18 Jan 2022
14:00–15:30

Venue: Online | Webex

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues aim to facilitate further engagement and discussion among the stakeholders in International Geneva and beyond. In addition, they intend to address the plastic crisis and support coordinated approaches that can lead to more efficient decision making. Ahead of the second segment of the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), this session focused on the potential mechanisms for financial cooperation and technical assistance which could be included in a new global legally-binding agreement on plastic pollution.

About the Dialogues

The world is facing a plastic crisis, the status quo is not an option. Plastic pollution is a serious issue of global concern which requires an urgent and international response involving all relevant actors at different levels. Many initiatives, projects and governance responses and options have been developed to tackle this major environmental problem, but we are still unable to cope with the amount of plastic we generate. In addition, there is a lack of coordination which can better lead to a more effective and efficient response.

Various actors in Geneva are engaged in rethinking the way we manufacture, use, trade and manage plastics. The Geneva Beat Plastic Pollution Dialogues aim at outreaching and creating synergies among these actors, highlighting efforts made by intergovernmental organizations, governments, businesses, the scientific community, civil society and individuals in the hope of informing and creating synergies and coordinated actions. The dialogues highlight what the different stakeholders have achieved at all levels, present the latest research and governance options. In addition, the dialogues encourage increased engagement of the Geneva community in the run-up to various global environmental negotiations, including UNEA-5 in February 2021 and February 2022.

Building on the outcomes of the first series of dialogues and the recent policy developments, the Geneva Environment Network is hosting a second series of events to facilitate further engagement and synergies on tackling the plastic crisis. These events are held in collaboration the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat, the Center for International Environmental Law, the Global Governance Centre at the Graduate Institute, IUCN, Norway, Switzerland, and the Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs (TESS).

About this Session

Plastic is an issue of global concern. As such, it requires global cooperation and responses. After several years of discussions under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Assembly, many governments, businesses, civil society organizations and academic institutions are now calling for the establishment of a global legally-binding instrument to address the risks posed by plastic throughout its lifecycle. At the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, convened by Germany, Ecuador, Ghana and Vietnam in Geneva on 1-2 September 2021, Peru and Rwanda presented a first draft of a UN resolution to pave the way for a binding agreement on marine litter. The draft resolution is now co-sponsored by 41 countries from all UN regions. Recently, the Japanese Government also put forward its own version of a draft resolution (which is not yet co-sponsored). If interested in the substance of these two resolutions, you can use this table which was prepared to that effect.

The draft resolutions are intended to serve as the formal basis for the adoption of a negotiating mandate for an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to start of negotiations on a global agreement at the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in February 2022.

However, plastic pollution varies greatly from one country to the next, both in terms of scale and impacts of plastic pollution, as well as their financial and technical capacity  to address these. Therefore, any new global instrument requires carefully designed mechanisms that can effectively address these challenges. In particular, technical and financial resources will be needed to support decision-making and assist developing countries and economies in transition to implement the global responses that will be negotiated to address the plastic crisis.

During this session, leading experts discussed these challenges and provide recommendations on setting up robust financial cooperation and technical assistance mechanisms within a new UN agreement on plastic pollution.

Speakers

Walter SCHULDT

Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador

Timothy GRABIEL

Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency

Delphine ARRI

PROBLUE Manager for Marine Pollution, Senior Environmental Engineer - Environment, Natural Resources & Blue Economy Global Practice

Jost DITTKRIST

Programme Officer, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Vito A. BUONSANTE

Policy & Technical Advisor, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN)

Peggy LEFORT

Resource Efficiency Coordinator, UNEP FI

Carsten WACHHOLZ

Senior Policy Manager, Institutions, Governments, and Cities, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

David AZOULAY (Moderator)

Managing Attorney, CIEL Geneva Office | Director of Environmental Health Program, CIEL

Summary

Welcome and Introduction

Broader context and objectives of the session | David AZOULAY | Managing Attorney, CIEL Geneva Office | Director of Environmental Health Program, CIEL

The global community’s attention to the plastic problem has been rising along the past decade, including in the context of the UN Environment Assembly. As discussions progressed, it became clear that the existing global policy framework was too fragmented and was insufficient to adequately address the issue of plastic pollution. More than 120 countries have now expressed their support to the development of a global response to the plastic crisis, with instruments suggested ranging from voluntary instruments focused on the marine environment to legally binding instruments encompassing the whole lifecycle of plastics.

