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  • Writer's pictureSergio Colombo and Giada Ferraglioni

BRIEFING: Fourth round of UN plastic talks closes amid disappointment due to insufficient progress

The latest round of negotiations on the UN plastic treaty wrapped up on Monday with shy steps forward on the draft text, due to be finalized by the end of the year, though observers levelled criticism over the lack of progress on production cuts and funding mechanisms.

The fourth Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) meeting in Ottawa, Canada, concluded with countries weighing the proposal of a target for 40% reduction for plastic production by 2040 submitted by Rwanda and Peru, even as a final agreement was not reached.


Countries agreed on a series of expert meetings aimed at catalysing convergence on key issues in the lead up to the final round of talks (INC-5), scheduled to be held over Nov. 25-Dec. 1 in Busan, South Korea.


They also decided to establish an open-ended group tasked with ensuring legal soundness to the draft text. The proposal, presented by Ecuador, was supported by many delegations, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Turkiye, and the EU.


The Ottawa talks, which took place over Apr. 23-30, brought together more than 2,500 delegates representing 170 countries and over 480 observer organisations, including non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations, and UN entities.


Several environmental organisations, such as Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) and Greenpeace, pointed to a lack of ambition, with some arguing that parties bowed down to the plastic and fossil fuel industries.


“INC-4 ended without strong commitments on plastic production reduction and funding mechanisms, especially for Global South countries,” said Abdul Ghofar from Friends of the Earth.


In a statement released on Monday, Greenpeace also noted the “disappointing” presence of 196 lobbyists from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries at the summit, claiming that “states are listening more closely to them than health scientists”.


The figure represents a 37% increase from the 143 lobbyists registered at INC-3, according to an analysis of the provisional list of participants released by the Center for International Environmental Law.


ADVOCATING FOR CREDITS


The final text is set to have large implications for how the world will deal with the plastic pollution crisis and its impact on nature and global biodiversity, as well as for the early plastic credit market.


Negotiations in Ottawa saw the participation of major players in the emerging plastic credit market, with credit standard Verra attending as an accredited UN observer.

Verra is advocating for plastic credits to be included in the treaty as a key financing mechanism to help bridge the funding gap on waste collection and management, slated to reach an estimated $40 billion by 2040.


“Finance was an important theme of discussion at INC-4, and as negotiations advance, the details surrounding implementing and financing the treaty will be of paramount importance,” Robin Rix, chief of legal, policy, and markets at Verra, told Carbon Pulse.


“We believe outcome-based financing approaches, including high-integrity plastic credits, present a robust avenue for channelling investment towards combating plastic pollution.”


Credits – whether used independently or along with other financial instruments like outcome-based bonds – can support the financial mechanisms established by the treaty by mobilising financial contributions aligned with measurable results, said Rix.


“MAJOR TOPIC”


Speaking to Carbon Pulse, PCX Solutions, another early mover in the plastic credit space which verifies and issues units, also underlined that plastic credits took centre stage at the summit.


“While negotiators touched on financing at INC-4 as one of many topics on a packed agenda, it was a major topic of discussion at side events in Ottawa,” said Stefanie Beitien, managing director of PCX Solutions.


“This was exciting to see, because we need $1.64 trillion by 2040 to beat plastic pollution. Market-based mechanisms like plastic credits, which channel funds from the private sector into recycling, upcycling, and clean-up projects, are an important option for emerging markets which lack funding and infrastructure.”


According to Beitien, while other funding mechanisms may take years to develop and implement, plastic credits can be deployed today.


“For example, the projects registered under PCX Solutions’ Plastic Pollution Reduction Standard (PPRS) have a combined capacity of about 250 million kg of clean-up and processing.”


On the sidelines of the talks, the Prevent Waste Alliance published guidelines on minimum requirements for plastic waste recovery and crediting standards, seeking to harmonise the plastic credit landscape, create a level playing field, and raise the bar for these crediting standards.


“The case study of the Philippines was presented on various occasions to show that plastic credits work in both voluntary and compliance-driven markets as a means for companies to take responsibility for their plastic footprint,” Beitien added, referring to PCX work in the Pacific country.


In the Philippines, a 2023 law required companies with total assets of over $1.8 mln to recover 40% of their plastic waste by the end of 2024, with a 10% annual increase up to 80% by 2028.


The law includes the usage of credits as one of the ways to meet the targets.


However, some organisations strongly reject plastic credits as a means to address the plastic crisis in the Global South.


On the closing day of INC-4, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) hosted a media briefing warning against “false solutions”, such as plastic credits and waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration, which it argued impose additional environmental and health burdens on local communities.


CORPORATE ASSESSMENT


Virginia Janssens, managing director at Plastics Europe – an association representing almost 100 members producing over 90% of all polymers across Europe – highlighted the efforts made by the industry, mentioning the development of the ‘decision tree’ assessment tool for problematic and avoidable high-leakage plastic applications.


However, Janssens expressed concern over the lack of progress made in “creating enabling policies and a regulatory framework required to accelerate the development of a circular plastics economy”.


“The most effective way to accelerate this transition while maintaining the utility that plastics offer society is for the treaty to make plastic waste a commodity with real value,” she added.


The annual global production of plastics reached 460 million tonnes in 2019, up from 234 Mt in 2000. It is forecast to triple under a business-as-usual scenario to an estimated 1.231 bln tonnes in 2060.


According to a study released last week, 56 multinationals are responsible for more than half of the world’s branded plastic pollution, with five companies producing nearly a quarter of that.


The authors called on companies to take actions, whether voluntary or mandated by governments or an international legally binding instrument, to address the plastic pollution crisis.


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