Cities are key to beating plastic pollution  

The Geneva Cities Hub (GCH) organized an informative discussion at the attention of Local and Regional Governments (LRGs), who are directly concerned but not involved yet in the negotiation of the new treaty tackling plastic pollution and looking at the full life cycle of plastic: production, distribution, use and waste management. Leading negotiators from Peru and Switzerland, as well as the Coordinator of the Geneva Environment Network explained the intergovernmental process which has started in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in Nov-Dec 2022. Member States will reconvene for the second negotiation stage through the “Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution”, INC-2, to be held in Paris, from 22 to 26 of May 2023.  

Main takeaways from the discussion:

Beginning of 2022, the resumed 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution which requests the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director to convene an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. While the initiative constitutes a huge step forward for humanity, the GCH thinks that from the very beginning, the process missed the opportunity to fully include local and regional governments (LRGs).

The INC has so far expressed its willingness to work on a new ambitious treaty that would address the full lifecycle of plastic and deal with what is an enormous and imminent threat to human and animal life on the planet. As stated by Bernardo Roca-Rey Ross, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Peru to the United Nations Office in Geneva, “we are probably negotiating the most important intergovernmental treaty in many years to tackle one of the three main planetary crises, that is pollution” (NB: the two others being climate change and the loss of biodiversity). The process should conclude by end of 2024. UNEP is servicing these negotiations as “secretariat” to the INC and has a substantive role for producing summaries and reports of the negotiations and liaise with all stakeholders, including LRGs, as recalled by Diana Rizzolio, Coordinator, Geneva Environment Network.

Next steps of the process include an INC-2 to be held in Paris (May 2023), and then an INC-3 in Nairobi (end of 2023). “More than 200 submissions have been made ahead of the INC-2, but unfortunately it seems that very few of them address the role of local and regional governments when it comes to dealing with plastic pollution” said Kamelia Kemileva, Co-Director, GCH. Each INC is informed with stakeholders’ submissions and LRGs are also welcome to provide submissions (the deadline for INC-2 has however expired).

For the upcoming INCs, the GCH and partners hope to convey key messages and submit language proposals to convince States to meaningfully include LRGs both in the negotiation process and in the text of the treaty. National governments all have an interest to include LRGs, as they will be implementing the treaty, especially with regard to waste management.  Including LRGs in all stages of what is a classical intergovernmental negotiation is an innovative and winning approach here, as LRGs have a crucial role in preventing and addressing plastic pollution everywhere in the world. If not in relation to its binding measures, then in its voluntary ones, the treaty should include a provision enabling LRGs to formally endorse the objectives and measures put forward by the treaty. Read how this can be implemented here, in the submissions of GCH* and other stakeholders. 

If you have missed the opportunity to contribute to INC-2, you should be able to do so later, once a draft of the treaty is published (in the course of 2023). Stay tuned to know more, as the GCH will intend to join Paris INC-2 meeting and continue to inform interested LRGs of the progress of the negotiations.

*On 12 January 2023, the Geneva Cities Hub provided a written submission to inform the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee responsible to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Cities and other local governments have significant influence over various parts of the lifecycle of plastics, which will be addressed by the new treaty. Indeed, while cities are responsible for a large part of plastic pollution worldwide, some local governments have also taken bold measures to prevent and address the blight (e.g., prohibition of single plastic-use items in public events). In most places, local governments are responsible for waste management including litter prevention and collection, recycling and preserving the local environment. They are also in touch with private actors dealing with plastic production and use. Given their important role in preventing and addressing plastic pollution, the GCH believes that local governments should be involved in the process related to the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. This should translate in including municipal representatives in the proceedings of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, as well as reference in the text to the role played by local governments in preventing and addressing plastic pollution. Further, the GCH suggests that the treaty foresee a specific provision enabling local governments to formally express their political commitment to abide by the purpose and objectives of the instrument, regardless of the position of their central administration.

As the INC will meet in Paris, France from 22 to 26 May 2023, the Geneva Cities Hub stands ready to carry the voice of local and regional governments and ensure that it is taken into account by States negotiating the new treaty.

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