The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-4) will be held from 23 to 29 April in Ottawa, Canada. The Committee's ambition is to conclude an international treaty on plastic pollution by the end of 2024. The Belgian presidency will play a key role in the negotiations, by coordinating and representing the European position, together with the European Commission.

Plastic pollution: a global challenge

Since it first appeared in the 1950s, annual plastic consumption and production have grown to unsustainable levels, doubling between 2000 and 2019 to reach 460 million tonnes. Today, there are around 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic waste, of which less than 10% has been recycled, 14% incinerated and 76% landfilled or released into the environment. Every year, an average of 11 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans. That's the equivalent of one bin lorry full of plastic waste every minute.

Much of this growth is due to the massive increase in the production of single-use plastics for packaging and consumer goods, which accounts for almost half of all plastic waste. If we don't take action, current projections predict that plastic waste production will triple by 2060.  This rapid increase in plastic pollution represents a serious environmental and health problem on a global scale.

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) mandated an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. The Committee began its sessions in the second half of 2022. This process aims to complete the negotiations by the end of 2024, after five rounds of talks.

The fourth round of negotiations in Ottawa

During the fourth negotiating session, delegations will work on a revised draft text, bringing together the numerous proposals submitted by States at the previous session. The stated ambition is to succeed in reducing the various options currently on the table in order to streamline the text and prepare the ground for the fifth and final round of negotiations, which will be held in South Korea at the end of 2024. In order to keep to the announced timetable, it is essential that this session ends not only with an agreement to arrange further discussions on the technical aspects of the text between the last sessions, but also with the granting of a mandate to the Chair of the Committee so that he can propose a new, clear and concise version of the text of the agreement before the final meeting in Korea.

The Belgian presidency supports the EU's ambitious position

The presidency of the Council of the European Union plays a key role at United Nations summits and conferences, where the EU must be able to speak with one voice to effectively convey its environmental ambitions on an international stage. This will be the case in Ottawa, where the presidency will have the huge responsibility of coordinating the Member States and representing the EU in the INC negotiations.

Since 2022, like the European Union, Belgium has been a member of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC), a group of 66 countries committed to adopting an ambitious and legally binding treaty, based on a global circular approach, to put an end to plastic pollution by 2040. During the negotiations, the presidency, alongside the European Commission, will represent the European Union's position and defend this global approach, which seeks to ensure urgent action and effective measures throughout the plastics life cycle, from production to end-of-life. For the presidency, it is crucial to reconcile these two dimensions: reducing plastic production to levels that are sustainable for the environment and health by limiting consumption at source, and ensuring rational, circular management of end-of-life plastic waste. The implementation of such an approach also relies on aspects such as capacity building, technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, the establishment of design criteria and standards for plastic materials and products, the prohibition or restriction of the use of certain chemicals of concern and problematic  and/or avoidable plastic products, and improved waste management.

This meeting in Ottawa is therefore a crucial step towards the implementation of an international treaty covering the entire life cycle of plastics.