Countries to Resume Negotiations on Global Plastics Pollution Treaty: Outlook for INC-4

Countries are preparing for a new round of negotiations on an ambitious legally binding international treaty to address plastics pollution across the entire life cycle of plastics per the UNEA 5.2 mandate in resolution 5/14. As proposed, elements of the current draft treaty text have the potential to inform legal requirements that could be adopted at the national level on a global basis governing the use of plastics in virtually all products – from product design mandates to restrictions on polymers and additives, to extended producer responsibility (EPR) and waste management requirements.

Countries will meet from April 23-29, 2024, in Ottawa, Canada, to continue negotiations on this international legally binding instrument at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4). The subject of the negotiations will be the “Revised Zero Draft” treaty text (released in December 2023), which outlines potential provisions and a multitude of options for the treaty text for countries to consider. Negotiations are scheduled to conclude later this year. The final treaty will likely coordinate and accelerate countries’ actions to address plastics pollution.

Revised Zero Draft Text

The Revised Zero Draft Text will be the starting point for substantive and potentially contentious negotiations at INC-4; however, any member of the INC may propose additions, deletions, or modifications during the meeting. The current text is expansive, with many options under various proposed elements of the agreement still on the table for discussion, highlighting the challenge of crafting an ambitious global agreement.

The text currently includes elements addressing:

  • Primary plastic polymers
  • Chemicals and polymers of concern
  • Problematic and avoidable plastic products (such as single-use plastics)
  • Product Design
  • Non-plastic substitutes
  • Extended Producer Responsibility
  • Emissions and Releases of Plastics
  • Waste management
  • Trade in listed polymers, or plastic products, including transboundary movement of plastic waste
  • Existing plastic pollution
  • Just transition
  • Transparency, tracking, monitoring, and labeling

Because the Revised Draft Text still reflects many viewpoints, existing options within each element are wide-ranging, from prescriptive requirements or bans to phasing in or out certain uses or requirements over time to removing a proposed treaty element altogether. Delegates will also consider the need for additional controls and requirements on international trade in plastic wastes managed for recycling. These would be in addition to the expanded controls and trade bans covering most plastic wastes that Parties to the Basel Convention adopted in 2019. Negotiating coalitions have coalesced, including a “High-Ambition” coalition (chaired by Norway and Rwanda) generally advocating for a more prescriptive treaty text and a “like-minded” coalition (including countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia) generally focused on increasing recycling and national approaches. The U.S. has indicated its support for an ambitious, inclusive, and legally binding treaty with meaningful and feasible universal obligations across the full lifecycle of plastics to reduce pollution.

Background on the Negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty

Growing concern with plastics pollution, particularly in the marine environment, prompted a global meeting at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in Nairobi, Kenya in March 2022, to adopt resolution 5/14 mandating the development of a global plastics treaty that would address plastics pollution across the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, product design, and environmentally sound waste management.

INC-1 took place in Uruguay at the end of 2022, when 160 countries were present to begin developing a vision and discuss core approaches to the treaty. After INC-1, countries’ comments were integrated into what is known as the “Elements Paper” or the “Options Paper” developed by the Secretariat to serve as a platform for INC-2 discussions.

INC-2 occurred in Paris in mid-2023, during which the negotiations focused on procedural issues. This delayed substantive discussions on the Elements Paper. However, INC-2 did lead to a mandate for intersessional work to continue the conversation. After INC-2, the Chair and the Secretariat developed a “Zero Draft Text” outlining key elements of a treaty and various options of treaty text for each element.

The Secretariat prepared a synthesis report in October 2023 to synthesize the 61 submissions received on potential elements in the treaty not discussed at INC-2. The synthesis report contained sections related to principles, definitions, scope, institutional arrangements, and final provisions.

INC-3, which occurred in Nairobi in November 2023, did not progress the text as far as envisioned as certain countries focused on improving the zero draft text to include more viewpoints into a revised draft text. The negotiations also saw some members favoring measures to regulate plastic production while other members expressed a preference to focus on reducing plastic pollution. No agreement was reached on formal intersessional work such that further delays are anticipated in the treaty negotiations while certain member states held informal intersessional meetings.

After INC-3, the Secretariat published the “Revised Zero Draft” text (discussed above) intended to integrate all viewpoints for consideration at INC-4.

Next Steps for the Treaty Negotiations

INC-4 will begin the substantive negotiations in earnest on the revised zero draft text, particularly on sections of the texts where there is currently more global alignment. It will also almost certainly launch intersessional work to continue discussions in preparation for INC-5, which is currently scheduled for November 25 – December 1, 2024, in Busan, Korea. Per the mandate in Decision 5/14, there is an ambition to complete negotiations and finalize a draft text by the end of 2024. The outcomes of INC-4 will be key to understanding whether this ambition is achievable.

Implications for the Business Community

Companies that rely on plastics – which will likely be interpreted broadly to include virtually all polymers – as components of their products should already be actively engaging with their trade associations and government representatives to identify potential impacts, interests, and preferred outcomes for the treaty in light of the options under consideration.

Beveridge & Diamond's Consumer Products and Product Stewardship, Global Supply Chains practices work with U.S. and multinational companies that make, distribute, transport, or sell consumer products in a hyper-competitive and evolving consumer goods market. Firm attorneys have represented business interests in the negotiation and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements and other international initiatives relevant to plastics and the circular economy in the U.S. and globally. For more information, please contact the authors.