Two resolutions have been put forward to the upcoming UN Environment Assembly : UNEA-5.2 in February 2022. This first one, which has been put forward by Peru and Rwanda and is currently co-sponsored by 42 countries, insist on a broad legally binding framework that covers the entire life-cycle of plastics. The second one, proposed by Japan, focuses on the marine environment specifically. More details on the differences between these two resolution can be found in the comparison table published by CIEL and EIA.

Now that it is expected that the upcoming UNEA meeting will adopt a mandate for negotiations, it is time to discuss what this treaty would look like and the key components for its success. Similarly to other instruments in the global environment arena, the question of funding and technical support is central. How can countries bring together the technical expertise and the financial resources that will allow them to effectively implement the legal obligations that will stem from the new agreement? The panel today shall provide some light into this question.

Opening Statement

A New Plastic Agreement | Walter SCHULDT | Director, Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Ecuador

Despite all the challenges the past years have brought us with the pandemic and its economic consequences, there is now a steady increase in the level of political will from governments and other stakeholders to address comprehensively the threats and impacts of marine litter and plastic pollution. The impacts on the environment and biodiversity, but also health, economies, tourism, trade, sustainable development at large and human rights, are increasingly recognized.

As part of the efforts to foster this political will, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana and Vietnam hosted the first Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in Geneva in September 2021. Thanks to this conference and its inclusive preparatory process, key elements of what a future agreement could be were identified, including regarding the scope of the agreement, the common objectives and goals, the concrete commitments to reduce and phase out plastic pollution, and the means of implementation. On that last point, it is essential to ensure that all countries, including developing countries, are able to implement the provisions of the agreement. Other important aspects discussed including the need for solid data and indicators and the importance of compatibility and collaboration with existing instruments. The conference resulted in the adoption of a Ministeral statement to build momentum and deliver a clear message toward UNEA-5.2, which gathered the support of 75 countries.

These discussions highlighted the need to include a financial mechanism to support developing countries, in particular SIDS and LDCs, to fulfill their obligations. This would include support to develop national actions plans with incentives to promote circular economy. Such support could be provided where they achieve the highest return on investment, for example targeting upstream measures and preventive action to reduce the generation of plastic waste such as providing incentives for industries to use more recycled materials and make plastics more recyclable.

Other suggestions highlights the importance of innovative finance mechanisms to attract private sector investment, including scaling up risk investment. Extended producer responsibility schemes would also provide tools to ensure funding from the private sector according to the polluter-pays principle. Another tool that could be used is matching mechanisms, as well as a potential scientific and technical body to develop standards and guidelines. Examples of such bodies exist within the UNFCCC.

A specific funding mechanism has also been suggested, whether a global fund or a dedicated wing in an existing mechanism such as the GEF. For this element, we should learn from previous experiences of the GEF and the GCF to avoid such delay in getting the proper appropriation and ensure efficient delivery of the funds. Finally, it has been suggested that the international negotiating committee includes a mandate to coordinate support for stable and predictable funding directed to actors with significant plastic footprints and vulnerable communities. Taking a gender and human-rights based approach was also mentioned.

The barriers faced by some countries to access funding and for technology transfer were also recognized in discussed ahead of the Ministerial Conference. These barriers include the small participation of private funds, the limited attention from donors to sectors with significant plastic footprints, the absence of a specific focus on gender, the limited resources available in some languages, the differences in technologies and standards between countries and regions, the lack of data comparability, the absence of case studies in some regions, and the lack of indigenous people and local community based initiatives.

In conclusion, we need to learn from lessons from UNFCCC, CBD, BRS, and other international agreement in order to move forward quickly, avoid mistakes and repeat the good examples.

Basis for Financial Cooperation and Technical Assistance in a New Plastic Agreement

Timothy GRABIEL | Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency

Financial support to address plastic pollution is already flowing. Many countries have been giving overseas development aid for several years for the purpose of reducing marine litter and plastic waste. While this existing financial landscape does not lack financial resources per se, it lacks structure and coordination toward the achievement of clear objectives.

On the donor countries’ side, coordination is lacking in bilateral funding strategies or with project funding at the national level, creating a sort of patchwork approach. Moreover, donors pay limited attention to sectors with significant plastic footprints and impacts, such as textiles and agriculture, and certain areas, including gender issues, the informal sector and indigenous people. Recipient countries, on the other side, experience challenges accessing existing funding, as windows are multiple, and difficulties in coordinating with national budgets and plans.

