Online Public Conference

Global Governance of Plastic Pollution: Transforming the Global Plastics Economy

Over 100 countries are calling for the launch of UN negotiations for a new global treaty on plastic pollution in 2022. Spurred by alarm about the scale and impacts of marine plastic pollution, advocates of stronger international cooperation are calling for approaches that address environmental and health impacts across the entire life-cycle of plastics, including air pollution, climate impacts and plastic pollution on land, as well as the economic burden on developing countries struggling to manage a rising tide of plastic pollution and waste. Meanwhile, however, investment in new carbon-intensive plastic production continues to rise.  

The starting point for this conference is that efforts to improve global governance of plastic pollution must look ‘upstream’ to tackle the strong economic and political forces driving the expanding global plastics economy and associated pollution; and to address these in a way that enables a just and sustainable transition, with particular attention to the challenges facing developing countries. 

In this context, the Global Governance Centre at the Graduate Institute Geneva and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held an online public conference on the Global Governance of Plastic Pollution: Transforming the Global Plastics Economy on 30 and 31 August 2021, from 13:00-18:00 CEST. 


The conference brought together leading experts to share policy-relevant research and advance dialogue on topics, including: 

  • the global political economy of production, use and trade in plastic products and waste;
  • options to improve the global governance of plastic pollution across the life-cycle of plastics;
  • the development impacts of plastic pollution, including on the ocean economy and the challenges developing countries face as they seek to reduce plastic pollution and transform the plastics economy; 
  • strategies for transforming the supply side of the plastics sector, including critical insights from calls for a global green new deal as well as opportunities and challenges linked to circular economy approaches and the push to decarbonize petrochemicals; 
  • the impact of international trade and investment flows on plastic pollution, as well as existing international efforts and options for using trade, investment and industrial policies to support international environmental cooperation on plastic pollution; and 
  • the role of standards as a governance tool for transforming the plastics sector, as well as opportunities and governance challenges linked to private, voluntary efforts to reduce plastic pollution.


Spread over two afternoons, the online conference included:

  • Panel sessions with short presentations from leading researchers and experts; and 
  • Policy roundtables, drawing together leading experts from governments, stakeholder organisations and IGOs, working to support intergovernmental cooperation on plastic pollution at UNCTAD, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), among others.

More information about the agenda and speakers is available here.

Watch all the sessions of the conference:


The conference was the culmination of a two-year project on multi-disciplinary policy-relevant research and dialogue on the global political economy and regulation of plastic production and pollution, funded by the Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS) in 2019.

Co-hosted by the Graduate Institute’s Global Governance Centre and UNCTAD, with the financial support of the SNIS, the cosponsors of this conference include researchers from a range of collaborating organisations including the Graduate Institute’s Centre for Trade and Economic Integration (CTEI) and Centre for International Environmental Studies (CIES), as well as the University of Geneva, the University of Berne’s World Trade Institute, the University of Lugano, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland, Lund University, and IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. 

The conference was also supported by a number of organisations working to improve the global governance of plastic pollution, including the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), UNEP’s Environment and Trade Hub, the Geneva Environment Network (GEN), and the Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs (TESS).

Stay informed