13 June 2017
Ocean Conference Commitments, Dialogue Address Marine Pollution
UN Photo/Martine Perret
story highlights

In connection with the UN Ocean Conference, countries made commitments to reduce marine litter, including as part of the UN Environment’s ‘Clean Seas Campaign’.

Also at the Conference, Partnership Dialogue 1 focused on ‘Addressing Marine Pollution,’ and numerous side events discussed challenges and solutions related to marine litter.

June 2017: In connection with the UN Ocean Conference, countries made commitments to reduce marine litter, including as part of the UN Environment’s ‘Clean Seas Campaign.’ Also at the Conference, more than one million people signed a petition to phase out single-use plastic worldwide within the next five years as part of the Avaaz campaign.

UN Environment launched the Clean Seas Campaign in February 2017 to increase awareness on the need to reduce marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic. More than 20 countries are now participating in the Campaign, which calls on governments, industry and citizens to end single-use plastic and eliminate microplastics in cosmetics by 2022.

Sweden announced it will join the Clean Seas Campaign and will introduce a number of actions to tackle marine litter, including waste management technologies, a national collection system, a deposit-refund system for PET bottles, and awareness raising on the negative impact of plastic bags. Sweden is also expected to introduce a ban on microplastics in cosmetic products. Also as part of the Campaign, Indonesia has committed to reduce its marine litter by 70% and Kenya will introduce a plastic bag ban in September 2017. Other countries that have previously announced commitments to the Campaign include Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Norway, Panama, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay.

Sweden will also provide SEK 9 million to support the Clean Seas Campaign as well as SEK 5 million to support UN Environment’s efforts to tackle pollution from land-based sources. UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim said Sweden’s support “will help us intensify our work and translate the science into global awareness and concrete action.” Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog, announced an additional SEK 2 million in funding for the Action Platform for Source-to-Sea Management (S2S Platform) to strengthen work on knowledge exchange and other efforts on land-based marine pollution. The S2S Platform is a multi-stakeholder initiative that promotes collaboration among experts to improve the management of water linkages from land through to the ocean.

During the Conference’s general debate, many called for reducing single-use plastic. Countries committed to, inter alia: eliminate marine plastics from coastlines by 2025 (Ghana); collect marine debris throughout the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ); ban single-use plastics (Monaco); ban microplastics (Sweden); prohibit the sale and manufacturing of microbeads in cosmetics and other products (Ireland); reduce the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags by 50% (Italy); reduce plastic bag use by 25% (Austria); ban the import and use of Styrofoam containers (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines); and fight marine plastic debris (Costa Rica). Indonesia outlined its commitment to reduce marine plastic debris by 70% within eight years and said it had launched a US$1 billion waste management strategy.

Norway announced a new development programme to combat marine litter and microplastics. Timor-Leste highlighted its zero-plastic policy. The Democratic Republic of the Congo reported on the positive impact of his country’s decade-old ban on plastic wrappings. Turkey shared its aim for a 65% recycling rate for packaging waste and 35% for all recyclable waste by 2023. Canada, China, the Philippines and Thailand all said they would work to reduce plastics in the oceans. UN Environment (UNEP) reiterated the call for radically reducing single-use plastics and phasing out microplastics.

UN Environment reiterated the call for radically reducing single-use plastics and phasing out microplastics.

The private sector also showcased commitments to reduce the impact of plastic pollution during the Conference. Dell has created the first commercial global ocean plastics supply chain, in which it aims to use plastic collected from beaches, coastal areas and waterways into packaging for its products. Dell’s Vice President for Global Operations, Piyush Bhargava, said “Dell has committed to put our technology and expertise toward scaling the commercial uses for ocean plastic building on principles of circularity.” He called on the private sector to join efforts to reduce plastics pollution. Adidas Executive Board Member, Eric Liedtke, announced that Adidas would make one million pairs of ocean plastic shoes, equivalent to 11 million plastic bottles in 2017, and five million pairs in 2018; and called for private-sector leadership and partnerships to eliminate virgin polyester from the supply chain and replace it with ocean plastic.

Partnership Dialogue 1 on ‘Addressing Marine Pollution’ shared perspectives on challenges and solutions on marine litter, including addressing land-based pollution and reducing plastics and microplastics production and consumption. Moderator Elliott Harris, UN Environment, referred to action taken in countries such as Canada, France, Kenya, and Rwanda to reduce land-based sources of marine pollution, including by banning single-use plastic items and micro-plastics in cosmetics. Kosi Latu, Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), highlighted adoption of the ‘Cleaner Pacific 2025: Pacific Regional Waste and Pollution Management Strategy 2016–2025,’ which addresses marine plastics as well as legacy issues such as oil leaks from old shipping vessels. UN Environment underscored: the link between marine pollution and several SDGs, and between land-based sources of marine pollution and development agendas; and the Global Programme of Action on land-based activities as the only intergovernmental mechanism addressing freshwater – marine linkages.

Numerous Conference side events discussed challenges and solutions related to marine litter. The Clean Seas Experience provided visitors with a virtual reality tour of the impact of plastic pollution on the ocean. The event, ‘Solutions to Land-based and Sea-based Marine Litter’ combined with Marine Plastic Litters in small island developing States (SIDS),’ shared national and regional experiences addressing marine litter and supported upstream solutions that focus on keeping plastic from entering the oceans. An event on ‘Solutions to Combat Marine Litter’ discussed the impacts of plastic pollution on the oceans and shared efforts to reduce marine litter and microplastics. International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) representative Carl Gustaf Lundin, cautioned that banning microplastics in cosmetics will not solve the problem alone, since a much larger proportion come from tires, roads, paints, city dust and washing clothes.

The Conference’s Registry of Voluntary Commitments includes 196 commitments on plastics recovery/recycling/reuse, 138 commitments on plastics product bans or restrictions, 198 commitments on coastal clean-ups and 84 other commitments related to plastics. Commitments include: the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius commitment to remove single-use plastic bottles and replace them with reusable glass bottles throughout the resort by 2019; and the Tzu Chi Foundation’s recycling program, which collects PET bottles and converts them into blankets, scarves, shirts and other textile items that are then used for disaster response and humanitarian aid.

The UN Ocean Conference convened at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 5-9 June 2017. [UNEP Press Release on Sweden] [UNEP Press Release on Petition] [Clean Seas Campaign Website] [UNEP Press Release] [SIWI Press Release on Sweden Commitment to S2S Platform] [UNEP Press Release on Campaign Launch] [IISD RS Coverage of UN Ocean Conference, 8 June] [ENB on the Side (ENBOTS) Coverage of UN Ocean Conference] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Side Events, 6 June] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Side Events, 7 June]

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