Main outcomes of INC 4 on Plastics Treaty

Main outcomes of INC 4 on Plastics Treaty

Chemicals in Products

The fourth round of negotiations of the Intergovernmental Committee for the preparation of a legally binding treaty to address plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC4), concluded on April 30, 2024. More than 2,500 participants from 170 countries took part in the negotiations.

Earlier in the week, participants walked past a Greenpeace-prepared sculpture of a 6m-high crane spewing discarded plastic. Many of the briefings by civil society organizations and statements by Indigenous peoples’ representatives took place against the backdrop of this sculpture, which illustrates what happens to plastic and waste if the crane is not shut off. At the same time as speaking out against plastic production, negotiators witnessed advertisements touting the benefits of plastic. The billboards were placed on buses, cabs and simply as posters around the city.

The INC4 meeting began with attempts to deal with the 69-page annotated draft of the plastic treaty text from the previous third round of negotiations (INC3). This text was filled with comments and proposals, various options, and new paragraphs. As a result of the editing, the number of pages was reduced to 31. Actual negotiations on some parts of the text began only on the sixth of the seven days of the meeting, and the negotiators did not get to many parts of the draft at all.

The primary outcome of the discussion was the decision to hold two intersessional meetings between now and the fifth meeting of the INC, which will be held in Busan, South Korea, November 25-December 1. INC Chair Luis Vayas Valdivieso decided to have two intersessional meetings. Despite disagreements, the decision was supported by all negotiators.

“The treaty is far from being finalized, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, at the closing of INC-4. “We have only a few months left before the deadline agreed in 2022. I call on participants to show continued commitment and flexibility to maximize ambition.”

The first intersessional open-ended expert group will prepare an analysis of potential sources and means that could be mobilized to realize the treaty’s objectives, including options for establishing a financial mechanism and aligning financial flows for consideration by the committee at its fifth session. At its first meeting, the expert group will take the INC4 final report and the new negotiated text of the treaty as a basis. The panel will be open to participation by all INC members.

In addition, an ad hoc open-ended intersessional expert group on plastic pollution, chemicals in plastic and sustainable design of plastic products, including enhanced recyclability, will be established. The results of the group’s work will also be considered at INC5 in November 2024.

Delegates could not agree on the group’s work on reducing the production of virgin polymers. Many countries expressed concerns about this, including representatives from Africa, South America, small island states, and non-governmental organizations, including the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and the International Alliance of Waste Pickers. In their view, plastic production generates greenhouse gases and pollution. Technical information on sustainable production and consumption of virgin plastic polymers should be included in the proposed intersessional action plan.

The non-governmental organizations stressed that the decision not to discuss targets to reduce the production of virgin polymers was made under pressure from the industry lobby. About 200 lobbyists from the chemical and extractive industries registered to participate in the negotiations at INC4. It is more than the entire delegation of scientists, indigenous peoples, and the EU. 

Nevertheless, the intersessional work has been decided, and discussions on reducing primary polymers will continue at INC5.

It is important to emphasize that the intersessional discussion of the draft treaty will now include chemicals in plastics of concern. It is certainly a positive development.

In addition, INC 4 discussed Article 13 of the draft treaty on the disclosure and traceability of toxic substances in plastics. Almost all countries that spoke on this issue supported the need for this article. It was largely a result of briefing papers prepared by several countries and organizations that addressed the criteria for listing toxic substances for subsequent restriction or prohibition under the new treaty on plastics. For instance, Thailand highlighted that Article 13 significantly enhances the treaty by promoting transparency and traceability. Thailand also noted the need for a system to track and monitor toxic substances in plastics alongside an accessible global database. Furthermore, Thailand spoke in favour of establishing a globally harmonized plastic labelling system and stressed the need for all countries to adopt it. Kenya supported the idea of a digital tracking system for the chemical composition information of individual products and a global database to manage the data. However, technical and financial assistance is necessary to help parties comply with this article.

The next meeting, INC-5, is the final meeting, as the 2022 mandate requires the treaty negotiations to be finalized by the end of 2024.

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Written by Olga Speranskaya