20 Nov 2023


Crucial negotiations to establish a global treaty to end plastic pollution have ended in a temporary deadlock, despite most countries including Australia supporting a robust and ambitious treaty.

The third round of UN global plastic pollution treaty talks ended in Nairobi today with no plan for how to move the negotiations forward between now and mid-2024. Countries with deep petrochemical interests delayed progress throughout the week and blocked the final decision on how to advance work leading into the fourth round of talks.

There will now be no formal work before the next round of negotiations in April 2024, delaying discussions on critical measures that can help to end the plastic pollution crisis. 

Every day, more than 30,000 metric tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans, including an estimated 140,000 tonnes that leaks into the Australian environment annually. 

In the face of ongoing opposition from a small minority of oil-producing states, WWF urges high-ambition countries to be courageous and move ahead with developing an effective treaty despite this opposition. With the next round of negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, only five months away, progressive countries must use this time wisely and stay focused on developing the set of legally binding rules.

“Negotiators were tasked by the UN Environment Assembly to develop a treaty that ends plastic pollution. Every minute that we delay, we add to the toxic legacy that we are leaving to future generations. It will not be easy but we know what we need to do. Countries must move on quickly in specifying and agreeing on the rules that are necessary to solve this plastic pollution crisis,” said Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead, WWF International.

“An overwhelming number of countries understand the urgency of the problem and are ready to put us on the path to ending plastic pollution. In the face of ongoing challenges, it is critical that these countries continue to demonstrate their determination to fight for strong and legally binding measures that can enable the historic shift needed to undo what decades of indifference and ignorance have brought upon us.”

Despite obstruction by a small number of countries, a significant majority of countries including Australia support moving forward with a comprehensive and robust treaty. More than 100 countries support global bans and phase-outs of the most harmful and avoidable plastics, and 140 countries want to establish global binding rules as opposed to a treaty based solely on voluntary actions. 

At this round of talks, negotiators worked on a draft treaty text for the first time, with many bringing forward constructive options to strengthen proposed global rules across the whole plastic ‘lifecycle’ - from extraction of oil and gas to make plastic, through to design for reuse and repair, and safe disposal.

Over the week, negotiators, especially those from low-and middle-income regions including Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands, showed strong leadership in proposing rules to tackle plastic pollution. These regions stood firm on the need to regulate the uncontrolled production and design of plastic materials and products that are currently overwhelming their management capacities. WWF recently released a report warning that the true cost of plastic on the environment, health and economies can be as much as 10 times higher for low-income countries, even though they consume almost three times less plastic per-capita, than high-income ones.

“Australia has major skin in the game in this process. Abandoned, discarded, and lost fishing gear are a major and growing problem across Australia’s northern waters, and routinely entangle, injure, and kill marine life, including vulnerable and endangered species of turtles,” said Kate Noble, No Plastic in Nature Policy Manager at WWF-Australia.

“Pacific countries are inundated by plastic waste that their islands and systems simply can’t handle. Their reefs and livelihoods are seriously threatened by plastic pollution, and they have been fierce advocates at these negotiations for a treaty that drastically reduces plastic production, and creates rules relating to product bans and design, transparency, and producer accountability.”

With no formal plan for work over the next five months, WWF is calling on countries to advance information gathering and sharing on their own to ensure that the process does not stagnate.

“The negotiators must be guided, not by what the least ambitious countries are prepared to accept, but by the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis happening outside the conference rooms. The meeting in Ottawa can be this turning point,” added Eirik Lindebjerg, Global Plastics Policy Lead, WWF International.