November 29, 2019

Expert Group Makes Progress on Actions for Stocktaking on Marine Plastic Litter

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The third meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics discussed options for tackling marine plastic litter and microplastics. The Group made progress on options and recommendations for the long-term elimination of plastic discharges into the oceans and to reduce marine plastic litter and microplastics, in line with previous resolutions by the Third and Fourth sessions of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). It stressed that the problem of marine litter and microplastics poses a threat to all countries and risks derailing progress towards sustainable development.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) formed the Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group to analyze information and present options to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics. UNEP appointed a Scientific Advisory Committee composed of nearly 70 scientists working across the issue from a range of disciplines. They will help advise UNEP on recommendations for policies and action on environmentally sound approaches and reduction of discharge.

The Group agreed to discuss potential response options at the international, regional and national levels, including approaches for voluntary and/or legally binding governance, in line with UNEA 3 Resolution 7. The Group agreed the stocktaking exercise should be both voluntary and not exhaustive, with the aim of being an overview survey of existing activities and their potential impact in the long-term elimination of discharges into the oceans and the reduction of marine plastic litter and microplastics.

The stocktaking is expected to inform current and desired options and actions and identify gaps in three categories of actions (normative, evidential and capacity building) and four cross-cutting themes (life cycle phase, environmental zone, geographic range and reporting/compliance). The first phase (December 2019 to November 2019) will focus on activities and actions by governments, in recognition of their central role in regulating the life cycle of plastic goods and related services and the private sector. Phase two (December 2019 to May 2020) will broaden the focus to global and regional instruments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other relevant contributors.

The Group also agreed to conduct a stocktaking of activities and actions to address marine plastic liter and microplastics, analysis of the effectiveness of those activities, and an assessment for supportive technical and financial resources, in line with UNEA 4 Resolution 6. They requested to compile a collection of available and possible mechanisms and technical resources in a single report, including reference to existing bodies of work such as the Basel Convention, the Partnership on Plastic Waste, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance. Mechanisms could include extended producer responsibility and principles of polluters pay and are expected to address the need for action across the full plastic supply chain.

The Group emphasized the need to promote a better understanding of the current state of technical and financial resources and mechanisms, based on a life cycle approach and prevention of the creation of plastic waste before it can become marine pollution, in line with the transition to sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The third Expert Group meeting convened from 18-22 November 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. It is planning to meet twice in advance of the Fifth session of UNEA in February 2021. Peru and Rwanda each offered to host a future meeting.