The flow of plastic litter and plastic pollution into the marine environment is a growing global problem.
Plastic pollution has significant environmental, health, social, and economic impacts.
By 2050 plastic production is expected to grow to 1,600 million tonnes per year. This is up from 407 million tonnes in 2015. It would amount to around 5.6 times the weight of all humans.
The United Nations has recognised that the rapidly increasing levels of plastic pollution, including microplastics, present a serious transboundary environmental problem. New Zealand has joined other countries in supporting the launch of negotiations towards a new treaty to combat plastic pollution. This legally binding treaty is expected to be negotiated by the end of 2024. After negotiation, countries will go through their own treaty-making processes to determine whether they will sign up to the treaty.
Core elements of a treaty are likely to include a:
- shared global goal/common long-term vision to the plastic pollution problem
- common approach to national action plans covering the life cycle of plastics
- mechanism to harmonise reporting and monitoring of actions and effects of measures
- financial mechanism to deliver technical support and capacity building
- science and knowledge mechanism to provide access to quality-assured information for stakeholders at all levels.
The overall scope, level of ambition, and nature of commitments of a treaty all remain subject to negotiations.
Taking action on plastic waste is an important step in New Zealand’s journey to a low-waste economy with an effective resource recovery and recycling system.
New Zealand supports the development of an effective global treaty to reduce plastic waste and eliminate plastic pollution on a global scale.
In the negotiations of a global plastics treaty New Zealand intends to:
- Advocate for the treaty to take a full lifecycle approach to plastic, addressing issues from the extraction of raw materials through to disposal and pollution impacts on ecosystems. This is consistent with our National Plastics Action Plan.
- Advocate for the treaty to be guided by the waste hierarchy, avoiding generating plastic waste in the first place, and treating destruction and disposal to landfill as the least desirable options for tackling plastic pollution.
- Advocate for the development of a treaty that is based on circular economy global principles, designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems (moving to a circular economy is part of the vision for Aotearoa in our waste strategy.
- Advocate for effective long-term solutions to the sources and drivers of plastics entering the environment. Solutions could include innovation, redesign of products, services and systems to avoid unnecessary use of plastics and enable plastic reuse and repair, and research into the role of alternative materials.
- Support an approach that ensures efforts to reduce plastic do not lead to undesirable outcomes throughout their lifecycle, including an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, additives that are harmful for humans and ecosystems, or composite materials that do not have circular end-of-life solutions.
- Support transparent reporting requirements and periodic assessment of the progress of implementation and effectiveness of the agreement.
We will also prioritise a low-emission approach to options to reduce plastic waste and recognise the impact of plastic pollution on human and ecosystem health. We propose to pursue provisions that are consistent with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles, ensuring Māori rights and interests can be reflected in the negotiations.
For more information about Aotearoa New Zealand’s negotiating mandate, read the Cabinet paper.
New Zealand will advocate for a treaty that aligns with our interests.
The Ministry for the Environment will prepare for each INC along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
At the first session of the INC, Aotearoa New Zealand joined other countries, including Australia, the Cook Islands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Norway in the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution.
The High Ambition Coalition is committed to develop an ambitious international legally binding instrument and shares a common ambition to end plastic pollution by 2040. It is co-chaired by Norway and Rwanda.
The High Ambition Coalition’s Global Strategic Goals are to:
- Restrain plastic consumption and production to sustainable levels
- Enable a circular economy for plastics that protects the environment and human health
- Achieve environmentally sound management and recycling of plastic waste.
The High Ambition Coalition coordinates statements from its member states to share priorities for upcoming INC meetings.
The first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee meeting (INC1) took place from November 28 to December 2, 2022, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
At INC1, countries agreed that the INC secretariat would develop a document for negotiation at the second INC that sets out potential options for elements towards an international legally binding instrument including both legally binding and voluntary measures.
See more information about INC1 (including recordings and a summary) on the UN Environment Programme website.
The second INC (INC2) took place May 29 to June 2, 2023, in Paris, France. Countries discussed substantive elements of a future treaty including obligations and measures across the plastics supply chain. Countries also discussed the role of implementation measures including National Action Plans, stakeholder engagement and financial assistance.
Countries also agreed that the Chair would develop a zero draft treaty text for negotiation at the third INC. See more information about INC2 (including recordings, pre-session documents and submissions) on the UN Environment Programme website
- This co-facilitators report summarises discussion on the substantive obligations of an agreement including the core obligations and measures
- This co-facilitators report summarises discussion on the means of implementation including national action plans and financial assistance
- See New Zealand’s statement on agenda item four made in plenary at INC2
See the potential options for elements of a treaty paper which was prepared by the INC secretariat. This was the basis of negotiations at INC2. It draws on views expressed by member states from INC1 and their submissions.
See New Zealand’s submission on potential options for elements towards an international legally binding agreement[PDF, 272 KB], for consideration at the second negotiation meeting.
The third INC (INC3) is scheduled to take place in November, 2023, in Nairobi, Kenya.
The fourth and fifth INC meetings are planned to take place in 2024. Negotiations expected to conclude by the end of 2024.
At the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) from 28 February to 2 March 2022, countries across the world agreed to work towards a new global agreement on combatting marine plastic litter and plastic pollution.
The mandate agreed at UNEA-5.2 to negotiate a global agreement is consistent with New Zealand’s domestic work on plastic. The development of a global agreement will cover the full life cycle of plastics from production to disposal and will include microplastics in its scope.
The summary report of the UNEA’s Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics [UNEA website] identifies a range of potential options to address the marine plastic litter problem.
Aotearoa New Zealand has also endorsed the:
- Pacific Regional Declaration on the Prevention of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution [SPREP website]
- Ministerial Statement on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution [Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution website] with a wide range of other countries including the EU member states.
We are also members of a range of other international groups to reduce plastic pollution such as the:
- Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency [European Commission website]
- Ellen McArthur Foundation global commitment on plastics [Ellen McArthur Foundation website]
- Global Ghost Gear Initiative [Global Ghost Gear website]