United Against Plastic: Global Leaders Navigate Challenges to Combat Pollution

At the fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) in Canada, global delegates made significant strides towards addressing the plastic pollution crisis. Despite differing opinions, the common goal of ending plastic pollution to protect human health and ecosystems brought countries together. Key discussions focused on reducing plastic production, public and private sector responsibilities, and ensuring a just transition for vulnerable groups. As negotiations continue, there is hope for a global plastics treaty by the end of the year.

Devdiscourse News DeskDevdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 24-05-2024 18:22 IST | Created: 24-05-2024 18:22 IST
United Against Plastic: Global Leaders Navigate Challenges to Combat Pollution
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The global crisis of plastic pollution has reached a critical juncture. At the fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) held recently in Canada, delegates from around the world gathered to address this pressing issue. Bringing together representatives from 170 countries, each with unique national circumstances, economies, and traditions, was no small feat. Yet, the shared objective of ending plastic pollution to safeguard human health and ecosystems guided the discussions, highlighting the urgent need for collective action.

Converging Views Amidst Diversity

Plastic pollution is a pervasive problem that transcends borders, affecting every corner of the globe. In Ottawa, despite differing opinions and positions, delegates were united by the common goal of protecting the environment and human health. The INC-4 meeting marked a significant step forward, with member states advancing the streamlining of parts of the revised zero draft and securing the mandate for further work ahead of the next meeting, INC-5.

Since November 2022, there have been four meetings aimed at negotiating the details of a future global plastics treaty. As the negotiation process evolves, various positions and coalitions have emerged, reflecting the complexity of the issue.

Production and Consumption Debate

A major point of contention is the need to reduce the production of primary plastic polymers. The High Ambition Coalition, represented by several member states, argues that the current level of plastic production is unsustainable. They propose setting a target to reduce plastic production by 40 percent by 2040. This reduction, they argue, is essential to tackling plastic pollution effectively.

However, other countries contend that the focus should be on combating plastic pollution, not plastics themselves. They emphasize that plastics play a crucial role in their economies and in human well-being, including healthcare. These countries caution that reducing plastic production could increase living costs and harm economies, particularly affecting poorer communities. Instead, they advocate for better product design, sustainable alternatives, and improved waste management measures to address plastic pollution without reducing production.

Responsibilities of Public and Private Sectors

Another key discussion point revolves around the responsibilities of the public and private sectors in managing plastic pollution. Currently, the environmental and socio-economic costs of plastic pollution are not internalized into the price of plastic products. The burden of collection and waste management largely falls on governments, funded by public financing.

Delegates debated the introduction of a global plastic pollution fee as a means to internalize these costs. While some supported this idea, many opposed it, citing challenges in deciding and implementing such fees. Nonetheless, there is a consensus that both governments and industries must enhance their efforts. Governments need to improve waste management systems, and the private sector must focus on better product design, increased use of recycled plastics, and financial contributions to waste management.

Developed vs. Developing Countries

The negotiations also highlighted the differing perspectives between developed and developing countries. Developed countries argue that all nations have a responsibility to fight plastic pollution and can align domestic financial flows to support this goal. In contrast, developing countries call for common but differentiated responsibilities, emphasizing the need for financial assistance, technical support, and technology transfer to implement the future global plastics treaty. They stress that while all countries must tackle plastic pollution, the responsibilities should reflect national capacities and circumstances.

Progress Amidst Challenges

Despite divergent views, INC-4 achieved progress by streamlining draft texts and reducing the options proposed in previous meetings. Several provisions received broad support in principle. Three key topics emerged from the discussions:

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): There is a general consensus that producers should bear the cost of ending plastic pollution and ensure the circularity of their products. However, opinions differ on whether EPR measures should be globally standardized or tailored to national circumstances.

Transparency in Plastics: Delegates agreed on the need for greater transparency regarding the composition, additives, and chemicals in plastic products. Enhanced transparency, labeling, and categorization are crucial for safe and environmentally sound waste management and recycling.

Just Transition: Many member states emphasized the importance of a just transition for vulnerable groups, such as informal waste workers, women, children, and indigenous people. While there is consensus on the need for support, opinions vary on whether these groups should be explicitly mentioned in the treaty provisions.

To address unresolved issues, INC-4 established two open-ended expert groups to explore implementation methods and chemicals of concern in plastic products. These groups will inform and advance discussions at the next round of negotiations.

Looking Ahead with Optimism

The atmosphere in Ottawa was one of cautious optimism. Despite the challenges, there is hope that a global plastics treaty can be finalized by the end of the year. The spirit of multilateral cooperation and commitment to finding common ground, as epitomized by the quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, was palpable. This spirit is more important than ever in addressing the global crisis of plastic pollution.

As we look forward to INC-5, the hope is that delegates will remain united by the common goal of developing a treaty that addresses plastic pollution and its socio-ecological impacts. The journey to a global solution is challenging, but with collective effort and determination, humanity can overcome this self-created problem.


Q1. What is the goal of the global plastics treaty?

A: The treaty aims to end plastic pollution to protect human health and ecosystems.

Q2. Why is reducing plastic production a contentious issue?

A: Some countries believe reducing plastic production is essential to tackle pollution, while others argue it could harm economies and propose alternative solutions like better product design and waste management.

Q3. What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?

A: EPR is a policy approach where producers are responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, including the cost of collection, recycling, and disposal.

Q4. Why is transparency in plastics important?

A: Transparency about the composition and chemicals in plastics is crucial for safe waste management and recycling.

Q5. What does a just transition mean in the context of plastic pollution?

A: A just transition ensures that vulnerable groups, such as informal waste workers, women, and indigenous people, receive support and protection during the transition to sustainable practices.

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