Establishing a convention to address global plastic pollution would require financial resources for two purpose. First, resources are needed for the day-to-day operations of a secretariat. Examples of approved 2020 budgets (in million USD) for various secretariats are: Ozone 5.3; Basel 4.8; Minamata 3, UNFCCC 30. Typically, these contributions are distributed among Parties based on their capacity to pay.

Secondly, financial support is needed to help developing countries meet their commitment. This includes enabling activities – such as capacity building, institutional strengthening, policy development, monitoring and reporting or pilot projects – and incremental costs of compliance. These costs are often covered by a fund.

Various financial mechanisms exist to deliver this support. The choice of financial mechanism is fundamental to the success of the new global plastics treaty. Secretariats are typically financed through general trust funds. A multi-purpose multilateral fund caters to several conventions; the GEF is an example of such fund. Meanwhile, a dedicated multilateral fund is tailored and design to respond to the objectives of a specific convention; an example is the fund under the Montreal Protocol. This type of fund can be very successful, and it could be advanced within the context of a new convention on plastics.

Delphine ARRI | PROBLUE Manager for Marine Pollution, Senior Environmental Engineer – Environment, Natural Resources & Blue Economy Global Practice

The World Bank Group and the PROBLUE programme in particular, stand ready to continue supporting countries and the private sector in their efforts to address marine litter and plastic pollution. PROBLUE is a multi-donor trust fund, which was established in 2018 and has now 16 donor countries involved. Since its creation, PROBLUE has contributed with more than 35 million USD in analytics and technical assistance to countries and at the regional level. As a whole, the World Bank’s portfolio of activities on marine litter and plastic pollution exceeds 5 billion USD.

Solutions to the plastic problem should include actions to prevent leakage by improving solid waste management and river basin management, to foster a circular economy, and to restore polluted ecosystems. As countries implement their stimulus and recovery plans, there is a big opportunity to build back in a more sustainable way while addressing the drivers of plastic pollution and shifting away from our current throw-away mode of consumption and production. PROBLUE follows this approach and is thus a useful tool for financing these needed changes.

While solid waste management is a priority, circular economy is the long-term solution. Currently, only 9% of plastics are being recycled globally. Analytics from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines show that the untapped market for some resins represent a loss to the economy of 6 billion USD per year. This means private sector investments and jobs are lost along the way. Therefore, we need to ramp up the financing and create the incentive for the private sector to invest in circular economy.

Governments have a key role to play as enablers by enacting and implementing the legal and regulatory framework that break down barriers to investments in circular economy. PROBLUE is working in several countries to assess plastic value chains and identifying the barriers to private sector investment in new materials, sustainable packaging, and the recycling market.

PROBLUE works on demand from countries, sometimes jointly with IFC, to provide analytics and technical assistance to assess the magnitude of the problem, identify entry points, and provide the roadmaps and action plans that countries need to implement their programme. Building back greener and bluer gives new impetus to drive policy changes that create a sustainable future. It is an opportunity to create jobs and improve livelihoods. In addition to the usual instruments that the World Bank can provide to countries, PROBLUE can continue supporting countries as the UN processes unfold.

Jost DITTKRIST | Programme Officer, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

The experience of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and their finance mechanisms can provide useful insights for the development of a new instrument. Each of the convention operates under a general trust fund and a special trust fund for voluntary contributions. Technical assistance and capacity development is included in those funds; in 2020-2021 it accounted for approximatively 12% of the total budget. The Basel Convention further has an implementation fund which helps to cover costs associated with the implementation of compliance action plan by specific governments. The Stockholm Convention also receives financing through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). A review of the finance mechanisms noted that, although the GEF has responded adequately to COP decisions, resources for POPs in the GEF have not been commensurate with the evolution of the Convention.

The BRS Conventions also benefit from the Special Programme to support institutional strengthening, which also supports the Minamata Convention and SAICM. Even more overarching is the integrated approach to financing of the sound management of chemicals and waste, which provides a relevant framework also outside of BRS. It advocates for mainstreaming, industry involvement and external financing as key pillars.

Parties to the conventions are supported through a variety of technical assistance and capacity development activities, thanks to the contribution of several countries and a few private donors. Another crucial means to support parties in implementing the conventions are partnership. For example, the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Partnership plays a critical role in mobilizing multi-stakeholders action, bringing together businesses, government, academic, and civil society. Under both the Basel and Stockholm Conventions, the regional centres provide another tool for training and technology transfer. They provide crucial technical assistance and other support to parties all over the world through their regional networks, including in the context of the small grant programme.

