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Great need for scientific input in negotiations for a global plastics treaty

Earlier this month, NIVA and the NIVA-led Scientists' Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty were present in Nairobi for the third round of negotiations for a binding global agreement against plastic pollution. The goal was to contribute to an agreement that regulates the entire plastics lifecycle and that is based on solid, independent research.



The negotiations in Nairobi were based on a zero draft of the agreement. The zero draft presented a number of alternative provisions and formulations that delegates would negotiate over the course of the week in Nairobi. The negotiations are part of a process that shall result in a finalized agreement text by the end of 2024.

Complex topics of discussion

Delegates were to discuss and decide on formulations on topics such as primary plastic polymers, chemicals and polymers of concern, product design, and waste management.

Many of the topics under discussion are highly complex. For example, thousands of known and unknown chemical compounds are involved in the production of plastics. Many of these are toxic and pose a threat to human health and the environment, including at the end of the plastic life cycle when it becomes waste.

Few of the delegates who participate in the negotiations have scientific expertise on all relevant topics. This makes it difficult for many delegates to assess how best to formulate provisions in the agreement, e.g. for chemicals whose effects they do not know, for how these should be handled and for how they may be substituted.

Great need for information

To ensure that delegates had access to relevant, research-based information on the topics covered by the agreement, 37 of the Scientists' Coalition's approximately 300 members were present in Nairobi.

The Scientists' Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty is a network of independent scientific and technical experts seeking to contribute to the treaty process with summaries and interpretations of scientific knowledge to decision makers and the public involved in the negotiations towards a global plastics treaty. The Coalition was formed in 2022 and now consists of about 300 scientists from around 50 countries.

The overall strategies and working methods of the coalition are determined by a steering committee, and the day-to-day work is led by a secretariat coordinated by NIVA.

The scientists contributed information to group and plenary meetings, delivered interventions and recommendations, organized and presented in side events, and arranged «Ask a Scientist» help desks in the mornings before the day's negotiations started.

Emmy Nøklebye, researcher at NIVA and member and coordinator of the Scientists’ Coalition, participated throughout the negotiations in Nairobi.

"We had conversations with delegates from more than 40 countries," says Nøklebye.

"Among other things, the delegates asked us about the health and environmental effects of chemicals in plastics and plastic alternatives. They also wanted input on how to formulate scientifically based paragraphs and references. In addition to answering specific questions, we stressed the importance of setting time-bound, global targets for reducing plastic production and of simplifying regulations for chemicals and polymers based on risk and the concept of essential use. We also highlighted the importance of prioritizing reuse and repair in line with the waste hierarchy," she says.

Since the researchers participated in all parts of the negotiations, they were able to identify both misunderstandings and attempts at disinformation. They could then counter these with solid, research-based information. An analysis of the participants showed that more than 140 lobbyists from the oil and chemical industries were present during the negotiations. Many fear their influence in favor of a less ambitious agreement that prioritizes end-of-life action over production cuts.

Many coalition members who were not physically present in Nairobi also contributed digitally with relevant expertise.

"It was impressive how much support we received 'from home' while we were in Nairobi," says Sara Plassnig. Plassnig is a research assistant at NIVA and a member of the Scientists’ Coalition's secretariat. She was present during the latter half of the negotiations.

"Many of the members of the Scientists’ Coalition who were unable to attend in person responded to media inquiries and contributed with presentations and input to meeting preparations from morning to evening, as well as throughout the weekend," says Plassnig.


The road to Ottawa

This round of negotiations revealed major conflicts of interest between different groups of countries. For example, there were disagreements about whether the agreement should cover the entire life cycle of plastics or only regulate plastic waste and its management. It will be important to find procedures for dealing with such conflicts of interest before the next round of negotiations, which will take place in Ottawa in April next year.

In the run-up to Ottawa, the Science Coalition will work to ensure that countries and delegates have the interdisciplinary, scientific basis needed to set realistic targets and formulate the most effective agreement possible.

"In the run-up to the next round of negotiations, we will work to close the most important knowledge gaps we have identified so far in the negotiations. We will continue our efforts to help ensure that research-based knowledge free of conflicts of interest forms the basis for the decisions that are made, in line with the precautionary principle and the goal of a just transition," says Emmy Nøklebye.

For more information about the negotiations on a binding, global agreement against plastic pollution and the Scientists' Coalition's contribution to the process, please contact:

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