Planeteer Reflections on the Fourth Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations (INC-4)

In April of 2024, four of our incredible Planeteers attended the Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations (INC-4) in Ottawa, Canada. This was the Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

We are so excited that this global organization is prioritizing youth voices as we continue to combat plastic pollution. After attending, we asked each of them to share their main takeaways and reflections. Their impassioned reflections underscored the urgency of collective action and highlighted the vital role youth play in shaping a sustainable future, fueling our determination to drive change forward.

Ashton Hawkins

Recently, my sister Zara and I attended the fourth session of the International Negotiating Committee for a Global Plastics Treaty (INC-4) in Ottawa, Canada. As two of the four under eighteens at the whole event, we were there to spread the voice of the youth and of plankton, which produces half the oxygen on Earth and is the base of the food chain. There still is not substantial research into the effects that plastic pollution may have on phyto and zooplankton. (See our video ‘little things’ to learn more)

As the youngest person attending INC-4 at 13 years old, I was welcomed into many conversations with adults, as they were keen to hear directly from the youth, which is usually rare at these events. At first it seemed that the negotiations were slow, with many oil-producing countries flat out stalling. In the end, there was some progress made on the treaty, and I am optimistic that a strong Global Plastics Treaty is possible by INC-5 in November.

We attended INC-4 with fellow Planeteers, Dejea Lyons and Diego Arreola Fernández, and took part in a great side event Planeteer Alliance hosted on youth inclusion in the treaty. It was very successful, with some meaningful contacts made with other youth mostly from African countries!

During our time at INC-4, we met with nation representatives from the US, UK and Fiji, where we talked about problems and discussed solutions to plastics and the youth voice.There were many amazing highlights at INC-4, in fact too many to list. I would love to thank the Planeteer Alliance for helping us get into this historic treaty negotiations that will (hopefully) end plastic pollution forever.

Zara Hawkins

I had the honour of attending the 4th round of the Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations (INC-4) in Ottawa, Canada from the 23rd-29th of April!

Despite over 2,500 people taking part, including 196 fossil fuel lobbyists, my brother Ashton (13) and I (15) were two of only four under 18s present at the entire event! This was due to a very long and non-inclusive registration process for those under 18 years of age.

We attended thanks to the Captain Planet Foundation (CPF), who has supported Hidden Plastic from the start. Also attending under Captain Planet Foundation, was Robin Okunowo  (from CPF,) and youth activists: Diego Arreola Fernández (founder of Green Speaking, from Mexico) and Dejea Lyons (winner of the Diana Legacy Award, from the Cayman Islands).

During our time in Ottawa, we were able to observe the nations negotiate, attend side events and meet some truly inspirational people in the fight against plastic. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to deliver an intervention, since the plenary only opened for observers twice. However, fellow youth activists Fiona Brown (14, from Canada) and Aeshnina Azzahra Aquilani (16, from Indonesia) were able to speak, and delivered messages on behalf of ALL under 18s.

Our highlights included: 

  • Meeting with delegates from some of the negotiating countries, including the UK, USA & Fiji
  • Watching some awe-inspiring side events on youth plastic justice, plastics effects on the global south, plastic packaging alternatives & the fight against plastic pollution in Rapa Nui (Easter Island) + the Galapagos
  • Being featured on the main Canadian news channel (CBC)
  • Meeting with some of the world’s leading plastic scientists at the Scientists’ Coalition of an Effective Plastics Treaty!
Hidden Plastic and Nina with the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty.

Hidden Plastic and Nina with the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty

The Global Plastics Treaty is a huge opportunity to end the plastic problem once and for all. While great progress has so far been made, very little attention was paid in the text itself towards putting a cap on the production of plastics. Instead, focus went into recycling and other downstream measures. While these are important, it’s essential that we ‘turn off the tap’ on plastic production to stop this environmental catastrophe at the source.

The connections and memories made from this experience in Ottawa are priceless. We’re so grateful to have been a part of this treaty negotiation and hope to attend INC-5 in Busan, South Korea later this year!

Dejea Lyons

My first INC was an incredible experience. Personally, I feel I was successful in being able to communicate with a variety of stakeholders who recognized the importance of youth voice. Some of these stakeholders went on to find ways to incorporate our mission into theirs.

Additionally, even though we were small in numbers, all of the youth who were in attendance at INC-4 were united as one. Even though we are all from different walks of life, we all knew that we had to amplify our voices in order for people to understand that we did not just want a seat at the table. We wanted to have more say in our future. 

I do think there are some opportunities for the next INC. In my opinion, I think there needs to be more integration of all countries,businesses and organizations regardless of their position in the United Nations. Many voices continue to go unheard about what they are facing with plastic pollution and in order to have an equitable Global Plastics Treaty, those perspectives need to be articulated in spaces such as INC. 

