Negotiations, World-cup glory & Industry Agendas

The first intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC-1) to end plastic pollution

By Merrisa Naidoo (GAIA/BFFP Africa Plastics Campaigner)

After more than thirty hours of flying and four connecting flights later, I was finally able to join more than 2,335 delegates and over 1,000 representatives from Civil Society, Industry, and IGOs at the first intergovernmental committee meeting (INC-1) for an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Punta del Este, Uruguay from the 28 of November to the 2 of December 2022. The magnitude of participants was a clear representation of the world coming together to craft one of the most significant multilateral environmental agreements in history. 

My purpose was clear, to support and strengthen the voices of our African membership in a way that was meaningful to their direct advocacy efforts within their respective countries and for the African continent as a whole. We did that, within the first 2 days of the INC-1, voices of members from Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Cameroon, Kenya, the Gambia and Tunisia came together in camaraderie, good spirits and motivated to ensure that their country delegates were well informed and equipped going into the first round of negotiations. Together, we very quickly became a formidable force to be reckoned with, in developing key relationships with our fellow African country representatives and laying our demands on the table which were to; 1)  Raise the Stakes on Ambition, 2) Produce a Clear Target for Future Negotiations, 3) Reserve the Right to Vote, 4) Reduce Plastic Production and 5) Stay Clear of Industry Agendas & False Solutions. It gave us great pride to see the African Group (AG) taking ownership of this process especially since Africa continues to shoulder the burden of toxic and non-recyclable plastic waste exports despite not being net producers of the plastic crisis. Their interventions were strong, reflective of all voices and developed with the realities of the region in mind.

Amidst the high-level interventions, world-cup fever soon set in and what better way than sport to bring nations together and realise their patronage to the well-being of their people and countries. The global plastics treaty should therefore seek to pay heed to the interconnectedness of people within their natural environment and include the protection of livelihoods and communities vulnerable to the present environmental catastrophes, which is in line with the United Nations General Assembly declaration that everyone on the planet earth has a right to a healthy environment. Civil society, waste pickers, fenceline and frontline communities, indigenous and traditional communities, and women are to be at the centre of the negotiations. They should be at the table and not simply on the menu! Unfortunately, giving industries and top polluting companies a seat at the table, whose agenda prioritises profit over people, will prove to stifle the effectiveness of what the treaty can achieve.

In this regard, during the INC-1, it was rather concerning to learn of the pronounced presence of polluting industries; this was especially felt during the convening of a multi-stakeholder forum which was a roundtable discussion organized a day before the start of the negotiations to deliver a report to the INC, despite the fact that it is not included in the mandate to develop the treaty and the entire set-up appeared to be industry-driven and an effort to divert and prevent the voices of civil society and rights holders from direct and more meaningful forms of participation in the treaty development process. 

As we move ahead and prepare for INC-2 in May 2023, our efforts need not be undermined by industry greenwashing and tactics based on false solutions and voluntary commitments. As the GAIA/BFFP Africa team, we will continue to support and uphold the tireless efforts of our members to ensure their voices reach their country’s focal points in a just and equitable way that is meaningful and towards the development of a strong treaty. 

To kick-start this, be sure to look out for the INC-1 member pack and the newly formed Africa Plastics Working Group in 2023, which will aim to create a platform that brings together GAIA and BFFP Africa members with an interest in various aspects of the plastics crisis to 1) Share their experiences & work within their respective countries, 2) Build capacity on plastic policy & legislation on the continent, 3) Strategize on positions & work geared towards the plastics treaty with a regional perspective, 4) Collaborate on joint projects & campaigns of interest and 5) Forster support for one another. 

Let’s End the Age of Plastics!