California at INC-4: On the Road to an International Treaty to End Plastic Pollution 

California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and CalRecycle staff recently joined over 2,500 delegates from 170 countries in Ottawa, Canada at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) that took place April 23-29 to develop a legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution. This process was established by the United Nations Environment Assembly Resolution 5/14, “End plastic pollution: towards an international binding instrument,” which set the ambition to finalize a global treaty by the end of 2024.

OPC Deputy Director, Kaitlyn Kalua and Water Quality Program Manager, Christine Sur at the Shaw Center, Ottawa, Canada

Plastic production has exponentially increased over the last decades, with recent estimates of up to 14 million metric tons ending up in the world’s ocean each year. With global plastics use and production projected to triple by 2060, now is the time for the global community to work together to tackle the plastic pollution crisis and protect our environment and health. 

Local and state governments bear the burden of ongoing pollution, and play a critical role in combatting the global plastic pollution crisis.  OPC’s Deputy Director Kaitlyn Kalua discussed the importance of source reduction to prevent plastic pollution, and highlighted California’s actions to reduce and prevent plastic pollution through the Statewide Microplastics Strategy during the panel entitled “All Hands on Deck.” Kaitlyn highlighted the importance of collaboration and action at every level, saying, “Our cities and state are policy laboratories that can trial new systems and regulations, and accelerate science and research to end plastic pollution.” CalRecycle additionally presented on their efforts to advance plastic reduction, reuse, and recycling, and discussed California’s ambitious approach to hold producers accountable driven by Senate Bill 54.  

Throughout INC-4, OPC participated in speaking engagements and panels, bilateral meetings with other subnational governments, conversations with scientists and NGOs, and other opportunities to learn about and accelerate science and solutions to address plastic pollution from specific sectors and governments worldwide.

OPC and representatives from CalRecycle additionally met with partners from Canada to exchange information and share perspectives from the subnational to the national level. OPC discussed our work to address microplastics, advance source reduction and intervention strategies, and invest in science. These conversations opened up opportunities to advance California and Canada’s Memorandum of Cooperation, and further demonstrated the importance of subnational governments and global partnerships to ensure that a future global plastics treaty is successfully implemented. 

The urgency and importance of the INC-4 negotiations was made clear by community leaders, scientists, and select national governments, with many calling for an ambitious future treaty that effectively addresses the significant impacts of plastic pollution on our environment, communities, and health.

All Hands on Deck Panel. From left to right: Alexis Jackson, The Nature Conservancy; Mayor Mitch Reynolds, La Crosse, Wisconsin; Gabriel Boichat Sancho, Government of Catalonia, Spain; Mindy McIntyre, Chief Deputy Director, CalRecycle; Kaitlyn Kalua, Deputy Director, OPC; Anja Brandon, Ocean Conservancy.

And while INC-4 concluded with some progress made toward a final agreement, there is still significant work to be done ahead of and during the fifth and final negotiation session (INC-5) that will be held in Busan, Korea this November. In particular, disagreements remain regarding the level of ambition of the final treaty, including whether to place global limits on plastic production and the regulation of certain hazardous plastic chemicals. 

There are many challenges still ahead on the road to a legally binding plastics treaty. Ultimately, ending plastic pollution is needed to protect our environment, our health, and to address the interconnected global climate and biodiversity crises. California has long committed to preventing and stopping the flow of plastics from our cities and communities to our coast and ocean. We know we need to do more, and we can’t do it alone.

The State of California and OPC will continue to follow these historic negotiations and serve as a global leader to combat the worldwide plastic pollution crisis through our ongoing work to advance solutions and research to reduce plastic pollution.

Learn more about what California is doing to tackle plastic pollution: 

Categories: Marine Pollution, Outreach and Education, Plastic Pollution, Strategic Goal 2: Equity, Strategic Goal 3: Biodiversity