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India advocates consensus-backed moves to end plastic pollution, not a voting-based approach

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India emphasised the need for a pragmatic approach to a legally binding international instrument on plastic pollution, a consensus-backed move as against a voting-based approach, and a decision guided by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities during the closing plenary of the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) in Ottawa late on Monday.

A prop depicting a water tap with cascading plastic bottles is displayed by activists near the Shaw Centre venue of penultimate negotiations for the first-ever global plastics treaty, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on April 23. (REUTERS)

INC-4 concluded with an advanced draft text of the instrument and agreement on intersessional work ahead of the fifth session (INC-5) scheduled in November. Over the course of INC-4, delegates discussed emissions and release, production, product design, waste management, problematic and avoidable plastics, financing, and a just transition, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Tuesday.

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INC members agreed on intersessional work – expert meetings that take place between the official INC sessions – expected to catalyse convergence on key issues. In addition, the members decided to create an open-ended legal drafting group at INC-5, serving in an advisory capacity by reviewing elements of the draft revised text to ensure legal soundness, the UNEP added.

“We are committed to take this work forward through intersessional work. In our endeavour to address plastic pollution we need to collectively work, be realistic and with consensus so that we have concrete outcomes that feed into INC-5 which is aimed at agreeing to elements that will be part of the instrument,” Naresh Pal Gangwar, head of the Indian delegation, said at the plenary on Monday.

He added that addressing plastic pollution is extremely important but the road map should be realistic.

“While we feel the need to respond to this global environmental challenge, we should not ignore that plastics have played an important role in development of our societies. Plastics are used in varied sectors of economic activity. As such the global response to addressing plastic pollution should be based on the cardinal principle of sustainable development. So the issues addressed here should be thoroughly assessed for their impact on sustainable development goals (SDGs) including food security, economic well-being, water security, etc,” he said.

“The instrument (legally binding) should be implemented in a rationally driven manner with due respect to national circumstances and capabilities… the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities under the Rio declaration should be integrated in the instrument. We reiterate the need for consensus-based decision making. We call upon parties to adopt the draft rules of procedure before the beginning of textual negotiations at INC-5,” Gangwar said while asking the INC-4 chair to record the statement in their report.

India’s approach to a plastic phase-out is different from that of several African group countries and even Peru, which are seeking interventions in the entire life cycle of plastics, including polymers, and not only downstream measures such as waste management.

HT reported on April 27 that India will only support an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution if it is reached via full consensus, not one made through the support of a two-thirds majority. India had sought an assurance from the INC chair, Luis Vayas Valdivieso, that Rule 38.1 of the draft rules of procedure, which allows for a two-thirds majority vote on substantive matters if consensus cannot be reached, will not be invoked during this round of negotiations.

Several countries, including Russia, China, the UAE and Cuba, have opposed the option of voting, independent observers said. Experts pointed out that a consensus-driven system allows one or a few member states to veto certain decisions. Many delegates supported indicating the instrument’s objective to end plastic pollution, with some adding “including in the marine environment”; and to protect human health and the environment. Some wanted an approach based on the “full lifecycle of plastic,” while others preferred the “lifecycle of plastic waste”. Some delegates indicated their preference not to have a time-bound target in the objectives, with one noting that this could be included in the preamble, the International Institute of Sustainable Development’s Earth Negotiation Bulletin said on Monday.

A Centre for Science and Environment report flagged that companies have started increasing oil and gas production for polymers in anticipation of a serious response to climate change that could curb the production of fossil fuels, Hindustan Times reported on April 17.

The report highlighted that India, Russia, the United States and China, in certain cases, are not agreeable to reducing primary plastic polymer production, reducing chemicals from polymer production or phasing out single-use plastic.

“We came to Ottawa to advance the text and with the hope that members would agree on the intersessional work required to make even greater progress ahead of INC-5. We leave Ottawa having achieved both goals and a clear path to landing an ambitious deal in Busan ahead of us,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP. “The work, however, is far from over. The plastic pollution crisis continues to engulf the world and we have just a few months left before the end of the year deadline agreed upon in 2022. I urge members to show continued commitment and flexibility to achieve maximum ambition.”

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