The Governments of Ecuador, Germany, Ghana and Viet Nam organized a ministerial conference to address concerns over the “rising tide” of marine litter and plastic pollution. The conference developed a ministerial statement to be forwarded to the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in February 2022, calling for commencement of talks towards a new global agreement.

Convening under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution took place from 1-2 September 2021 in a hybrid format: in-person at the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and online. The meeting was preceded by two preparatory meetings, held virtually from 27-28 May and 28-29 June 2021.

In his opening remarks, Jean-Marie Paugam, Deputy Director-General, WTO, highlighted “growing recognition among WTO members that the way we produce, consume, and dispose of plastics causes significant damage to the environment and human health.” He updated participants on the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics (IDP), launched by a group of members in November 2020, which focuses on how trade intersects with the plastic pollution challenge.

Delegates heard an update of recent progress on the issue of marine litter and plastic pollution, as well as reports from five workstreams, convened during the two preparatory meetings, on:

  • The common goal, vision, and objectives of a potential global instrument;
  • Data, monitoring, and reporting;
  • Measures to address marine litter and plastic pollution, including through a life cycle approach, and dialogue with industry and consumers;
  • National and regional cooperation, coordination, and implementation; and
  • Financial and technical support.

Delegates then shared reflections on a draft ministerial statement developed by the co-conveners with a view to build on the momentum created by various international discussions and make concrete suggestions to address the issue at the next UNEA session.

The document identifies the problem of marine litter and plastic pollution, fueled by unsustainable plastic production and consumption practices, and highlights impacts on human health and ecosystems. It acknowledges the transboundary scope of the challenge, due to the “nature of global supply and value chains, trade in plastic waste and the flow of plastic in the ocean.” The statement calls on UNEA to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) towards a new global agreement, aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.

The Conference also featured a high-level dialogue, where delegates “outlined local, national, and regional efforts to combat marine litter and plastic pollution.” Many speakers underscored the need to fill gaps in the existing governance framework for related issues.

Concluding the meeting, Co-Convener Gustavo Manrique Miranda, Ecuador, highlighted the “overwhelming support for establishing an INC to begin negotiating a new agreement, with many calling for the agreement to be legally binding, and to set out financial support and technical assistance measures for developing countries.” The ministerial statement had already attracted 25 endorsements during the Conference. Delegations have until 15 October 2021 to express support for the ministerial statement. [ENB Report of Ministerial Conference on Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution] [ENB Daily Coverage of Event]