Press release

OceanCare urges UN governments to show ambition at crucial negotiating meeting on global Plastics Treaty

April 22, 2024
  • Representatives of all UN member states are meeting in Ottawa, Canada from 23 to 29 April 2024 to advance negotiations on an international legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.
  • With only one more round of negotiations to go, this week will be crucial in reaching agreement on key areas of the treaty text.
  • At a breakfast briefing attended by many government representatives yesterday, OceanCare and its partners highlighted the need to tackle the threat that plastic fishing gear, including ghost gear, poses to marine ecosystems, animals, and beaches.

At the UN Environment Assembly in 2022, world governments agreed to develop a globally binding treaty by the end of 2024 to tackle the plastic crisis, which poses an environmental threat to the planet and human health. This week, representatives from all UN member states are meeting in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth out of five sessions of the International Negotiating Committee (INC-4).

Prior to the start of the event, OceanCare and its partner organisations, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), MarViva and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) held a breakfast briefing with negotiators, to discuss approaches to addressing plastic fishing and aquaculture gear in the treaty. Of all marine plastic pollution, ‘ghost gear’ is widely regarded as the most harmful form of plastic marine debris to ocean biodiversity.

Rebecca Helm, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University and scientific advisor to the OceanCare delegation, said:

“Many of us have seen pictures of sea life entangled in fishing nets. While all forms of plastic have the potential to pose risks to marine life, the impact of ghost gear can be particularly devastating. I am incredibly encouraged by the ambition being shown by some governments to address this problem. We need to look at fishing gear throughout its full life cycle. This is a critical opportunity to tackle a global problem in a way that could truly benefit all sectors. Nations must not squander it.”

“Unlike other forms of plastic, fishing gear is designed to catch marine life and persists in the environment. As a result, abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear can continue to catch animals and thus deplete fish stocks and reduce fishery catches, long after its use. Ghost gear can also entangle private, commercial, and military vessels, endangering mariners. Current estimates suggest that around 640,000 tons of fishing gear is lost or abandoned in the oceans each year – the true figure could be much higher, as there is no universal tracking or reporting system.”

Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director of OceanCare, added:

“At this meeting, countries have the opportunity to come together and address the root causes of plastic pollution to protect the ocean and the planet. After a disappointing previous third session in Nairobi, which ended without tangible results on a draft treaty text, negotiators in Ottawa are now under pressure to make real progress. That includes a mandate to do additional homework in so-called intersessional meetings so that they can agree on the treaty text at the final official session in November this year.

“While we see good chances for progress on dealing with fishing gear and other forms of plastic pollution, we are deeply concerned about whether negotiators will be able to find workable solutions to put a halt to production and consumption of primary plastics, as well as to ban harmful chemicals from plastic products. With more than 140 lobbyists from the petrochemical and plastics industries attending the last session alone (that was more than delegates from the 70 smallest countries combined) and potentially inundating the negotiations again, solutions that put the interests of people and the planet before profit may prove difficult to achieve.

“Together with many other civil society organisations, OceanCare urges the INC Secretariat to take this issue seriously. Equal and substantive participation for non-industry groups that are most affected by the plastic crisis must be ensured. And there should be full transparency about who is present at the negotiations and what interests they represent. We will be watching closely to ensure that the Secretariat upholds these principles and that the negotiations are not hijacked by private interests lobbying against a strong treaty.”

Notes to editors

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted Resolution 5/14, entitled “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument”, which launched the process to negotiate a new global plastics treaty by the end of 2024. Following UNEA-5.2, an ad hoc open-ended working group (OEWG) met in Dakar, Senegal, to prepare for negotiations. This meeting recommended five Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) meetings over the following two years. The first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting took place from 28 November to 2 December 2022, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

UNEA Resolution 5/14 was a landmark moment in global governance. Global treaties are the world’s best hope for regulating transnational environmental problems, as we have seen with the successful regulation of ozone depleting substances by the Montreal Protocol. Negotiations between UN governments will now focus on interpreting that mandate and developing the treaty. Significant questions remain about the objective, scope, function, and form of the treaty. INC-2 has set the tone for subsequent negotiations, with a focus on the treaty’s objective(s) and elements. These discussions are crucial in determining whether the treaty will be effective at addressing all aspects of the plastics crisis. The work of INC-2 focused on laying the groundwork for the development of a zero draft prior to INC-3 (13–17 November 2023 in Nairobi).

Following INC-3 which ended without a mandate for intersessional work or a request to the Chair to prepare a first draft of the text, negotiators now face a meeting where progress on text-based negotiations is essential to meet the deadline set by UNEA resolution 5/14. Faced with a revised zero draft text document that is over 70 pages long and leaves several key policy issues undecided, it is important to find common ground, streamline the text and overcome uncompromising positions in order to finalise a meaningful, ambitious and effective treaty text at INC-5.


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