Published 5 months ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Bakhrom Tursunov
Despite procedural hiccups and ongoing debates on key issues, a first draft of a treaty will be ready for the next INC meeting in Nairobi later this year.
Last year, the world’s nations agreed to begin negotiations for a legally
binding international treaty to end plastic
on land and sea. The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating
tasked with fleshing out the treaty, wrapped up June 2 in Paris, France.
Sustainable Brands® caught up with Christina
Dixon, Ocean Campaign
Leader at the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA)* — who served as an expert observer in
the INC process, providing formal recommendations to member states and the
Secretariat — for a summary of highlights from this historic negotiating session
aimed at ending the plastics pollution crisis.
Over 1,700 participants gathered in Paris — including over 700 Member State
delegates from 169 nations and 900 observers from various NGOs. Negotiations
kicked off May 29 with hopes of addressing several apparently minor procedural
issues, then spending the remainder of the INC negotiating a compendium of
potential elements to be included in the final treaty.
However, a group of nations brought up a procedural issue regarding voting
rights, derailing the proceedings and tying up discussions for two days
straight, becoming what Dixon called “a multi-day diplomatic and geopolitical
incident that had to be resolved.”
Truly sustainable businesses address the many interconnected social and environmental challenges that brands and their customers face — and strive for net-positive outcomes and impacts, in addition to growth. SB's latest guidebook can help your company navigate the path toward enhanced brand sustainability with key insights, actionable steps and a holistic framework that defines a roadmap for good growth.
Delegations led by Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil and Iran demanded
that INC rules of procedure allow for the possibility of voting on key issues if
consensus couldn't be reached. These nations — most of which are heavily
dependent on plastics production — feared that without having a right to vote,
their interests would be overlooked. The majority of nations — many of which
have high ambitions for tackling plastics pollution from a full lifecycle
perspective — oppose voting.
“[The voting issue] seemed pretty innocuous, a trivial thing,” Dixon explained.
“But actually, it goes to the heart of the issue that we’re trying to solve —
because if we don’t have rules that allow the majority of countries to say,
‘This is the measure that we think is important,’ it allows one or two countries
to essentially veto anything ambitious that gets put into the treaty.”
The handful of countries desiring this veto power also advocate for creating
their own national action plans, in stark contrast to “the vast majority of
countries that see it as a lifecycle issue that starts with production, and it
can only be solved with global rules and global targets,” Dixon said.
Unfortunately, the issue remains unresolved — with the debate culminating in an
interpretative statement tabling the topic until it's brought up at the next INC
in Nairobi later this year.
Despite the procedural hiccups, the INC-2 accomplished its main objective: A
mandate requiring the Chair of the Negotiating Committee draft a treaty for the
“This was the big prize,” Dixon said. “If we didn’t get the mandate, we were
looking at extending the timeline of the INC beyond 2024.”
Elements of the treaty could include everything we could ever need in an
agreement to end plastic pollution: from fossil-fuel subsidy reform and
production caps to elimination of chemicals of concern, repair legislation,
(EPR), chemical-recycling restrictions, incineration bans and more.
“We’re talking about crafting an instrument that could promote massive, systemic
change to some pretty significant and lucrative industries such as the
petrochemical industry,” Dixon said. “There are a number of countries that
really rely on the continued expansion of this industry; so, they have a vested
interest to keep functioning in the current format.”
Some of these countries are proposing what Dixon called “false solutions” to
enable the status quo — including chemical
The INC-3 will have to address several issues that were not discussed at the
INC-2 — including addressing polymers of concern targeted for reduction and/or
elimination (such as PVC, polystyrene and polyurethane). Information on this
topic needs to be available for the next INC, Dixon said, and the foundation
laid for meaningful intercessional work among stakeholders from now until the
There wasn’t time to get into substantive discussions about basic treaty
elements such as:
Should waste management be addressed in this treaty, or in a separate one?
Who should fund developing nations’ efforts to curb plastic
Questions like these will live in brackets in the text until the next INC, where
nations will once again show their cards by what they demand be included (or
left out) of the treaty language.
“I feel like we left [the INC] without any formal clarity on the intercession
work,” Dixon said. “That means that, whilst work will still happen, we could
still get to the next INC unprepared.”
But at least there’s the zero-draft
mandate — a concrete body of text to
dig into later this year in Nairobi. Agreeing to the zero-draft mandate was
critical to success, as it signified an overarching consensus that plastic
pollution must be addressed together.
“It demonstrates there is a willingness to collaborate and move the work
forward,” Dixon said. “Even the countries that were obstructive throughout the
week on process didn’t completely block the decision to do the first draft of
the treaty … At the end of the day, if they really wanted to create a nightmare,
they could have blocked the decision to do a draft — which they didn’t.”
A lot of work will have to be done between now and the next INC to build on
common values, all the while trying to build broader consensus on the role that
lifecycle interventions — not waste management alone — must play in curbing the
Dixon is cautiously optimistic. She noted a global spirit of multilateralism as
of late — pointing to the success of the recently adopted global High Seas
“These are very complex environmental challenges that need to be solved,” Dixon
said. “Nothing can ever be perfect; but there has been quite a significant move
forward in countries coming together to tackle common global challenges
Still, she fears nations will once again bring up the consensus issue to stymie
discussion on the draft treaty. She hopes governments will engage in meaningful,
bilateral work between the INCs to smooth out issues that could eat up valuable
negotiating time at the INC-3.
“They need to find some common ground, so that we don’t have any surprises at
the next INC,” Dixon said. “We don’t have any time to lose — we have a very
limited window to achieve the agreement.”
A first draft of the treaty will be ready to review at the INC-3, which will be
held later this year in Nairobi. The draft treaty will be the basis for
negotiations moving forward, culminating in a ratified treaty in 2024.
* It is the EIA’s position that a treaty must address the full lifecycle of plastics.
Published Jun 13, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Christian is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.