Key takeaways for cities and subnationals at INC-3

This blog was written by Dr Magash Naidoo, Head of Circular Development, ICLEI World Secretariat

One thing has become clear, there is a lot at stake. Our health, our natural environment, our economies, and our social equity. Yet, there are many narrow interests being pursued that make pursuing the ‘greater good’ objectives of the UNEA 5 resolution more complex. 

The ‘Nairobi spirit’ was called upon by the UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen, in her opening address, to get negotiators and observers through the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC3) in a successful, productive, and progressive manner. President Rutto of Kenya further encouraged delegates, but also set the bar high by unveiling his plans to plant 15 billion trees by 2030, and 100 million on the opening day of INC3, which coincided with a special public holiday in Kenya. These opening remarks left many with a sense of optimism and hope for a fruitful third round of negotiations. This was needed, as INC was going to be a long week, from 13 to 19 November 2023.

We must also acknowledge the selfless efforts made by the INC Secretariat, under the leadership of the Executive Secretary, Jyoti Mathur-Filipp. At the best of times, these Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) processes are complex and require a tremendous amount of stamina and creative thinking. The Secretariat must be thanked for keeping the process moving as best as possible, and we all need to keep in mind that the Secretariat functions at the behest of member states. 

During INC-3 the following was observed:

  • The most encouraging observation is the increased usage of ‘circular economy’. This shows the recognition that a holistic approach to addressing plastic pollution at all parts of the value chain is needed, rather than focusing on end-of-pipe solutions, and provides an opportunity to sustainably turn off the tap. This would systematically lighten the magnitude of plastic pollution that cities face.
  • Many members have been increasingly focusing on a ‘Just Transition’ and paying attention to the consideration of workers and communities. This is extremely encouraging as cities and subnational governments are the closest level of government and often the enabler of activities that provide safety nets for communities. We also need to be mindful of what happens in cities when industries evolve or have to close. At times, large land parcels and buildings become abandoned, and if not managed carefully, become hubs for illicit activities. 
  • There was a strong presence of lobbyists who pushed against taking a responsible approach to sustainably address plastics pollution. While this is to protect economic interests, it is also an opportunity to progress research and innovation and create new industries.
  • There also appears to be a divergence between two groups of countries, the High Ambition Coalition (HAC), which is promoting a responsible, whole-of-life cycle approach, and a newer coalition that is much less ambitious, and appears to want to maintain a business-usual scenario. 
  • The last hours of INC-3 were not very encouraging for various reasons that include:

-No consensus amongst members on intersessional work. Intersessional work is a critical mechanism that furthers the technical discussions of specific topics, in between formal negotiation rounds.

-No mandate was given to the Secretariat to develop a first draft of the treaty, but rather work on revising the zero draft. During INC-3 more than 400 new submissions were made by members, which will have consequences for the length of the revised zero draft.

  • That being said, we remain hopeful that the final Treaty will be ambitious, and reflective of cities’ and subnational governments’ needs.

Importantly, the Local and Subnational working groups were able to deliver two statements:

  • The statement during the preparatory meeting expressed concern about local and subnational governments not being reflected in the summary report. It was further highlighted that cities and subnational authorities are the closest levels of government to society and primary agents of change. This resulted in the co-facilitators’ report of the preparatory meeting including the essential role of local and subnational governments in the realization of the instrument. 
  • During the discussions of Contact Group 3, a further statement was delivered, highlighting where and how ‘local and subnational governments’ can be included in the Preamble, Scope and Principles of the zero draft. 

It was also encouraging to see various members include the importance of local and subnational governments in their spoken and written submissions. 

As one of the leaders of the Youth and Children working groups pointed out, “Of course cities and subnational governments should play a key role, who else is going to be left to do the dirty work”.

Working towards INC-4, ICLEI together with partners that will include the Government of Quebec, Government of Catalonia, and, under the auspices of the local and subnational government working group, will be convening cities and subnational governments. This will include the city’s event that will take place in the days preceding INC-4.

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