Critical negotiations on plastic pollution kicks off next week in Canada


The world has a once-in-a-generation chance to profoundly change humanity’s relationship with plastic. That is the message from officials ahead of “pivotal” talks next week on a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution.

Delegates from 174 countries are expected to gather in the Canadian capital of Ottawa for the latest round of discussions on the instrument. The gathering, formally known as the Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-4), will run from April 23 to 29. It is the penultimate meeting before negotiations are expected to conclude later this year.

“Both people and planet are suffering profoundly from the effects of plastic pollution,” said Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, Executive Secretary of the INC. “This negotiating session is pivotal. It is an opportunity to make significant progress for a robust agreement that would allow future generations to live in a world free of plastic pollution.”

The negotiations come amid what experts have called a mounting plastic crisis.

Since the 1950s, 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced, of which 7 billion tonnes have become waste, filling up landfills and polluting lakes, rivers, the soil and the ocean.

Humanity now produces 430 million tonnes of plastic each year, two-thirds of which is contained in short-lived products which soon become waste. Some of that plastic winds up in the food chain, where it has the potential to harm human health.

The goal during INC-4 is to advance a draft text of the global instrument so it can be finalized in Busan, Republic of Korea in December. The talks so far have focused on reducing pollution during the entire life-cycle of plastics, from their design to their disposal.

The negotiating process was formally launched in 2022 at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, the world’s top-decision-making body on the environment. It was hailed as a historic moment.

After two years of work, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee has gone from general views to a revised draft text, a development Mathur-Filipp called “a fast result which is a testament to the strong leadership and active engagement to date.”

While the timeframe for a final agreement has long been viewed as ambitious, that matches the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis, said Mathur-Filipp.

“The science is clear, and the solutions are available to us to end plastic pollution,” she said. “Given that humanity is on track to triple the amount of plastic we produce annually by 2060, it is vital that we continue to make concrete progress and deliver an agreement by the end of this year.”

To fight the pervasive impact of pollution on society, UNEP launched #BeatPollution, a strategy for rapid, large-scale and coordinated action against air, land and water pollution. The strategy highlights the impact of pollution on climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and human health. Through science-based messaging, the campaign showcases how transitioning to a pollution-free planet is vital for future generations.