Fighting plastic pollution: how can cities engage in the current treaty negotiations

On 21 April 2023, the Geneva Cities Hub organized a webinar to discuss the issue of plastic pollution and the role of States and local and regional governments (LRGs) in tackling this serious threat to the environment. Plastic pollution has a devastating impact on the planet and cities are particularly affected by this plight and face significant challenges in dealing with plastic waste.

Since the start of the international negotiations related to a new plastic pollution treaty, the Geneva Cities Hub has organized briefings for LRGs, providing them with information about the process itself and how LRGs can follow and/or contribute to the ongoing negotiations.

Ahead of the 2nd meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee (INC-2, Paris, 29 May – 2 June 2023), which aims at reaching an agreement on the first draft of a new international treaty to fight plastic pollution, the GCH webinar focused on the INC-2 background documents (also called “option paper”, available here).

Speakers discussed how LRGs can be included in the process and how they may interact with the secretariat of INC-2 and Member State negotiators. Brenda Koekkoek of UNEP’s secretariat explained the content of this option paper which makes several references to actions at the local and regional levels. It was pointed out that more explicit mention of LRGs – especially the consequences of plastic pollution faced by LRGs and their responsibilities in relation to waste management – would have provided added value. Brenda Koekkoek also mentioned that 12 side events were planned during INC-2 to address LRG’s related issues, including waste management financing at national and local levels.

Felix Wertli of Switzerland emphasized the window of opportunity to learn from LRGs in order to create effective regulation on plastic pollution at the global level. The event highlighted the need for coordination among LRGs and for them to speak with one voice to effectively address plastic pollution in a comprehensive manner – from the life cycle of plastics, through circularity to repairing plastic products. While waste management is the most obvious responsibility of local authorities, it is not the only area where LRGs can offer upscalable solutions.

Member State negotiators shared their views and expectations on the process. They mentioned the importance of an inclusive process. Erlend A. Haugen of Norway encouraged LRGs to share their experiences and knowledge to inform the negotiations in a coordinated manner. Coordination among stakeholders is also important to ensure that a unified voice is presented to the negotiators of INC-2. During the webinar, speakers suggested various ways for people to get involved in the process, including making written submissions, attending outreach events, and engaging with negotiators and national focal points.

Magash Nandoo of ICLEI referred to ICLEI’s call for cities’ participation in the plastic treaty and stressed the necessity to convey clear and concise messages to the negotiating states. He also mentioned the ICLEI survey “Cities in Global plastic treaty” and encouraged all LRGs to take part in it.  

Finally, funding mechanisms for LRGs were discussed. Overall, the involvement of LRGs which should be well-resourced to fight plastic pollution, is essential to ensure that concrete measures are put in place to address this problem.

The Geneva Cities Hub will continue to closely follow the negotiations. It will take part in INC-2 in Paris at the end of May and will contribute to widen the space for LRGs in relation to the plastic pollution treaty process.

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