International Treaty against plastic pollution: everything you wanted to know about it!

After the Climate, Biodiversity and Desertification COPs, we can be happy that the international community is finally committing to a process that should lead in record time to the implementation of a global agreement to fight plastic pollution. It’s time!

The first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), charged to “develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment”, took place from 28 November to 2 December in Punta del Este, Uruguay. It came nine months after the adoption of a landmark resolution on plastic pollution at the UN Environment Assembly by representatives from 175 countries in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Last March, the countries entrusted the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with the task of managing the procedure for drawing up this future Treaty. The process to achieve this could lead to one of the most important multilateral environmental agreements in history. And The SeaCleaners is involved in the process, being part of the NGO coalition that is very much involved in the discussions. The association also led two online information sessions during this INC-1. Our ambition: that States support existing initiatives and solutions, like ours. We will therefore participate in every INC meeting. 

This first round of negotiations took place against a background of the seemingly endless growth of plastics, a material that threatens the environment, human health and the economy. Humankind produces about 460 million tonnes of plastic per year and without immediate action, this figure will triple by 2060. More than 14 million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans each year and plastics make up the largest, most harmful and most persistent proportion of marine litter, accounting for at least 85% of the total. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are expected to account for 15% of total emissions by 2050. 

Four more rounds of INC negotiations will take place between now and November 2024: in Paris in May 2023, then in Nairobi, Montreal and a city in Korea. The diplomatic conference to adopt the Treaty and open it for signature is scheduled for 2025. 

During these meetings, the negotiators will have the task of preparing the measures and obligations of this future legally binding Treaty, which will cover the entire life cycle of plastic, i.e. from its manufacture through the extraction of fossil fuels to the pollution it generates if it is poorly managed, via its production.  

More than 50 states, including France and the EU, have called for the most ambitious possible Treaty following the High Ambition Coalition launched by Norway and Rwanda with a binding text covering the entire life cycle of plastics. However, the United States would prefer to favour voluntary initiatives, while Japan and Saudi Arabia would like the Treaty to cover only plastic waste management and marine pollution. 

Positive outcomes included calls to reduce plastic production and use, eliminate toxic substances associated with the plastic life cycle, protect human health and the need for a just transition, supported by many Member States and even Nestlé and Unilever.  

As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the end of INC-1: “Plastics are fossil fuels in another form and pose a serious threat to human rights, climate and biodiversity. As negotiations for an agreement on tackling plastic pollution continue, I call on countries to move beyond waste and turn off the plastic tap.”