4th U.N. Plastics Talks End Without Commitment to Curb Plastic Production or Coherent Draft Text

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The fourth session of the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, or INC-4, ended today without much-needed progress toward an international agreement to end plastic pollution and protect human health, the climate and biodiversity.

While INC-4 did manage a commitment to convene experts to conduct intersessional work before the final scheduled negotiation session in November, it was marred by aggressive efforts by low-ambition countries to clog the text with plastic-promoting edits.

“Countries should be rallying around plastic production cuts at this critical stage, not continuing to wrangle over the treaty’s scope,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, an observer at INC-4. “Despite hearing people from polluted communities around the world give sensible proposals to curb the lifecycle harms of plastics, fossil fuel and petrochemical interests are still shamelessly blocking progress and focusing on utterly inadequate plastic waste management.”

Throughout INC-4, U.N. member states discussed treaty text options proposed at previous negotiations and attempted to streamline the draft toward a final agreement. To the frustration of environmental, public health, and frontline organizations observing the session, nations struggled to agree even on the treaty’s scope and key substantive provisions.

Highlighting the ongoing division over the core issue of plastic production cuts, fossil fuel- and petrochemical-friendly countries could not even agree that intersessional work should cover the issue of primary plastic production.

The Center and many other groups from the Break Free From Plastic movement attended INC-4 in person to pressure member states to negotiate strong and effective treaty language that cuts plastic production and addresses pollution along the full lifecycle of plastic, from extraction and refining of the oil and gas that provides its raw materials to its disposal and loss in the environment.

Rwanda and Peru — both members of the “High Ambition Coalition” — released strong proposals for text on production reductions. In contrast, a coalition of fossil fuel–aligned countries, including Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, continued to forcefully object to treaty measures to address plastic production. These member states, calling themselves the “Like-Minded Group,” suggested changes to the treaty text that gut it almost entirely.

“Rather than showing leadership, the United States has remained disappointedly in the middle,” said Teel Simmonds. “The U.S. proposals lack binding targets and focus on cutting demand for plastic rather than production itself. And they don’t go beyond existing U.S. policy, which has failed to curb plastic production or protect frontline communities and the environment from harm.”

The BFFP movement released a call for action expressing disappointment and demanding more from the U.S. delegation.

Representatives of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus attending the negotiations again highlighted the lack of resources and support to ensure their strong participation. The harms that Indigenous Peoples face from plastic production were underscored by INC-4 participants from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, who are fighting to protect their health from an INEOS petrochemical facility recently shut down for leaking illegal levels of benzene.

Even more fossil fuel, chemical and beverage industry representatives attended INC-4 than previous sessions, and several groups again called for policies to protect the negotiation process from conflicts of interest.

“Despite mounting proof of plastics’ enormous harm to people and the planet, the petrochemical industry and the countries that put them first are ramping up efforts to water down this treaty,” Teel Simmonds said. “We’ll keep fighting their deception and obstruction because the world desperately needs a treaty that protects us from plastic production and pollution. And we’ll keep pushing the United States to lead.”

The next negotiating session, INC-5, will take place in Busan, Korea, in November 2024.

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