Global delegates forge ahead in battle against plastic pollution at INC-4 summit in Ottawa

Delegates from around the world convened in Ottawa, Canada, from 23-29 April 2024, for the 4th Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Over 2500 participants, representing governments, academia, civil society organisations, private sector entities, UN entities, and international organisations, gathered to address the escalating global plastic pollution crisis.

Espen Barth Eide, President of the United Nations Environment Assembly, underscored the summit’s mission: “This is not just a fight against plastic; this is a battle against plastic pollution.” The summit’s focus on distinguishing beneficial uses of plastics from harmful plastic waste was a crucial step as the world grapples with the dual nature of plastic usage, highlighting the urgency of the issue.

During the seven-day session, delegates worked in five subgroups, deliberating over a Revised Draft Text from previous discussions at INC-3. Key areas of consensus included strategies for plastic waste management and just transition principles, signalling a collective acknowledgement of the need for comprehensive approaches to tackle plastic waste.

However, the discussions also brought to light significant disagreements, particularly regarding the regulation of primary plastic polymers and the management of chemicals within plastics. These divergences underscore the intricate nature of plastic pollution, which spans environmental, economic, and social dimensions, emphasizing the need for comprehensive and multi-dimensional approaches.

A crucial outcome of INC-4 was the agreement to use the session’s compiled works as a foundation for future negotiations. The establishment of a legal drafting group was also announced, which is set to commence at the next meeting, INC-5, aiming to refine the legal framework of the new instrument.

Moreover, the closing plenary saw the formation of two ad hoc intersessional open-ended expert groups. These groups are tasked with developing an analysis of potential financial sources and mechanisms for implementing the instrument’s objectives and analysing approaches towards recyclable and reusable plastic products.

Despite the progress, some delegates expressed concerns about the pace of negotiations and the feasibility of reaching a robust agreement by the end of 2024. The complexity of the issues led to calls for an additional session before INC-5, although consensus on this was not reached.

A sobering reminder of its pervasive impacts highlighted the urgency of addressing plastic pollution. Studies indicate that of the 10 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s, over 8 billion tonnes have become waste, with millions entering our oceans annually. This pollution affects marine life and has also been detected in human tissues, including lungs and blood, showcasing the dire need for effective global governance on this issue.

As INC-4 concluded, the path forward is laden with challenges, yet the continued international commitment reflects a collective endeavour to safeguard the planet from one of its most persistent environmental threats. (nsh)

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