The ICLRC took part in the fourth session of negotiations on an international instrument on plastic pollution

On 23-29 April 2024, the Center’s experts participated in the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, under the auspices of UNEP in Ottawa, Canada. 

Substantive discussions were based on the revised zero draft of the future instrument, published in December 2023, in two contact groups, which were also divided into subgroups. Delegations optimized the text of the draft and made suggestions to fill in options.

The mandate of the first group and relevant subgroups was to review parts I (objective, principles, scope of the instrument) and II (main aspects of combating plastic pollution) of the zero draft (final texts of the parts developed at the subgroup meetings: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3). The biggest controversy and disagreement was the discussion on the scope of the future treaty from a plastic life cycle perspective, whether the regulation should cover the life cycle of plastic or plastic products, which areas of plastic use are excluded from scope.

Some countries consider that a scope-related measure to reduce virgin polymer production is key to the instrument. Other countries consider that this measure is outside the mandate of the future treaty as defined in UNEA Resolution 5/14, and the scope accordingly, because, in their view, the Resolution deals with plastic products, which does not include virgin polymers. The Resolution is aimed at combating plastic pollution, and virgin polymers are not pollutants, according to the countries that have expressed their views.

Some countries supported measures to regulate problematic plastic products, including single-use products, and proposed a list of products to be banned as well as phased-down and phased-out measures. Another group of countries called for nationally determined measures, emphasizing the different capacities of countries and their different understandings of “problem” plastic products.

Regarding Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), countries split into those who considered the measure mandatory, with defining the basic principles for implementing EPR in the treaty, and those who were of the view that the measure should be voluntary and at the discretion of states based on national circumstances.

Regarding trade measures, many countries expressed the view that such regulation would have economic and trade implications beyond the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and could be used for discriminatory and/or protectionist purposes. Other countries believe that trade measures can be an effective tool to reduce plastic pollution.

The second contact group discussed measures and means of implementation of the future instrument, including funding and capacity building, as well as organizational issues. The discussion was divided into 2 subgroups (final texts from the subgroup meetings: 2.1, 2.2). The main disagreement was over the financial mechanism: countries were divided over whether to create a new special fund modeled on existing ones (e.g., the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol), to use the existing Global Environment Facility, or to develop a hybrid option.

In subsequent intersessional work, delegates agreed to establish two open-ended expert groups: the first group would develop an analysis of potential sources and means to realize the objectives of the instrument, including options for a financial mechanism; the second group would analyze criteria and other approaches for plastic products and chemicals of concern, as well as product design, with a particular focus on the recyclability and reuse of plastic products.

The sections developed at INC-4 will be compiled into an optimized revised draft treaty to be prepared by the Secretariat and published before the next meeting. The optimized revised draft will be used as the basis for discussions at the final fifth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-5) in South Korea in November 2024. At INC-5, an open-ended legal drafting group consisting of legal experts and two co-chairs will also begin work on the text. In South Korea, delegates will have to produce a final text and agree on a document.

The Center will continue to follow the development of the future instrument on plastic pollution control and participate in the discussions as an observer.