All-in-all, there are various ways in which parties can be supported, whether through technical assistance projects, partnerships, training and technology transfer, etc. The tools, channels and venues that we can use are multiple. Finally, the integrated approach to financing remains valuable, as dedicated external financing, mainstreaming and industry involvement are all still needed.

Vito A. BUONSANTE | Policy & Technical Advisor, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN)

IPEN is a network of organizations based in 124 countries all over the globe, bringing local concerns to international conventions. IPEN’s work highlights the toxic impacts of plastics throughout their life cycle. Thus, IPEN absolutely supports the idea of a plastics treaty, especially one that would include the entire life cycle of plastics. This is important in the context of the exponential increase of both plastic production and chemicals production, both markets being intrinsically related.

There are a few crucial elements to the establishment of a plastics treaty. Such an agreement should include the whole lifecycle of plastics: a focus on waste management only may lead to a treaty where the financing of the plastics’ public liability would be mainly public. Currently, financing to address pollution issues through multilateral agreement is insufficient; therefore, we need to think of innovative and creative ways of financing if we are to establish a new agreement.

Referring to article 16 of the Rio Declaration, IPEN and CIEL proposed one innovative solution, which is to make the polluters pay. The report was written in the context of the financing of the sound management of chemicals which is chronically underfunded, but the concept can also be easily applied to the plastic supply chain. The idea is to develop an internationally coordinated tax on basic chemicals sales, many of which are often used in plastics. A 0.5% tax on these sales could generate 11 billion USD in public funds, which would be enough to fund existing conventions and a new one on plastics.

If we restrain ourselves to traditional ways of funding, a new plastics treaty might take away resources from existing treaty, due to its public visibility. We need to find new money to fund a new treaty. Thus, mainstreaming and having more industry involvement in the financing is crucial to address the externalities that this industry is causing.

Carsten WACHHOLZ | Senior Policy Manager, Institutions, Governments, and Cities, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is a voluntary initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UNEP. Its approach looks at a comprehensive and holistic transition toward a circular economy for plastics. There are now about 1000 organizations across the whole plastic value chain united behind one common vision.

Under this initiative, companies representing around 20% of all plastics packaging produced globally, have committed to ambitious targets to help realize that common vision. This vision is substantiated by common definitions, harmonized metrics and clear reporting guidelines. These help companies to eliminate unnecessary and problematic plastics, implement reusable business models where possible, deliver on packaging solutions that are 100% reusable, recycling or compostable in practice and at scale, and decouple plastic use from the consumption of finite resources. Through the global commitment process, these companies commit to report their packaging data and the progress they made toward their 2025 targets. Thanks to the common definition and metrics, this data can be compared, and sectoral insights can be drawn from aggregate data.

Under the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, a specific working group initiated a project to develop guidance for investors engaging with companies in the plastics packaging value chain. In that context, we provided inputs based on the shared approach that we have developed under the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. While these are not the only definitions and metrics that should inform financial cooperation and technical assistance under a future UN plastics treaty, ensuring consistency in what public and private funding aims to achieve will be key.

Another useful approach that we are currently contributing to is the work of the EU Sustainable Finance Platform, notable the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy. This classification system establishes a list of environmentally sustainable activities and it could play an important role in helping the EU scale up sustainable investment and implement the goals of the EU Green Deals. It should provide certainty for investors, protect finance from greenwashing and help companies become for environmentally friendly, mitigate regulatory market fragmentation and help shift investments where they are most needed.

Assuming that the new plastics treaty will address a range of environmental, social, and economic issues and will not narrowly focus on preventing plastic leakage into the environment, the work on sustainable finance taxonomy could be a useful reference to establish a sound mechanism for finance cooperation and technical assistance. This work should not only involve political discussions; at the technical level, criteria are being developed to ensure that the activities included in the taxonomy contribute to at least one environmental objective and do not harm to the others.

To conclude, the business case for a UN plastics treaty is clear, as shown in a joint report with WWF and the Boston Consulting Group. Setting out global goals and binding targets require common definition and consistent measurements if we really want to harmonize policy efforts, enhance investment planning, stimulate innovation and infrastructure development. While voluntary initiatives can deliver change among market leaders, an internationally binding approach is needed to deliver the necessary change at industry scale. More than 70 companies and financial institutions have launched a joint statement ahead of UNEA-5.2 to urge UN member states to establish a negotiating committee to develop an ambitious international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Coming soon

  • Peggy LEFORT | Resource Efficiency Coordinator, UNEP FI
  • Open Discussion
  • Closing Remarks

 

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In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.

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