The fourth round of Global Plastics Treaty negotiations (INC-4) is happening in Ottawa from 23-29 April 2024. LEARN MORE
- Posted on April 26, 2024

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Outnumber National Delegations, Scientists, and Indigenous Peoples at Plastics Treaty Negotiations

196 fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists have registered for the critical fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to advance a global plastics treaty.

Break Free From Plastic

OTTAWA, April 25, 2024 A new analysis from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), in collaboration with the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, Greenpeace, the Break Free From Plastic movement, the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), and the Scientists’ Coalition for An Effective Plastics Treaty, is based on the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) provisional list of INC-4 participants.

Ninety-nine percent of plastics are derived from fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel industry continues to clutch plastics and petrochemicals as a lifeline. The 37% increase in lobbyists from INC-3 shows that the footprint of industry lobbyists is progressively increasing as calls for the treaty to address plastic production grow both inside and outside the negotiations.

The analysis finds that:

  • 196 lobbyists for the fossil fuel and chemical industry registered for the plastics treaty talks, a 37% increase from the 143 lobbyists registered at INC-3.
  • Fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists outnumber the combined 180 representatives of the European Union delegations.
  • The total number of fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists registered is three times greater than the 58 independent scientists from the Scientists’ Coalition for An Effective Plastic Treaty and seven times greater than the 28 representatives of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus.
  • 16 lobbyists for the fossil fuel and chemical industry registered across nine different country delegations, including four in Malaysia, three in Thailand, two in Iran and the Dominican Republic, and one each in China, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Turkey, and Uganda.
  • The fossil fuel and chemical industry registered more representatives than the smallest 87 country delegations combined.
  • The Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) collectively registered 73 representatives, meaning they are outnumbered more than two to one compared to the fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyists.

While any accredited organization can register attendees, advocates are quick to point out power imbalances that favor industry lobbyists.

“The outcome of these talks is of critical importance to countries and communities around the world, and it is vital to expose and confront the role of corporations whose agendas are fundamentally in conflict with the global public interest. Access to the negotiations is just one piece of the puzzle,” says Delphine Levi Alvares, Global Petrochemical Campaign Coordinator at the Center for International Environmental Law. “Some may argue that everyone enjoys equal access, but that is simply not true. Lobbyists are appearing on country delegations and are gaining privileged access to Member State-only sessions, where sensitive discussions unfold behind closed doors. Beyond the troubling number of lobbyists present at the negotiation talks, behind-the-scenes industry lobbying activities and events take place around the world in the months leading up to negotiations.”

In Sunday’s UNEP-hosted meeting for Observers, Executive Secretary Inger Anderson highlighted that the groundswell of communities calling for a solution to plastic pollution helped create pressure to negotiate a treaty in the first place. And while the experiences of the frontline communities, Indigenous Peoples, independent scientists, and civil society are critical to the negotiations’ success, their participation faces enormous challenges. While industry once again enjoys access to the negotiations and surrounding environs, civil society representatives struggle to find funding, get their visas approved, and even if they make it to the negotiation, their ability to speak is not guaranteed.

Rachel Radvany, Environmental Health Campaigner at the Center for International Environmental Lawadded, “The presence of actors in the room who are responsible for generating this crisis creates power imbalances that obstruct progress. Rights holders and civil society representatives will not sit silently while this happens. We are here representing the needs of communities and people from around the world who cannot be in these rooms. We are continuing to speak out to call for an end to corporate capture. We know that there are models for conflict of interest that work. We need to safeguard the negotiations and prioritize participation from Indigenous Peoples, frontline communities, independent scientists, and other rights holders. Our rights and the rights of future generations depend on it.”

The focus of INC-4 is to advance treaty text that will be ready for the final scheduled session (INC-5) in November. To accomplish this, negotiators must narrow potential options for provisions and make decisions on key issues. If we want to confront the triple planetary crisis, it is critical that the treaty addresses the full lifecycle of plastics, beginning with production.

Delphine Levi Alvares continues, “If we end up with a treaty that lets the plastics lobby continue business-as-usual, it will be because of a failure to safeguard the negotiations from their influence. UNEP and the INC Secretariat’s inaction has created the conditions for corporate influence to further tip an already inequitable representation.”

Expert Comments from Rights Holders and Endorsing Organizations

Tori Cress, Communications Manager at Keepers of the Water, and member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus

“Here at INC-4, industry lobbyists are enjoying seats on state delegations while the communities most impacted by the plastic crisis struggle to have their voices heard. While we are surrounded by industry-sponsored pro-plastics ads, Indigenous Peoples representatives experience lack of access, are given extremely limited time to speak, and lack recognition even at the First Nations table. Plastics have poisoned our water and what happens to the water happens to people. These plastics and their toxic impacts will impact us for generations to come. Plastics have been found in our moose, elk, deer, fish, ducks, geese, plants and medicines and our bodies: we are witnessing in real time the toxic circle of plastics. We have had enough.”

Graham Forbes, Greenpeace International Head of Delegation to the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations.

