Stalemate in UN talks on global plastic pollution treaty: WWF calls for resolute action

Posted on November, 20 2023

Despite widespread support from most countries, efforts to progress on a global treaty to tackle the plastic pollution crisis were thwarted following negotiations in Nairobi, Kenya.

Negotiations came to an impasse in the final hours, as a handful of low-ambition countries stood in the way of meaningful progress.

In the run-up to the next round of negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, WWF is calling on ambitious countries to join forces to overcome hurdles and ensure the treaty's success.

In the "contact groups", delegates gather to discuss the treaty text.

Allthough majority of countries expressed support for a robust treaty with global measures that addresses the entire plastic lifecycle, a handful of low-ambition countries have stalled negotiations. The deadlock, fueled by delaying tactics primarily from nations with vested interests in petrochemicals, has resulted in a lack of consensus on moving the discussions forward. 

This setback means critical measures to combat plastic pollution will be postponed, prolonging the environmental crisis that sees over 30,000 metric tonnes of plastic leaking into oceans daily.

WWF urges progressive nations to take matter into own hands

WWF has urged nations committed to a strong treaty to stand firm and take the reins in advancing intersessional work over the next five months. The aim is to reinvigorate discussions and work through key discussion points leading up to the fourth round of negotiations (INC-4) scheduled for April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada.

Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead at WWF International, emphasized the pressing need to address the issue promptly: 

"Every minute of delay contributes to a toxic legacy for future generations. We know what needs to be done; countries must swiftly agree on the necessary rules to combat this crisis."

Majority backs global rules to tackle plastic pollution

Despite the obstruction posed by a minority of countries, a substantial majority backs a treaty with global, binding rules and regulations. Over 100 nations support global bans and phase-outs of harmful plastics, while 140 countries advocate for establishing binding global rules rather than relying solely on voluntary actions.

During the meeting, negotiators discussed the proposed draft of the treaty text, presenting constructive options to bolster proposed global rules across the entire plastic lifecycle, from extraction to safe disposal. 

The talks also showcased strong leadership from low- and middle-income regions like Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands, which emphasized the need to regulate plastic production and product design – to directly address the overwhelming amount of waste they are having to deal with. Reducing rates of production and ensuring products can be easily and safely recycled will address the disproportionate burden of plastic pollution on low-income countries.

Alice Ruhweza, Senior Director for Policy and Engagement at WWF International, highlighted the urgency for a global treaty with binding rules and robust financial support to mitigate the challenges faced by nations in the Global South.

“A global treaty with binding rules for elimination and safe circulation of plastics, along with robust financial support, is our best hope for the level playing field which is desperately needed if we are to tackle the challenges felt by people and the environment in the Global South,Ruhweza said.

Staying on track towards the 2024 finish line

With only two negotiating sessions remaining before the end of 2024, WWF calls on countries to mobilize political support and prepare the technical basis needed to make the Ottawa talks a turning point in the negotiations. 

Lindebjerg reiterated the urgency of the situation outside conference rooms, emphasizing the Ottawa meeting's potential as a pivotal moment in addressing the plastic pollution crisis.

As nations navigate differing viewpoints, the hope remains that Ottawa will witness substantial progress towards a unified, effective global treaty to combat plastic pollution, a monumental step toward safeguarding our planet for future generations.

Read WWF's media statement on the closing of INC-3
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Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental crises of our time. WWF’s No Plastic in Nature Initiative works across the entire life cycle of plastic to reduce plastic production, increase the reuse of plastic already in circulation and eliminate leakage of plastic into nature. 
Our mission is simple: to reduce and ultimately eliminate plastic pollution in our planet's ecosystems. Together, we can reach our goal of no plastic in nature- for nature, wildlife, humans and our one shared home.

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