The second meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, concluded by mandating preparation of a “zero draft” of the new treaty for consideration at INC-3, as well as agreeing to a one-day meeting prior to INC-3 to discuss a synthesis report of elements not considered during INC-2.

In her opening remarks, Inger Andersen, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, highlighted calls for a broad, innovative, inclusive, and transparent agreement, one that leans on science, learns from stakeholders, and ensures support for developing countries.

In progressing toward the development of a plastics treaty, INC-2 considered multiple elements that could be included in the future treaty. Delegates also elected remaining members of the INC bureau and agreed on the provisional application of the draft rules of procedure. Beset by wrangling over the latter and other procedural issues, the Earth Negotiation Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting notes, the INC did not begin to discuss substantive issues and an options paper with potential elements for a future treaty until the evening of the third day, with the main points of contention revolving around how the instrument would build a legal mandate. Some, including the US, Saudi Arabia, China, and India, called for a bottom-up approach, where countries would determine their commitments based on capacity and best intentions, along the lines of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Others, mainly developing countries, preferred strong global commitments for all countries, but with common but differentiated responsibilities, considering the scourge of legacy plastics and waste left by developed countries.

On where to put control measures along the lifecycle of plastics, most developing countries called for strong controls on the upstream part of the cycle. Other countries, including those from the more than 80 countries of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution (HAC), preferred focusing on upper-midstream and downstream measures, including product design and sustainable waste management to better achieve circularity. With respect to means of implementation, delegates held divergent views on, among others, whether a new fund should be established, as is the case under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, or whether the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should be used, as, for example, under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

In the end, delegates agreed to mandate the Secretariat to prepare a Committee-driven zero draft, to reflect differing views on elements related to the plastic lifecycle, such as identifying options on definitions and criteria along the plastic supply chain, including on problematic and avoidable plastic polymers and products, design for circularity, substitutes and alternatives, releases and emissions, and addressing means of implementation. 

The INC requested the Secretariat to: invite submissions from observers by 15 August and Members by 15 September on elements not included in the options paper nor discussed at INC-2, such as the principles and scope of the instrument; and draft a synthesis report to consider such elements, which delegates could review and determine if it adequately reflected the submissions during the one-day meeting prior to INC-3. 

In March 2022, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution, requesting the UNEP Executive Director to convene an intergovernmental negotiating committee, to begin its work during the second half of 2022, to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, with the aim of completing its work by the end of 2024. The instrument could include both binding and voluntary approaches, based on a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic. INC-2 met in Paris, France, from 29 May to 2 June 2023. INC-3 will meet in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023. [ENB Coverage of INC-2] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Webinar on Eliminating and Restricting Hazardous Chemicals and Intentionally Added Microplastics in Plastic Products] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Eliminating and Restricting Single Use Plastics] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Enhancing a Circular Plastics Economy, Eliminating Release of Plastic to Nature, and Cleaning Up Existing Plastic Pollution]