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Without much progress, the global meeting to agree on a World Plastics Treaty concluded

A bittersweet taste remained among those attending this summit for the environment in Uruguay.

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After a week of negotiations, attendees at the “Break Free From Plastic” global meeting highlighted high and low points while setting the stage for an upcoming meeting, expected to be more productive, in two years.

Convened by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the first meeting of the intergovernmental committee (INC-1) to establish an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution concluded with a series of demands in which these were included:

  • Reductions in the production and use of plastics
  • Elimination of toxic substances associated with the life cycle of plastic
  • Protection of human health and the need for a just transition

Backed by many Member States, and even by two of the worst plastic polluters, Nestlé and Unilever, a strong voice of urgency and great ambition in the negotiations of this treaty was heard in Montevideo, Uruguay, venue of the meeting.

Waste pickers empowerment

With the participation of governments from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific, as well as members of civil society, discussions revolved around the life cycle of plastics and endorsed support for recyclers with the launch of the Just Transition Initiative (building on its previous iteration as the Friends of Waste Pickers Group), which will ensure their representation in future INCs and provide visibility to more than 20 million waste pickers around the world.

Low points

One of the most controversial issues of the meeting was presented after an agreement was not reached on the Rules of Procedure, a document that will determine how states and organizations can participate in future negotiations, and whose wording was transferred to INC-2, which will take place in May 2023.

Among the remaining questions are whether each of the EU member states will have one vote or whether they will be treated as a single bloc during the vote, and whether decisions should only be made by consensus, something that experts have described as a strategy to weaken strong measures that could be taken to reduce plastic production.

The members of the meeting demanded that the INC design a negotiation process that facilitates meaningful access for rights holders and recognizes the fundamental role of civil society groups, such as indigenous peoples, scientists, workers in the formal and informal sectors, unions, and groups vulnerable to climate.

Likewise, the observers seek that for the next meeting access to representatives of the most polluting companies be restricted, especially those that hide behind the insignia of NGOs.

In terms of future INC venues, country delegates have agreed to host the next INC-2 exclusively in person in Paris, the week of May 22, 2023, as long as visas can be issued to all negotiators and Member States at least two weeks before the meetings, or else the meeting will be moved to Nairobi.

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