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Little progress with the US plastics agreement – producers call for increased efforts for INC-4

The member states of the United Nations want to put an end to environmental pollution through plastic waste by 2040. An initial draft for the agreement was presented at the third meeting of the inter-state negotiating committee that aimed to draw up an international legal instrument to combat plastic pollution (INC-3). The meeting was held from 13 – 19 November 2023 at the headquarters of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. Consensus on the next steps that were needed to draw up the agreement was, however, not reached in Nairobi. The biggest point of contention is whether the agreement should provide for a limit to the amount of plastics produced.

The zero draft, which was negotiated in Nairobi, pursues two main aims, namely to protect human health and the environment against plastic pollution, and to end environmental pollution through plastic waste. It contains different options for the scope and characteristics of a global plastics agreement. With regard to the biggest point of dispute – limiting the production of primary plastics – three options are given in the draft of the INC-3 negotiating committee. In the first, all countries would have to ensure that plastics production remains below a binding target. The second option contains a global target to control and reduce total production as well as national targets that are laid down by every country in order to reach this target. The third option provides for the countries themselves to fix the targets that would serve to control and reduce plastics production. In Nairobi, especially oil-producing countries like Saudi-Arabia, Iran and Russia blocked the proposed restriction of plastics production and, according to press reports from negotiating circles, came up with numerous suggestions for change. The result was that no agreement was reached in Nairobi on the next steps, which means that there is no mandate to continue working both politically and scientifically on the text of the draft before the next round of negotiations in April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada (INC-4). Consequently, the negotiations are now being delayed as a whole. The association of plastics producers, Plastics Europe (PE), was disappointed about the lack of agreement and appeals in a statement to all parties involved to increase their efforts and, ahead of the next round of negotiations, to draw up suitable solutions. To accomplish this, they should double their efforts – and that includes industry and governments. Plastics Europe had hoped that the talks in Nairobi would concentrate on the circular economy, including structural measures to promote sustainable production and sustainable consumption as well as recycling. In Ottawa, the leaders of the negotiations should, in the opinion of the association, then occupy themselves, for example, with the question of how best to promote sustainable production and the sustainable consumption of plastics and plastic products, and how to enable the rapid worldwide expansion of collection, sorting and recycling (both mechanical and chemical recycling). Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of Plastics Europe in Brussels, explains: "Apart from that, they must introduce measures that create greater demand for recyclable plastics and create a sustainable financing system that can mobilise the massive public and private investment that is needed for this transformation. We hope that, in the next round of negotiations, further progress can be achieved with these measures, and we will continue to advise the leaders of the negotiations – wherever this helps – in our role both as private investors and as infrastructure and technology providers." The German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) is of a similar opinion. Even before the negotiations in Nairobi, the VCI, together with Plastics Europe Deutschland, warned against losing sight at the negotiations of what, in the opinion of the associations, is the most important target, namely the circular economy. The VCI also regards very critically any efforts to put a general limit on plastics production. Wolfgang Große Entrup, Director General of the VCI, points out that "calling plastics as a material with so many benefits into question is going in completely the wrong direction. Plastics have become indispensable in many areas for sustainability and climate protection, for example in wind power and solar plants. The key is to exhaust all possibilities for producing plastics from non-fossil raw materials and, at the end of their useful life, to consistently recycle them. So that this can become reality all over the world, we need to encourage the entire range of recycling technologies.“
Further information: to download the zero draft for the plastics agreement

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