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Plastic treaty talks under way in Ottawa

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Some participating countries appear divided over what the treaty should include, reports say.

The fourth round of United Nations negotiations for a global plastics treaty kicked off in Ottawa on April 23, but signs of division are already apparent.

Delegates commenced the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. They made general comments on the Revised Draft Text of the ILBI, established contact groups, and began what are being called “substantive discussions.”

As reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a division of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, delegates were “quick to acknowledge that the road towards a new treaty is steep, and, at least at this point, a heavy mist still obscures the route.”

The meeting opened with general statements, including from INC Chair Luis Vayas Valdivieso, Ecuador, who stressed the need to deliver an international legally binding instrument. In the opening session, key regional blocs outlined some key elements they want to see in a treaty: The Asia Pacific group said that countries should receive financial and technical assistance for waste management infrastructure as they take on new obligations under the agreement; and the Africa group called for the creation of a new multilateral fund to help developing countries meet new obligations under a treaty.


And in line with the needs of different groups, some delegates stressed the need to address the entire lifecycle of plastic, while others prioritized addressing only plastic waste management, Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported.

As reported by Reuters news agency, Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s environment minister, told the opening plenary: “We now need to narrow down the options, identify where there is growing consensus and make real progress on the agreement”. He added that the pact should establish targets and eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics and chemicals.

Also on the first day, the INC established two contact groups that split off to keep working on sections of the draft text. The first, co-chaired by Palau and Germany, will look at the technical elements, while the second group, co-chaired by Australia and Ghana, will work on implementation measures.

Deliberations in both groups will continue throughout the week.

The INC-4 meeting hasn’t escaped the notice of some plastics industry groups, one of which cautioned the attendees against recommending heavy-handed bans against plastics. “This meeting has the opportunity to be make or break for these negotiations,” said Matt Seaholm president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Plastics Industry Association. “It will be a missed opportunity if we spend the week talking about how to stop the production of plastic. We need partners and remain hopeful attendees will come to the table in a spirit of compromise so that we can develop strategies to truly address plastic waste in the environment.” This position is shared by the International Council of Chemical Associations, which urged the INC to accelerate actions that the plastics and chemical industry is already doing on its own, such as boosting recycling and redesigning plastic products.

And a group of nations with important fossil fuel development economies is arguing against limiting production or banning certain chemicals. The group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China, says the final INC treaty should focus only on tracking plastic waste.

Hosted by Canada’s federal government, INC-4 is being held at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre and will run from April 23 to April 29. The goal of the talks is to develop a treaty aimed at ending plastic pollution, including microplastics, from entering terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2040. The three previous INC sessions, stretching back over several years, have resulted in a 69-page draft. INC negotiators in Ottawa are hoping to refine that text down to a list of core issues to be approved in a finished global treaty at the final upcoming session scheduled to take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1.


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