The third round of negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty (INC-3) ended on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 19 without agreement on how to move forward. The INC Secretariat was mandated to draft a Revised Zero Draft by December 31, 2023, that would include all options on the future treaty expressed by the various member countries during the week of negotiations in Nairobi.
Despite the fact that several countries had expressed "much interest in conducting intersessional work" the committee was unable to agree on a mandate for intersessional work between now and the fourth round of negotiations (INC-49), to be held in Ottawa, Canada, April 21-30, 2024. This means that in Ottawa negotiations will have to pick up where they left off in Nairobi. For civil society observers, this represents a failure of multilateral environmental diplomacy and a risk to getting an effective global plastics treaty concluded by 2024.
The Revised Zero Draft
INC-3 began with a 32-page zero draft, which member country delegates divided into three groups worked on during the Kenyan week: Contact Group 1, co-facilitated by Gwendalyn Kingtaro Sisior (Palau) and Axel Borchmann (Germany), focused on the technical and regulatory elements of the draft; Contact Group 2, co-facilitated by Katherine Lynch (Australia) and Oliver Boachie (Ghana), focused on financial, implementation, and compliance aspects; and Contact Group 3, co-facilitated by Danny Rahdiansyah (Indonesia) and Marine Collignon (France); worked on institutional arrangements and general and final provisions.
On Sunday, November 19, Group 1 and Group 2 submitted their updated versions of the zero draft, related to their own topics, which are significantly longer than the initial one and full of additional text options and lots of parentheses. All this indicates that there is no agreement on the text and that there is a request to delete or add elements. The text agreed upon by Group 1 is 73 pages long; Group 2's text comes in at 27 pages.
On the same evening, however, Group 3 had not yet managed to publish a complete updated version of the Zero Draft for its sections (but a preliminary draft of it turned out to be over 60 pages long). The INC Secretariat will have to put the various documents together, keeping all options standing, to create the Revised Zero Draft, which will serve as the basis for negotiations in Ottawa and will be well over 100 pages long.
The lack of consensus on intersessional work
On Sunday evening, Group 3 co-facilitator Danny Rahdiansyah (Indonesia) informed the plenary that the group had "failed to reach consensus" on intersessional work. Just minutes before the end of the plenary, the United States called for reopening the discussion to try to find a way forward on the issue. Three countries took the floor after the United States: Brazil, which seconded the motion, and Russia and Saudi Arabia, which opposed it.
In light of the lack of consensus on the part of Russia and Saudi Arabia, in application of the provisionally adopted procedural rules requiring that all decisions be made on the basis of consensus, the conference chair, Ambassador Meza-Cuadra, decided not to reopen the discussion. INC-3 thus ended without an agreement on how to move forward.
The reactions of civil society
“This week made clear that an overwhelming majority of countries demand an ambitious treaty that covers the full lifecycle of plastics,” said at the end of INC-3 Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “That treaty is still achievable in these talks, but only if negotiators acknowledge and confront the coordinated campaign by fossil fuel and petrochemical exporters to prevent real progress of any kind.”
According to CIEL “faced with endless delays, procedural maneuvering, and ticking clocks, many countries fought to ensure the treaty delivers the production reductions, toxic reductions, and focus on human rights that both science and the negotiating mandate require. But a troubling number of wealthier countries, including members of the 60+ member High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution suggested a willingness to prioritize short-term consensus over long-term success”.
“Countries with high ambition should ensure that the negotiations advance, and not allow low ambition countries to block progress. This is why having Rules of Procedure that have a provision for voting if consensus is not reached is critically important–otherwise one country can hold the entire negotiations hostage” told to Renewable Matter Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).
"Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia are negotiating in bad faith"
On Saturday, Nov. 18, GAIA (comprising 1,000 grassroots groups, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals from more than 90 countries) had sent an open letter to the Members of the High Ambition Coalition calling for them to live up to their name and demonstrate political leadership. In a press release sent after the end of the negotiations, GAIA then raised alarm about the "dysfunctional negotiations" and also “levelled sharp critiques at the UNEP Secretariat itself for leading an undisciplined and meandering negotiating process that has bucked convention from previous international negotiations and allowed a minority of countries to hold the process hostage."
Christina Dixon, Ocean Campaign Leader at the Environmental Investigation Agency told Renewable Matter: “We saw the countries of the High Ambition Coalition taking a bit of a back seat this meeting give space to the lower ambition countries to let them air their grievances and feel heard. This was clearly a strategy to give them more of an ownership in the process, so they can no longer argue they are not being listened to.
However, going forward we would hope to see the countries of the High Ambition Coalition step forward and defend their red lines more actively and not leave it up to the Pacific small island developing states and Africa group to defend the necessary upstream action required. We know the High Ambition Coalition countries are also supportive of [global provisions on] production, product design and toxicity so we really need them to step up and become a more vocal group along with the ones who held the line this week. We can't afford to let the process become completely detailed and weakened by a handful of countries who do not want an effective plastics treaty”.
For Magnus Løvold, an expert at the Norwegian Academy of International Law, "the Nairobi round [of negotiations] will go down in history as an unqualified failure of multilateral environmental diplomacy. The week's proceedings have swept away any doubt that some of the countries involved in this process - notably Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia - are negotiating in bad faith. It is impossible to develop a plastic pollution treaty under such circumstances." According to Løvold, as they prepare for the fourth round of negotiations in Ottawa, the High Ambition Coalition countries and other ambitious countries "must muster the courage to move ahead, even if those least willing to join stay behind. We cannot afford to let a small minority of countries continue to hold this process hostage. It is time to overrule their spoiler tactics, and take future substantive decisions to a vote”.
What to expect from INC-4
On Sunday, November 19 in plenary, delegates elected, by acclamation, Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdivieso of Ecuador as INC chair for the remainder of the negotiations. They also elected, also by acclamation, Estonia and Peru as vice-chairs of the Committee, representing the Eastern European States and the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), respectively. Ambassador Valdivieso will coordinate the drafting of the Revised Draft Zero and organize the work of INC-4 in Ottawa, Canada.
According to CIEL ,“the huge list of unresolved issues and the ongoing efforts to obstruct progress threaten to derail negotiations fully when they resume in Ottawa next year unless Members demonstrate the political courage to take back the process.