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UN Seeks Legally Binding Global Plastics Treaty by End of 2024

Member States Urged to “Begin the End” of Plastics Pollution 

Whether by consensus or by two-thirds majority vote, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is urging UN member states to sign the first-ever legally binding global treaty to end plastics pollution by the end of 2024.   

World Leaders Summit at COP 28 in Dubai.    ©The President's Office of the Republic of Maldives CC BY 4.0
World Leaders Summit at COP 28 in Dubai. ©The President's Office of the Republic of Maldives (CC BY 4.0)

The resolution to develop the treaty (“the instrument”), which will also cover plastics in the marine environment, was introduced at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), in March 2022. The UN’s International Governmental Committee (INC) was tasked with creating an agreement that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, from production to disposal. 


Work on the treaty began with the INC-1 session in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in December 2022, followed by INC-2 in Paris (May 29June 2, 2023) and INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023. The fourth session, INC-4, is scheduled from April 23-29, 2024, in Ottawa, Canada, with a final session, INC-5, scheduled from November 25-December 1, 2024, in Busan, South Korea. 


The two 2024 INC treaty gatherings follow the November 2023 Conference of the Parties (COP 28) in Dubai, where delegates agreed to transition away from fossil fuels to achieve net zero by 2050. However, since plastics are produced from fossil fuels, some observers speculate that increases in plastics production are “the ‘Plan B’ for the fossil fuel industry.” The UNEP has raised concerns over an International Energy Agency prediction that plastic production will account for almost half of oil demand growth by 2050. 


UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told stakeholders at COP 28 that “plastics are not a lifeboat for you as energy systems decarbonize. The world can’t afford the emissions.” 


Though negotiators are committed to producing a treaty by the end of 2024, finding agreement among member states will not be easy. According to UNEP, an analysis has shown that fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyist participation in the negotiations is on the rise. Some member states have included fossil fuel company lobbyists in their delegations at a time when UNEP is warning that “producers’ responsibilities schemes” are expected to be established to “tackle plastic pollution at its source.” 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), plastic production is predicted to triple by 2060, while recycling rates currently linger below 10%. The World Wildlife Fund estimates the “societal cost” of plastic pollution, emissions, and clean-up may be nearly $3.7 trillion just from plastic produced in 2019 alone.  

The situation, says UNEP, is “a call to action to everyone—governments, businesses, schools, and communities—to join forces and address one of the most urgent challenges we face.” 




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