IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

What Happened at the Plastics Treaty INC2

the plenary hall with IPEN speaker on a large video screen

This is a brief summary of the happenings and outcomes of the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution meeting in Paris, France, as well as notes about side meetings and future events.

The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution was scheduled on 29 May – 2 June 2023 and finished with a mandate to the chair (H.E. Mr. Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Peru) to write up an initial draft of the future treaty to be discussed at INC3 in Nairobi in November 2023.

Limited progress was made on intersessional work on chemicals, as a group of countries delayed the proceedings of INC2 raising issues related to the rules of procedure.

Bureau vote

Membership of the Bureau was taken up during INC1, but only the Chair of the Bureau was agreed upon. There was no agreement on the other bureau members: the Eastern European Region (CEE) could not agree on their candidate, and Russia did not agree to the proposal from the Western Europeans and Others Group (WEOG) to have a representative of the EU in the Bureau. Therefore during INC2, the CEE candidacies were brought to a vote whereby the Estonian and Georgian candidates were elected; in a separate election, the WEOG representatives from Sweden and the USA were confirmed by the INC. The vote took place by provisionally applying draft rule 41 of the rules of procedure.

The full list of the INC Bureau members can he found here

Rules of Procedure

During the open ended working group in Dakar in May 2022, the United States did not agree to have the European Union voting as a block. Therefore the rules of procedure (RoP) could not be agreed upon, leaving some bracketed text and some alternative text on Rule 37 (voting rights). Then at INC1 the disagreement persisted and Saudi Arabia, India, China, and Russia, supported by over 20 countries, argued that until fully adopted, the draft RoP can be “reopened.” The issue for these countries is their objection to the potential use of voting by a two-thirds majority in the event that consensus cannot be reached. But by insisting on a consensus-only process, a few countries can block any movement forward. The INC1 agreed to provisionally apply the draft RoP.

At INC2, this disagreement resurfaced and in response the INC Chair informed delegations that he would conduct further informal consultations on the bracketed text contained in Rule 37 on the draft RoP (UNEP/PP/INC.2/3) and would update delegates on progress later in the week. He stated that the draft RoP were being applied provisionally, as decided at INC-1.

However, countries opposing the provisional use of the rules of procedure, particularly in relation to voting, blocked the proceedings until a compromise was reached in the form of an interpretative note which clarified that, “In the event that rule 38.1 is invoked, before the rules are formally adopted, members will recall this lack of agreement” on the possible application of voting by a two-thirds majority instead of consensus.

IPEN is concerned that this compromise will only postpone further disagreements until a vote may be needed. By advocating that INC decisions should be taken by consensus, certain countries want to prevent ambitious measures from being adopted.

Preparation of a Treaty on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment

Due to the unforeseen time spent on Rules of Procedure, there was much less time for Agenda item 4 on the preparation of the Treaty. Most of the rest of the week was spent on opening statements and in the two contact groups on providing views on the Elements Paper (UNEP/PP/INC.2/4) around 1) objectives and substantive obligations and 2) means of implementation.

Contact group 1 on objectives and substantive obligations

See the Co-facilitators report on discussions in Contact Group 1 here.

Contact group 1 set out to discuss the objectives and possible obligations as outlined in the Elements Paper. The aim of the contact groups was to identify Members’ views, areas of convergence and gaps, and the possible core obligations. These were discussed in blocks of three, after which a limited number of observers were allowed to also give interventions. The discussions mainly allowed for an exchange of views.

On objectives, most member states favored option A, “End plastic pollution; protect human health and the environment from its adverse effects throughout the life cycle of plastic.” Others preferred other options or a combination of options. The group spent some time discussing whether the objective should include a time-bound target for ending plastic pollution.

On the potential core obligations, many members expressed support for the inclusion of options related to protecting human health, decreasing production, reducing emissions across the life-cycle, and regulating chemicals of concern. On the other hand, some members also expressed diverging opinions that instead favored a more down-stream approach and national instead of global regulations.

Contact group 2 on Means of implementation, implementing measures and substantive obligations

Countries discussed the elements in the options paper related to: National Action Plans (NAPs); exchange of information; stakeholder engagement; awareness raising and education; research; cooperation and coordination; financial assistance; capacity building; technology transfer on mutually agreed terms; technical assistance; compliance; periodic assessment and monitoring of progress; and national reporting. Observers were allowed to intervene at the end of each session to provide their feedback and seek support from delegates.

On National Action Plans, there was a broad agreement that they are needed, but their role differs depending on how countries view the role of control obligations. Some countries advocate for National Action Plans as the main control measure in the Treaty, while others call for a way to include implementing the control measures determined in the Treaty and to evaluate their implementation.

On Financial Assistance, many delegations requested renaming this obligation as “financial mechanism,” while others expressed a preference for “financial resources and mechanism” as it is expressed under the Minamata Convention on Mercury. There were two broad approaches that emerged, one calling for a dedicated multilateral fund resembling the fund under the Montreal Protocol and another calling for the use of existing financial mechanisms such as the GEF. A few countries also proposed the establishment of a dedicated fund specifically focused on existing plastic pollution and legacy plastics.

