The seventeenth meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (Consultative Process or ICP-17) convened under the theme, 'Marine debris, plastics and microplastics.' Meeting participants representing governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and academia, discussed, inter alia, the impacts of plastics and microplastics (MDPMs) on the health and environment as well the ICP's relationship with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the possibility of the ICP serving as a forum for review of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 to "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development."
17 June 2016: The seventeenth meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (Consultative Process or ICP-17) convened under the theme, ‘Marine debris, plastics and microplastics.’ Meeting participants representing governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and academia, discussed, inter alia, the impacts of plastics and microplastics (MDPMs) on the health and environment as well the ICP’s relationship with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the possibility of the ICP serving as a forum for review of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
In addition to addressing the environmental, social and economic dimensions of marine debris, plastics and MDPMs, the meeting also focused on the progress made in preventing, reducing and controlling pollution from MDPMs and plastics as well as challenges, lessons learned and best practices with regard to controlling such pollution in the marine environment. ICP-17 panel experts pointed out where important gaps in knowledge still exist in action, and policy and legal frameworks, including: the lack of standardized, regularized and systematic global monitoring and assessment of the MDPM and plastics phenomenon, its sources and patterns; the lack of broader study of the impact of plastic ingestion on the health of marine animals and on marine biodiversity; and the dearth of studies of how the ingestion of plastics and MDPMs by fish and shellfish may affect the food supply and human health.
During the three days of expert presentations, delegates heard that: if action is not forthcoming soon, by 2050 there will more plastic in the oceans than fish, by weight; marine debris is so ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, even remote portions, that the five ocean garbage “gyres” have reached enormous scales, in one case twice the size of Australia; over eight million metric tonnes of plastics enter our oceans every year; microplastics can be found in the digestive tracts of fish; and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are being transported over long distances by marine plastics to remote islands, where the plastics and POPs are found in seabird flesh.
Delegates also discussed issues pertaining to the ICP process, including: inter-agency cooperation and coordination; the process for the selection of topics and panelists so as to facilitate the work of the UN General Assembly (UNGA); and issues that could benefit from attention in the future work of the UNGA on oceans and the law of the sea. At the end of the meeting, the Co-Chairs Nicholas Emiliou, Permanent Representative of Cyprus, and Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Permanent Representative of Peru, distributed a Co-Chairs’ summary of discussions.
The co-chairs’ summary provides an overview of ICP-17 discussions, for each of the agenda items. The text specifically notes that, in the context of the upcoming review on the ICP’s effectiveness and utility, to take place at the 71st UNGA session, several delegations expressed their support for the ICP continuation. These delegations, the text mentions: reiterated the importance of the ICP and its contribution to the annual review by the UNGA of oceans affairs and the law of the sea; called for the selection of ICP’s future topics to integrate all the three pillars of sustainable development; noted the role the ICP could have in reviewing the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and expressed support for ICP’s interaction with other ongoing oceans-related processes, such as the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including socioeconomic aspects (Regular Process) and other processes relating to SDG 14 implementation.
On issues that could benefit from attention in UNGA’s future work on oceans and the law of the seas, the document notes that the issue of harmful algal blooms, including sargassum, was highlighted by a delegation, with the co-chairs’ further inviting delegations to submit to the Secretariat any other issues that should be included in the list to be brought to UNGA’s attention.
Specifically on ICP’s relation with the 2030 Agenda, the co-chairs’ summary observes that: a number of delegations suggested that the ICP could provide an appropriate forum to review on a regular basis the implementation of SDG 14 and other ocean-related Goals of the 2030 Agenda; some delegations recalled, however, that the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was the central body for the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda; while some delegations considered that the role of HLPF did not preclude existing processes to follow up on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and that a discussion of the issue by ICP would not undermine the role of the HLPF.