The downfalls of INC for me was the lack of focus on the entirety of the lifecycle of production of plastic. I think there are a lot of things that are being addressed in the current version of the treaty and I think that is amazing. However, in order for us to reduce and eventually eradicate plastic pollution, we have to start from the very beginning of the plastic production lifecycle which is the extraction of raw materials and the creation of polymers.  

There is so much that I have learned from side events and negotiations. This experience has rejuvenated my spirit to create my own single use plastic campaigns in my community. I am so excited to see how that will play out. 

I just want to express my sincerest gratitude to the Planeteer Alliance and the Captain Planet Foundation for continuing to create opportunities for youth to have their voices heard.

Diego Arreola Fernandez

Hello everyone! My name is Diego Arreola Fernandez, I am a member of the Planeteer Alliance (originally from Mexico City now living in Toronto, Canada) and I recently had the honor of representing Captain Planet Foundation at INC-4, the Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Below I will share a bit about my experience! 

What went well

First of all, I was so excited for the team that CPF had put in place to comprise their delegation. I finally met in person my friends Zara (15) and Ashton (13) Hawkins from the UK, two inspiring kids that have committed themselves to plastic education and tackling single use plastics in a fun way, through their organization Hidden Plastics; with the support of their mom, Diahann, who was also present at the conference. In addition, I had the joy of reconnecting with my old friend Dejea Lyons, who I had seen for the last time in 2019 at Ocean Heroes Bootcamp Vancouver. Being from the Cayman Islands, she brought great insights on the plastic pollution situation there and the needs to create change. Lastly, our coordinator from CPF, Robin Okunowo, was great in empowering us and guiding us throughout the sea of events and opportunities that were happening in and outside of the Shaw Centre, where INC-4 took place.

Prior to arriving, we also had planning meetings and a general idea of our personal and collective goals for the event. Getting to know each other beforehand, sharing resources, and keeping track of the documents and publications shared by UNEP in preparation for the session was extremely helpful to make sure we were ready to participate meaningfully. Our main goals included advocating for the inclusion of youth, justice, and human rights in the Treaty Draft. With our observer passes, we had the opportunity to be present at all stages of the negotiations, and witness the interventions of all delegates in relation to the different sections of the treaty draft. It was a marvelous learning experience to understand how climate multilateralism works in practice, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of building consensus. 

Outside of the negotiations we also had an incredible experience, meeting so many passionate and like-minded individuals that shared with us exciting stories of their advocacy, or their goals for the future. Among the most notable interactions that we had I remember Dr. Samuel Dotse from Cameroon, who shared with us his life story in enacting environmental policies at the national and international level. 

Personal Successes 

I was very happy to join Rachel Bustamante from the Earth Law Center, and Sam Athey from EarthEcho International on April 25th for a panel focused on ocean justice and the role of youth on tackling plastic pollution while ensuring climate justice and human rights. I had a blast hearing the thoughts and ideas of my fellow panelists, Skw’akw’as Dunstan-Moore, Roland Gonzalez Pizarro, Lindsey Coffey, and Joshua Prentice, all of them involved in the different realms of an equitable zero-waste transition. 

As a member of the Youth Leadership Council of EarthEcho, and drawing from my experience organizing youth conferences on plastic pollution with the Planeteer Alliance, I spoke on three ways in which older generations can help young people participate meaningfully in tackling plastic pollution. The first one being providing them with a space, microphone or platform for them to share their stories; the second one equipping them with educational and financial resources, and facilitating guidance for them to become leaders; and the third one to include these notions on the Draft of the Plastics Treaty to embed all these commitments into law.

Downfalls and Opportunities for growth

Overall I truly enjoyed my participation at INC-4, and the organization from the Government of Canada, host of the event, as well as UNEP and partners. That being said, there are a couple of things that I think could be further enhanced to make the process a bit smoother and more equitable. First of all, I realized that there were some gaps in the equitability of the contact groups, the close door meetings (open to observers with a badge) in which countries negotiate and discuss the wording of a specific section of the Treaty Draft. Something that caught my attention in these meetings was that while a lot of emphasis and attention was put on the use of certain words in the treaty, delegates were able to communicate their ideas only in English. With English as my second language, I have experienced first hand some words lost in translation when I express myself in English vis a vis in Spanish. Therefore, I think that delegates should be allowed to give their statements in their native languages, and more resources should be allocated into quality translation. 

I want to thank Captain Planet Foundation for allowing me to be a part of their delegation. For everyone reading this blog, if you want to have access to opportunities like this one, join the Planeteer Alliance today! It’s free and very and very simple!