Many underlined the need for the Treaty to include the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as an overarching principle, with others opposing such an approach.

Regarding sources of funding, several delegates addressed member state contributions as well as other financing, including from, among others, the private sector, plastics industry, and innovative sources. The possibility of securing additional sources of funding was raised by several delegations, building on a proposal from Ghana. Although there was no agreement on such a possibility, many countries expressed openness in exploring this option further, potentially in the intersessional process.

On the issue of Research, there was convergence on the need for scientific and technical bod(ies) to ensure a science-policy interface to keep the Treaty up to date. Some countries wished to have a strong link between the upcoming Science-Policy Panel with the Plastics Treaty.

During the final session, the plenary of the INC took note of the reports of the contact groups’ co-facilitators without adopting them.

Main Outcomes of INC2

After an informal consultation, the INC adopted its final decisions in which:

  • Members and observers are encouraged to send their statements for INC2 to the Secretariat. The deadline for submissions is June 23 and submissions can be sent to unep-incplastic.secretariat@un.org. The Secretariat is tasked with posting submissions received on the INC website.
  • The INC Chair, with the support of the Secretariat, is asked to prepare a zero draft text of the Treaty for consideration at INC3. The draft would be guided by views expressed at INC1 and INC2. The full range of views could be integrated in the draft text through options.
  • The Secretariat is also asked to invite submissions from observers by 15 August and Members by 15 September 2023 on (a) elements not discussed at INC2, such as principles and scope of the instrument, and (b) any potential areas for intersessional work compiled by the co-facilitators of the two contact groups, to inform the work of INC3. The Secretariat is also asked to post any submissions received on the INC website and to prepare a synthesis report of the submissions related to (a). Further it was decided to convene a preparatory one-day meeting, back-to-back with INC3, which would include discussions on the synthesis report prepared by the Secretariat.

Additionally, there was agreement that there would be regional meetings prior to INC3.

The draft report of INC2 is available here.

A summary report by ENB is available here.

Overall impressions of INC2 Secretariat and logistics arrangements

From Observers’ point of view, the INC2 organization was not satisfactory. Many Observer delegates reached Paris and were not  able to access the venue at UNESCO due to the restriction in the numbers of people the building could host, despite the Secretariat being aware that the INC2 in Paris would have a larger number of participants than the INC1 in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Visa applications took longer than expected for approval, and many were refused entry or had their visas issued too late for the beginning of the INC.

On participation in the proceedings, the positive note is that Observers were never denied access to any of the INC proceedings, including the informal consultations.

Events Around INC2

Briefing with the Executive Director of UNEP

The executive director of UNEP, Ms. Inger Andersson, with the executive secretary of the INC, Ms Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, hosted a stakeholders meeting before the beginning of the INC to discuss relations with stakeholders, expectations, and organizational matters. During the open discussion, IPEN raised concerns about the recent UNEP report “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy,” including questioning its promotion of “solutions” based on harmful plastic waste disposal technologies such as incineration in cement kilns and chemical recycling. IPEN also questioned the openness to participation by civil society groups, noting that many had to invest considerable resources to get to Paris and, only in the last week, were informed that the participation in the INC2 venue would be limited to only one representative per public interest NGO.

Side events

IPEN co-organized and participated in a side event on “Plastic pollution, toxicity, chemicals, and potential risks to human health.” During the event, two reports were presented to frame the discussion. The first report, “Chemicals in Plastics,” was developed by UNEP in partnership with BRS and provides a technical analysis of chemicals in plastics. The second report, titled “Global governance of plastics and associated chemicals,” was prepared by BRS and highlights the need to address the entire life cycle of plastics, mitigate chemical hazards, and close governance gaps.

The event emphasized the shared concerns of many Member States regarding the regulation of chemicals of concern in plastics and the need for transparency throughout the plastic life cycle. Participants discussed the importance of legally binding and globally harmonized requirements for chemical transparency and traceability. Such requirements would have significant benefits for international trade, human health, workers’ rights, and jurisdictional equality.

IPEN’s Science Advisor Dr. Therese Karlsson presented “Troubling Toxics,” an IPEN policy briefing discussing how the treaty could regulate hazardous chemicals in plastics. Recommendations were provided for establishing broad criteria for the identification of chemicals to be controlled under the Treaty, including addressing the large number of chemicals for which no safety information is publicly available. Further, Dr. Karlsson highlighted the need for prioritizing certain chemicals or groups of chemicals and establishing mechanisms to communicate chemical information across the supply chain, drawing on existing initiatives and scientific knowledge. Dr. Olga Speranskaya, former IPEN co-chair, also highlighted the need for legally binding and globally harmonized requirements for chemical transparency and traceability. Such requirements would have significant benefits for international trade, human health, workers’ rights, and jurisdictional equality at all stages of the plastic life cycle

Schedule of the INC

It was agreed that INC3 will take place in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023, followed by INC4 in Ottawa, Canada and INC5 in the Republic of Korea.