15 million tonnes more plastics in the sea - since 2022

03 May, 2024

Over 15 million tonnes of plastic have leaked into the ocean since the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee sessions began in 2022. The fourth session (INC-4) marked a crucial juncture in the development of a global plastics treaty. However, stakeholders leave disappointed as the negotiations conclude in Ottawa, Canada. The reduction of plastic production, a key provision, was omitted from the mandate of further technical discussions. 

Ottawa Plastic Tap in front of Shaw Centre, Ottawa. Photo: WWF

Plastic pollution is one of the three major crises facing the planet, known as the triple planetary crisis. To address the escalating plastic problem, United Nations (UN) Member States created the committee to negotiate an agreement for an “international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including the marine environment,” the Global Plastics Treaty.  

“We cannot solve the plastic pollution crisis without reducing plastic production,” says Juliet Kabera, Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority. Rwanda, alongside Peru, is championing the high-ambition treaty, which includes upstream measures, such as supply. 

After a deadlock on textual revisions, negotiations only gained momentum on the final day of the week-long meeting. A small group of Member States – that produce plastics– advocated for downstream measures like waste management, and proposed omissions of critical text and amendments aimed at weakening existing provisions. They also resisted restrictions on the production of primary plastic polymers (virgin plastics) and chemicals of concern. 

A recent Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty report states, “Optimizing waste management, removal technologies, and improved circularity is not sufficient to curb plastics pollution in the short-, mid- or long-term.”

“World leaders must stand up to the fossil fuel industry and deliver a strong and ambitious treaty that represents the will of the people,” says Graham Forbes, Head of Delegation to the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations at Greenpeace.

196 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists registered for the INC-4 session, and at least 16 are on country delegations, according to an analysis led by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL). A 37 per cent increase from the 143 lobbyists registered at INC-3 last year.

“99 per cent of plastics is derived from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel industry continues to clutch plastics and petrochemicals as a lifeline.” Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Global Petrochemical Campaign Coordinator at CIEL calls to “kick polluters out by adopting a strong conflict of interest policy.”

The World Wildlife Fund warns that, “Progress on the treaty still lags behind the scale and urgency needed to end plastic pollution.”  To bolster ambition for the upcoming final session, the INC Chair has called for formal intercessional work, where delegates can meet with scientists and technical advisors before the final meeting takes place later this year.

The Bridge to Busan Declaration has also been established to rally support for including primary plastic polymer issues in the treaty text, citing plastic pollution’s role in driving climate change. 

Excluding primary plastic polymers from discussions means that addressing plastic production reduction in the treaty’s final text becomes more challenging, and the UN will fail to meet its goal of addressing the plastic crisis. 

While the INC-4’s closing plenary yielded a diluted agreement, the final decisions will be made in November in Busan, Republic of Korea at INC-5. Delegates from around the world have until then to draft a treaty that will break down a system currently producing over 460 million tonnes of plastic every year. 

By Bridget Ferguson, under-water-reporter, Queensland, Australia, 2024. 

Text: Bridget Ferguson reporting for DSR Queensland Australia
Cover photo: Tobias Dahlin
Photo: WWF Canada

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