms

Funding to implement the plastic agreement will be critical to its success. Finding the appropriate resources will require understanding the gap between how much has been spent and how much money is needed. Who is going to pay for it? What is the balance of funding that can come from the global north and the global south? These are some of the options for funding that have surfaced.

  • Public funds (i.e., World Bank, United Nations, national, state, and local governments)
  • Private investment, including Extended Producer Responsibility revenues
  • Philanthropy

The World Bank looks at the process through four “North Stars.”

  1. Green economies should be financed, not just green projects. Financing should go to projects that enhance systems, not just short-term projects.
  2. Change has to happen regionally, not just at the country level. Regional policies can encourage better results from big business and eliminate exploitation in countries with weak policies. What does a regional recycling market look like?
  3. Public financing must be used to help the private sector. In Mexico – the World Bank is working to make sure the cost of recycling by private companies comes down.
  4. Strong analytics are essential. What is the baseline? Where is the plastic pollution coming from? What are the pathways? Analytics must support and report on the progress of national action plans and regional policies.

Timeline for the Treaty Process

The negotiating committee plans to meet five times.

  • INC-1 – 10/28 to 12/2, 2022, Host: Punta del Este Uruguay
  • INC-2 – 5/29 to 6/2, 2023, Host: Paris, France
  • INC-3 – 11/13 – 11/17, 2023, Offer to host: Nairobi, Kenya
  • INC-4 – Early April 2024 – Offer to host: TBD, Canada
  • INC-5 – October/November 2024: Offer to host: TBD, Republic of Korea

Side events, sanctioned and unsanctioned, will be held during each INC meeting. In addition, the United Nations Environment Assembly, which agreed to pursue the plastic treaty last year, will meet again the week of February 26, 2024, when the treaty will also be discussed.

The Delegates

2,690 delegates have registered for INC-2 in Paris, including:

  • 179 member states (842 delegates)
  • 703 stakeholder organizations (1,693 delegates)
  • 20 UN entities (91 delegates)
  • 11 IGOs (25 delegates) (IGOs are intergovernmental organizations)
  • 27 media (29 delegates)

The meeting venue is limited to 1,500 delegates. Because there are 2,690 delegates, access is being controlled by 1,500 transferable access cards issued to each organization. Delegations will determine who should represent them on each day of the meetings.


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