A legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution will be a long way off

  • 2022-12-07

The first round of negotiations for a global plastics treaty ended on Dec. 2, with countries agreeing to end plastic pollution but divided over whether the goals and efforts should be global and mandatory, or nationally directed and voluntary.

The meeting in Uruguay is the first step in what the United Nations expects to be four more global conferences to move the process forward.


On 2 December 2022, the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (the "INC-1 Conference") aimed at developing a legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution, including plastic pollution in the Marine environment (the "International Instrument") successfully concluded in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Representatives heard and considered the draft report on the work of the first session and the draft decision on the draft provisional agenda for the second session. As an Observer, the author participated in the plenary session of the first Conference as well as the stakeholder forum and dialogue. It is not easy to gather more than 2,300 delegates from more than 160 countries to participate online and offline as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It is not difficult to see that plastic pollution is a common crisis facing mankind.


Over the past five days of negotiating sessions, Progress by country representatives and stakeholders on the scope, objectives, framework, core obligations, control measures, voluntary approaches, national action plans, means of implementation (including capacity building, technical assistance and financing), support for monitoring and evaluation of progress and effectiveness of implementation, and national reports, stakeholder participation and action, standard provisions, sequencing and recommendations for final articles General presentations, regional group discussions and other informal consultations were held in the context of the first step work. I note that the Negotiating Committee has innovated the format, such as:

An informal group besides the contact group will be established, and the negotiating committee will give instructions to the informal group, mainly focusing on the participation of stakeholders, the discussion of the form and procedure of the future negotiation and the preparation of the preliminary documents.


It initiated the form of stakeholder dialogue during the negotiating plenary assembly, allowing participating national delegations to listen to the views, suggestions and supporting information of multiple stakeholders, so as to facilitate the discussion of the content of the preparation of international instruments.


In the author's opinion, the first session did not reach consensus on many issues, and more delegations clarified their core demands from their own perspectives. Generally speaking,


1. Scope: It is suggested to cover the whole life cycle of plastics, from the beginning of plastic polymerization to the final recycling cycle and harmless disposal, including plastics, plastic products, additives, microplastics and nano-plastics, as well as other existing and possible future chemicals related to plastics.

2. In terms of objectives: some countries and regions have proposed to focus on eliminating all plastic pollution in the environment (both land and sea); Some representatives proposed a balance between human health and public health; Others stress that both existing waste and future potential unknown sources of pollution should be taken into account; Others suggested considering economic sustainability and maintaining flexibility of purpose.

3. In terms of principles: four principles were mentioned most frequently, including full life cycle assessment, a harmless and toxic-free circular economy, polluter pays and extended producer responsibility.

4. In terms of instrument structure, most countries suggested the use of the form of a specific convention or a hybrid mechanism, and suggested taking into account the relationship with existing conventions, such as the Basel Convention, the Rotterdam Convention and the Stockholm Convention.

5. Potential factors: The author has found some compelling views. For example, some countries propose to limit and reduce the production of all raw plastics, which is also opposed by some other countries, because the international instrument aims to end plastic pollution rather than plastic itself. Many countries also stressed that while plastic pollution is a common challenge faced by all countries, given the historical accumulation of plastic pollution and the fluidity of Marine plastic pollution, there is a need to distinguish between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries, and between the responsibilities of plastic producers, consumers and small island states. Many ngos and interest groups have raised the issue of inclusiveness, calling for a fair and equitable transformation of international instruments, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups, including women, children, scavengers and indigenous peoples. A number of participants also proposed to break down and rank plastics by category and consider cross-value chain analysis, with more involvement and advice from the private sector.

6. Stakeholder participation: Many delegations stressed the importance of multi-stakeholder action and insisted on the full participation of stakeholders in the negotiation process in a variety of ways, including inter-sessional written submissions and the organization of stakeholder forums and dialogues with national representatives.


I have noted that the Chinese delegation has made positive statements in each round of discussions. The Chinese delegation hopes that negotiations on an international instrument on plastic pollution will remain problem-oriented, focus on plastic products that are prone to leakage into the environment, take classified control measures for different types of plastic products, and strengthen recycling and safe disposal. The delegation also believed that in the process of negotiating international instruments, the national conditions and capabilities of different countries, especially the needs of developing countries, must be fully taken into account and the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities must be adhered to. While solving their own plastic pollution problems, developed countries should strengthen their support to developing countries in technology, capital and capacity building.


In my opinion, it is a long way to go to develop an international instrument with wide coverage and strong technical difficulty within two years. In the next four rounds of negotiations, the Negotiating Committee will first determine the contents of the three modules of scope, objective and structure, and lay the framework and direction for the international instrument. More time will be left to the discussion and consideration of alternative proposals of potential elements. It is reported that the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee will be held in Paris, France from May 22 to May 26, 2023.

It was previously reported that at the first meeting of the global "plastic limit", China suggested focusing on leaking plastic products

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