Ottawa, Ontario, Canada– After more than a year of stalling, negotiators finally made progress on the fourth round of plastics treaty talks (INC-4), with a decisive and growing support amongst parties on the need for the treaty to include plastic reduction targets, with over 50 countries in favor.

“INC-4 marks a turning point in the fight against plastic pollution, despite petro-states’ and industry efforts to block progress and lower ambition.” says Ana Rocha, Global Plastics Policy Director at GAIA. “The drumbeat to reduce plastic production is growing from countries worldwide. More and more leaders are waking up to what the science and our lived experiences tell us: plastic is pollution, and we need to stop it where it starts.”

The credit for the growing sea change on primary plastic polymer (PPP) reduction goes to Global South regions, particularly Africa, Latin America, and small island developing states (SIDS). Rwanda and Peru were the first to call for a plastic reduction target of 40% by 2040. While not high enough to avoid breaching the 1.5°C climate target, Rwanda and Peru’s proposal is the first time a group of countries have put forward a specific target for plastic production cuts. Other outspoken countries include Fiji, Angola, the Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, and Peru.

“Unless we address the realities of the Global South, this problem of plastic pollution will not go away, leaving our people and environments to bear its most detrimental impacts. The African Group of negotiators at INC-4 have shown their strength and unity at INC-4, on behalf of everyone today and future generations to come,” says Merrisa Naidoo, Plastics Campaigner of GAIA Africa.

In another leap forward in the treaty process, countries have begun negotiating on the treaty text itself, for the first time in the INC process, and the long and unwieldy Revised Zero Draft from INC-3 was whittled down into a viable precursor to a final treaty text. In this streamlined draft, GAIA’s key policy priorities are very much in play: reduction of primary plastic polymers, eradication of toxic chemicals in products, a stand-alone financial mechanism, and enshrining a just transition.

In spite of these gains, or perhaps because of them, the closing plenary was flung into disarray when the Chair’s proposal for intersessional work (meeting between INC-4 and 5) failed to honor the more ambitious proposals put forth by Global South countries, capitulating to the will of the least progressive Member States by putting forward an agenda that excludes PPP.

“Tonight’s upsets show that historical injustices have made their way into the halls of the plastics treaty negotiations,” states Camila Aguilera, Communications Officer for GAIA Latin America and the Caribbean. “The Global South countries who are fighting tooth and nail for a strong plastics treaty have been steamrolled by the will of wealthy nations. The debate over intersessional work is a proxy for these geopolitical divides between the Global North and the Global South.”

The intersessional proposal limited the scope of talks on the financial mechanism to focusing on existing funding sources and private financing, threatening progress on this make-or-break facet of the treaty.

Arpita Bhagat, GAIA Asia Pacific Plastic Policy Officer, states:  “Global North countries are attempting to shirk responsibility by suggesting that the Global South’s needs can be met through existing financial environmental funds like the GEF, when countries have been clear that existing resources are not enough, nor accessible to those most in-need.”

Also concerning is the promotion of  industry-controlled and largely unregulated Extended Producer Responsibility and plastic credits by entities like the World Bank, Verra, Plastic Credits Exchange and many more. Investigative reports have exposed plastic credits as a greenwashing scheme that exacerbates the plastic problem by burning plastic in cement kilns.

At the eleventh hour, a compromise was reached for intersessional work with a proposal by Brazil that included options for the establishment of a financial mechanism, fulfilling the request of impacted countries in the Global South.

The question of whether civil society will be included in this critical next step in the process remains unresolved. Jessica Roff, Plastics & Petrochemicals Program Manager at GAIA US and Canada, states, “After multiple assurances of commitment to our inclusion, the US government stayed silent as the chair ignored repeated requests for our inclusion by the more progressive countries.”

Source: GAIA (30 April 2024)

GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 1,000 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.