The Congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) attended the United Nations’ second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) on Plastic Pollution in Paris from May 29 – June 2. We were represented by Helga Haass-Männle, Ph.D. Chem., an associate with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery who lives in Norway (below left), and Sister Jeannette Londadjim from the Institut des Sœurs de Saint Joseph, who lives in Paris (below right).
The aim of the INC process is to establish a “legally binding instrument,” a treaty that aims to oblige all countries to effectively combat plastic pollution. The goal for INC-2 was achieved; the delegates left with a mandate to create a working draft that can be robustly negotiated at future meetings.
The INC-2 got off to a slow start. Three of the five days were spent offering statements on the rules of procedure, in particular rules for consensus decision-making. Effective treaties, like the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, were based on voting with a two-thirds majority. A few countries are supporting 100% consensus, which allows them to better protect their economies from the impact of changes to address plastic pollution.
Our NGO status allows us the privilege of submitting testimony. We submitted the following:
As Catholic sisters, we have engaged in consensus decision-making as our method of communal governance for decades. Our experience is that through discernment and listening to all voices, we are able to make choices for the common good. We commend the INC for using this method since the acceptance of decisions made is critical for the successful implementation of the treaty. Although many differing ideas have emerged in INC 1 and 2, it was obvious that delegates were listening and learning from each other. Delegates committed to the urgent necessity to move forward were able to find procedural compromises. We recognize that consensus of 100% of the member countries is not always possible. By allowing for the option of an issue being decided by a two-thirds majority after all efforts to reach consensus have been exhausted, the rights of minority opinion are protected, incentives for compromise are ensured, and the INC can move towards the common good.
Through our NGO, we strongly supported the following objectives:
- Shift rapidly to a circular economy for plastics where the producers are responsible for ensuring environmentally sound practices at each stage of the plastic life cycle.
- Prioritize eliminating single-use plastics and the addition of harmful classes of chemicals and polymers to all plastics.
- Quickly transition nonessential uses of plastics to more environmentally friendly materials.
- Develop standards for the composition of plastics that allow for transparency in labeling so that producers and consumers can be aware of both composition and safe recycling or disposal methods.
- Address microplastic leakage, emphasizing road transport, control of dust and fibers and wastewater sludge.
Our representatives at INC-2 were impressed by the respect and open-mindedness the delegates showed for each other. They were deeply thankful for the UN seeing the immense implications of plastic pollution for our beautiful planet and pushing the world’s countries to work on effective solutions. Helga shared, “My eyes are really opened widely for this global problem, and I hope for the world and all its inhabitants that INC will have much success!”
Our Representatives on the Bureau for the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution
Eleven representatives make up the coordinating committee for the Plastic Pollution Treaty, which is called the Bureau. Three are connected to our congregation from the countries where our sisters live.
The chair for the first half of the negotiating sessions is Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra of Peru. An experienced diplomat, he has shown a strong commitment to consensus decision-making and has been a patient and persuasive leader in dealing with the challenges of the first two negotiating sessions.
Representing the Asian Pacific States is Hiroshi Ono of Japan. Shortly after his election at the second INC, he was called upon to be a facilitator of a contact group charged with finding a way forward with a contentious issue. His committee was able to develop several alternatives. Hiroshi Ono is the vice-minister for global environmental affairs for Japan. His experience includes working for the World Bank on lending projects related to air pollution control projects, carbon finance projects and a climate change adaptation study for the East Asian countries.
Larke Williams is the lead plastic treaty negotiator for the United States Department of State. She was a frequent speaker at the INC-2, where her experience as a foreign affairs officer and work at the Environmental Protection Agency were illustrated in the quality of her testimony.