WWF calls on countries to stand firm as delaying tactics drive global plastic pollution treaty talks into deadlock

  • The third round of UN global plastic pollution treaty talks ended with no plan for how to move the negotiations forward, despite a majority of countries supporting a robust treaty grounded in global rules.
  • The deadlock was caused by a week full of delaying tactics from a handful of low-ambition countries calling for a loose voluntary agreement.
  • WWF calls on countries who want to see a meaningful treaty emerge to remain resolute and take the process in their own hands by advancing information gathering and sharing over the next five months in the lead up to the fourth round of negotiations in April 2024.

NAIROBI, Kenya (November 19) – Despite an overwhelming majority of countries ready to move forward on a robust and ambitious treaty, countries with deep petrochemical interests delayed progress throughout the week and blocked the final decision on how to advance work leading into the fourth round of UN talks for a global plastic pollution treaty. There will now be no formal work before the next round of negotiations, delaying discussions on critical measures that can end the plastic pollution crisis.

Every day, more than 30,000 metric tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans. In the face of ongoing opposition from a small minority of oil-producing states, WWF urges high-ambition countries to be courageous and willing to move ahead with developing an effective treaty despite this opposition. With the next round of negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, only 5 months away, progressive countries must use this time wisely and stay focused on developing the set of legally binding rules, which the majority of governments and many leading businesses have already called for.

“UN country representatives came together this last week to make progress on negotiating a treaty to end plastic pollution. The majority had the best intentions and worked to find commonalities among diverse global perspectives, but the entire process was continually delayed by a small number of Member states prioritizing plastic and profit before the planet,” said Erin Simon, Vice President and Head of Plastic Waste & Business at WWF-US. “The job is clearly not done, and negotiators leave Nairobi without a plan in place to get to work before INC-4. With just over a year to deliver on our promise of a future free from plastic pollution, countries must stand strong and bring collective action to reject the tactics to block the treaty process. It’s time to muster the political will to course correct and solve this crisis before it’s too late.”

Despite obstruction by a small number of countries, a significant majority of countries support moving forward with a comprehensive and robust treaty. More than 100 countries support global bans and phase-outs of the most harmful and avoidable plastics, and 140 countries want to establish global binding rules as opposed to a treaty based solely on voluntary actions, which some countries are pushing for.

“An overwhelming number of countries understand the urgency of the problem and are ready to put us on the path to ending plastic pollution. In the face of ongoing challenges, it is critical that these countries continue to demonstrate their determination to fight for strong and legally binding measures that can enable the historic shift needed to undo what decades of indifference and ignorance have brought upon us,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead, WWF International.

Despite obstruction by a small number of countries, a significant majority of countries support moving forward with a comprehensive and robust treaty. More than 100 countries support global bans and phase-outs of the most harmful and avoidable plastics, and 140 countries want to establish global binding rules as opposed to a treaty based solely on voluntary actions, which some countries are pushing for.

At this round of talks, negotiators worked on a draft treaty text for the first time, with many bringing forward constructive options to strengthen proposed global rules across the whole plastic ‘lifecycle’ - from extraction of oil and gas to make plastic, through to design for reuse and repair, and safe disposal.

With no formal plan for work over the next six months, WWF is calling on countries to advance information gathering and sharing on their own to ensure that the process does not stagnate in the next five months.

Over the week, negotiators, especially those from low- and middle-income regions including Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands, showed strong leadership in proposing rules to tackle plastic pollution. These regions stood firm on the need to regulate the uncontrolled production and design of plastic materials and products that are currently overwhelming their management capacities. WWF recently released a report warning that the true cost of plastic on the environment, health and economies can be as much as 10 times higher for low-income countries, even though they consume almost three times less plastic per-capita, than high-income ones.

“Proposals for voluntary national measures and a sole focus on waste management will only continue to increase the burden for the countries that are today the hardest hit by the plastic pollution crisis. A global treaty with binding rules for elimination and safe circulation of plastics, along with robust financial support, is our best hope for the level playing field which is desperately needed if we are to tackle the challenges felt by people and the environment in the Global South,” said Alice Ruhweza, Senior Director for Policy and Engagement, WWF International.

With only two negotiating sessions left to agree on a global plastics treaty before the end of 2024, WWF calls on countries to make the most of the time leading up to the Ottawa talks to mobilize the political support and prepare the technical basis needed to make the meeting a turning point in the negotiations. The talks in Nairobi have brought concrete proposals to the table and identified areas of disagreement. In Ottawa, countries need to start actual negotiations and rally around provisions with majority support.

“The negotiators must be guided, not by what the least ambitious countries are prepared to accept, but by the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis happening outside the conference rooms. The meeting in Ottawa can be this turning point,” added Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead, WWF International.


Notes to editors:

Key battlegrounds at the third round of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3):

What to ban: One of the key focus of the intersessional working groups should be to decide a definitive list of polymers, chemicals and plastic products that the treaty must regulate. As a starting point WWF calls for the treaty to focus on high-risk products, polymers and chemicals (those that cause the most harm or have the highest risk of becoming pollution) while expanding the treaty over time to incorporate all plastic products, applications and materials. Without agreeing which products, polymers and chemicals fall within the remit of the treaty, we can’t expect to make meaningful progress on these negotiations.

Scope of the treaty: Despite all nations agreeing to a global treaty that would address plastic pollution across the entire lifecycle of plastic, we have already seen a handful of countries try to refocus the treaty only on waste management. This approach prioritizes short term benefits and profits over the health of people and planet.

Voluntary vs mandatory measures: While we have seen some of the low-ambition countries agree to a full lifecycle scope in Contact Groups, we are concerned that the compromise will come with a caveat that takes binding global rules off the table and demands that some measures, particularly those on production, become strictly voluntary. While voluntary and national-based measures will play a role in the treaty, they have proven again and again to be too fragmented and unreliable to create the change we need to curb the plastic crisis.

Financial support: It ultimately comes down to money. In particular, how much will be needed, who will pay it (i.e. public and/or private funding) and where it will come from (i.e. the biggest polluters through schemes like Extended Producer Responsibility and changes in subsidies to direct finance away from polluting industries and products).

Process: Whether it must come down to a formal consensus or a majority vote. Low-ambition countries continue to call for a formal consensus, which gives them the power to delay progress and ultimately veto any text. While WWF supports a formal consensus as option A, when a consensus cannot be met, the decision to adopt the treaty must come down to a vote with a two-third majority.