“The influence and growing presence of fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are not what the people want nor what the climate needs. This is the fourth out of five meetings and the fossil fuel lobby is holding us back from negotiating a treaty that will end the plastics crisis. The UN member states must step up and deliver a Global Plastics Treaty that will cut plastic production and end single-use plastic.”

Pamela Miller, IPEN Global Co-Chair

“Plastics and their associated chemicals threaten the health, lands, and cultures of Arctic Indigenous Peoples. Delegates should listen to the voices of those from the Arctic and other areas that are most affected by toxic plastics, not to the industries that profit from plastics. The industry should be held accountable for the costs of the plastics crisis, rather than having an undue influence over the development of solutions.”

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement

A treaty that focuses on waste management and ineffective measures allows the plastics lobby to continue to ramp up plastic production unchecked. Producers have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo and taking measures that address production off of the table. But the world can’t afford to keep producing plastics. Last week, we learned that at current rates, plastic production alone could account for nearly 20% of the remaining carbon budget, exceeding previous estimates. Leaving production on the floor is wrong for the climate, the environment, health, human rights, and the environment.

Ana Lê Rocha, Director of Global Plastics Program at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)

“The United Nations Environment Programme has welcomed fossil fuel companies into the plastics treaty talks with open arms, while Indigenous community leaders, waste pickers, frontline groups, and others most impacted by the plastics crisis have been held at arm’s length. The people who should be heard in the plastics treaty negotiations are those whose only stake in the talks are the safeguarding of truth and fundamental human rights, not the industry profiting from the plastics emergency.”

Jacob Kean-Hammerson, Ocean Campaigner at Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)

“It’s ironic that Pacific small island developing states, some of those most impacted by the dual impacts of plastic pollution and the climate emergency, are once again vastly outnumbered by representatives from the companies that are directly causing them harm. This discrepancy shows the looming presence of industry lobbyists casting a shadow over the negotiations and ensuring that access is neither just nor equal.”

Laura Salgado, Head of Campaign and Partnership at the Global Center for the Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), member of the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance (STPA)

“Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is an existing foundational principle that includes measures to avoid conflicts of interest between governments, United Nations (UN) agencies, and the tobacco industry (TI). Governments and UN agencies like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) should immediately implement measures to prevent tobacco industry interference, including from its lobbyists. These efforts can help the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) establish policies appropriate for each type of industry actor to mitigate their undue influence. Based on a quick review, around 5 NGO observers were found to have links with the tobacco companies, which are responsible for the world’s most littered item of single-use plastic- cigarette butts. Recalling the Decision adopted at the Tenth Session of the Conference of Parties (COP10) to the WHO FCTC that urged governments to protect tobacco-related environmental policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry; these participants should be immediately excluded from the negotiations.”

Bethanie Carney-Almroth, Professor in ecotoxicology at Gothenburg University and Member of  the Scientists’ Coalition For An Effective Plastic Treaty

“While the Scientists’ Coalition cannot comment on the specific analysis being released today, what we can say is that to successfully end plastic pollution, it’s very clear that the treaty needs to be based on robust, independent science. In previous policy setting forums, actors with Conflicts of Interest such as the tobacco and oil industries used a series of tactics to delay or block policy action for decades, including producing misleading studies and false narratives. They also worked to undermine the credibility of academic science and individual scientists. We are seeing similar tactics being used during these plastics treaty negotiations by a variety of stakeholders with clear conflicts of interest. The independent scientific evidence is very clear. We are facing a triple planetary crisis with plastics as a central cause, and current production levels of plastics are not sustainable. Our scientists are here at the INC meetings to help negotiators use robust, independent science to support adoption of ambitious and effective obligations in the future global plastics treaty. Science can also help us find paths forward to best protect the human right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment.”

Methodology Note

For this analysis, we used the provisional list of participants at INC-4, released by UNEP this week, scraped and analyzed line by line.

CIEL’s estimate is likely to be conservative, as the methodology relies on delegates at the talks to disclose their ties to fossil fuel or chemical industry interests, and some lobbyists may choose to conceal this connection.

We considered a fossil fuel or chemical industry lobbyist to be anyone representing the interests of a fossil fuel company, chemical company, and its shareholders. This included organizations and trade associations representing the fossil fuel or chemical industries or organizations including associations, non-profits, or think tanks that received significant support from those industries, or included industry figures in their governance or have a track record of lobbying for pro-industry positions. All delegates at INC-4 are assumed to be attempting to influence the negotiations in some way.

Delegates at INC-4 register to attend the negotiations with a delegation including national delegations, intergovernmental organizations, and Civil Society Organizations. Businesses are not allowed to register directly to attend and so often appear with the delegation of trade associations or in country’s delegations. Delegates may provide further information when they register which may include their role at another company or organization or their job title. Companies and organizations were researched using open sources including their websites, lobbying databases, and reputable reporting.

To establish a delegate’s link to the fossil fuel or chemical industry we relied solely on the information provided in the UNEP provisional list of attendees, including both their delegation and any further affiliation the delegate disclosed. This means that our estimate is likely to be conservative as some delegates may choose not to disclose their ties to industry.

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