May the odds be ever in the environment’s favor – let the substantive negotiations begin [or not]

On the third day of negotiations during the second session of the Intergovernmental negotiating committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC2), the hope was that the negotiators would move forward on the actual negotiations after two days of intense discussions around the draft Rules of Procedure - specifically rule 38.1 (see blog post from day 2).

The morning started on time and within the first 10 minutes of the morning plenary session, a statement was circulated from last night's discussions which ran into the early morning on solutions to proceed with disagreement on Rule 38.1. The statement read: "The INC understands that based on discussions of the INC Draft Rules of Procedure there are different views amongst INC members on Rule 38.1 and it’s reflected in the report of INC-1 - therefore the provisional application of Rule 38.1 has been subject of debate. If Rule 38.1 is invoked before the rules are adopted members will recall this lack of agreement."

In other words – they had agreed to disagree for now. Following this statement, the plenary quickly moved along to Agenda Item 4 - preparing the future treaty text. This was to take us one step closer towards substantive discussions and contact groups on the afternoon of the third day of negotiations. Unfortunately, similar to what happened during INC1 – a great amount of time was instead spent on regional, national and stakeholder statements. The first two groups were allocated 5 minutes each – with many going far over this time – and the latter were given 3 and then 2 minutes to give their statements. By 17:30 (5:30 pm), 8 regional groups had given their statements, 54 different states, and 30 major stakeholder groups.  

The take-home message from these statements can be summarized with global governments seeming to be resolute to complete this task of ending plastic pollution, and that we needed a zero draft by the end of the negotiations this week so we could have something to work on during the intersessional period before INC3 in Nairobi planned for November 2023.  In order to get to Nairobi statements, need to be made - Costa Rica spoke on behalf of the group of Latin American and Caribbean states (El Grupo de América Latina y el Caribe (GRULAC)), in the delegates statement, on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), she emphasized that “We have no time to lose. Now we have less time to lose”– in reference to the second INC not having started negotiations yet and it was already day 3. The Philippines on behalf of Asia-Pacific group emphasized, within the context of article 38.1, the need to stress consensus to truly end plastic pollution. Palau spoke on behalf of the 14 Pacific small island developing states (PSIDS) – emphasizing that they contribute almost none to the production of plastic yet bear the biggest brunt of the plastic pollutions. As PSIDS are “custodians of the marine environment” she says, and emphasized their vulnerabilities and remoteness as special circumstances that have to be taken into account in the drafting of a zero draft and ending plastic pollution by 2040.

At nearly 16:00 here on day three, the Chair and Secretariate appear center stage, and less than pleased to still have hours of national and stakeholder statements ahead of them with no end in sight. Mind you, it was made clear before INC2 that there would not be any time allocated to national statements and that member states should instead have their regional groups speak on their behalf. In general, the statements were not much different from the national statements made at INC-1 - though this time they included a phrase of: ‘Commitments to create a zero draft before INC-3'. These national statements, though an integral part of the UN negotiation playbook, unfortunately are taking up much time during these important days when negotiations need to take place to tip the odds in the direction of nature.

Finally, at 17:30 the Chair stopped further statements from continuing and thanked speakers and started to begin establishing two contact groups. The chair explained the groups as follows:

CG1: focus on elements on section A on Objectives and Section B on substantive obligations under part 2 on the annex of the potential elements doc – co facilitated by Palau and Germany

CG2: Focus on elements on Section C on Means on Implementation as week as D & E on additional matters under part 2 on the annex of the potential elements doc – co facilitated by Australia and Ghana

In an attempt for the chair to formally approve these groups he was interrupted by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Russian Federation asking for the floor saying we are not yet ready to begin contact group discussions due to principles not being fully understood. Opposing views from Chile, United States, Columbia, Mexico and many more urge no more time to be wasted “let's roll up our sleeves and get to work” - Delegate from Mexico. The chair stated that ‘Time has defeated us’ and kindly requested those delegations who ask for changes to show flexibility. In the end, diverging views were made until 18:00 when interpretations in the 6 UN languages were cut off and the groups went to negotiate in separate chambers. Around 23:00, the first day of substantive negotiations were paused, to be resumed on Day 4 of the negotiations and warnings from some that because of all the time that had been wasted on national statements that day, we would be going late and intense all day Thursday.

Written by: Rachel Tiller and Emily Cowan, SINTEF Ocean