Representatives from around the world met in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, for a week-long session that started April 22nd to advance the drafting of the first global treaty aimed at halting the escalating issue of plastic pollution.

Among the attendees were UNEP/Life Cycle Initiative’s Programme Officers Llorenç Milà i Canals and Claudia Giacovelli, who participated in the fourth meeting of the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics (INC-4).

Following the decision reached at the UN Environmental Assembly in 2022, where 175 nations committed to drafting the world’s first legally binding treaty on plastic pollution by the end of 2024, efforts are underway to end plastic pollution. This treaty is meant to address plastics across their entire life cycle—from production and consumption to disposal.

The production of plastic carries a heavy environmental toll, accounting for 5% of global carbon emissions presently, with projections suggesting it would eat up 20-25% of the GHG emissions budget to stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming by 2050.

If ratified, this deal could represent a landmark achievement comparable to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aimed to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Described as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), underscoring the treaty’s challenge of defining the starting point of the plastics life cycle and defining sustainable production and consumption practices.

While representatives from some oil and gas producing countries together with many in the petrochemical sector advocate for a focus on waste management, environmental activists and certain governments (such as those in the High Ambition Coalition) advocate for an approach covering the full life cycle of plastics, including a call to reduce overall production.

Despite clearly diverging views on several topics, negotiators managed to work intensely during the seven days of the session and discussed most of the legal provisions spread among five sub-groups. Perhaps most importantly, delegations agreed on two open-ended expert groups to work during the intersessional period on two key topics: 1) financing sources, mechanisms, flows; and 2) approaches to address plastic products, chemicals of concern in plastic, and design. This second element is where life-cycle approaches will be extremely important to guide design options and to assess alternatives to avoid regrettable substitutions. The Life Cycle Initiative has been producing resources on addressing plastic pollution with a life-cycle approach, and stands ready to continue enhancing the capacities of INC members. At the same time, we strongly encourage everyone in the life-cycle community to make yourselves visible to your respective governments, offering all the support you can provide in this critical endeavour.

With the final negotiations scheduled for late November in Busan, Republic of Korea, countries are under increasing pressure to bridge their disparities and find common ground to establish legally binding measures to combat plastic pollution.

For more information on the event and a detailed reporting, you may consult the Earth Negotiations Bulletin dedicated pages.