November 18, 2020

Marine Litter and Microplastics Expert Group Forwards Recommendations to UNEA

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

A UN expert group concluded its assessment of efforts to eradicate marine plastic litter and microplastics. The outcome will be sent to the upcoming fifth meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

The fourth meeting of the ad-hoc open-ended expert group on marine litter and microplastics (AHEG-4) convened virtually from 9-13 November 2020. It was the final meeting of the AHEG, with the experts having completed their mandate from UNEA.

As reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, at the opening of the meeting, officials drew attention to the impacts of COVID-19 on single-use plastics, noting in particular the burden on waste management posed by disposable masks and other personal protective equipment that contains plastic.

Delegates discussed a stocktaking conducted by the Secretariat of current actions on marine litter and microplastics, and considered the effectiveness of current responses to the problem. The Secretariat found a predominance of “downstream” efforts that are performed at the national and sub-national level, and focused overwhelmingly on awareness-raising activities and beach-clean-ups. Almost unanimously, delegates agreed that “upstream activities” related to pollution prevention are going to be key to addressing this challenge.

The Group agreed to a Chair’s summary, which was hailed as a neutral and factual document and contained a “non-exhaustive list of response options to marine litter and microplastics.” They annexed the summary to the report of the meeting, which will be presented to delegates at UNEA-5. Delegates supported the summary as a balance of views shared during the entire AHEG process, acknowledging that the document was not a negotiated outcome. However, several reiterated their hope that the summary would include stronger language on the need to establish a negotiating process towards a new global agreement on plastic pollution.

UNEA-5 is expected to consider these options, including whether to endorse a global agreement, when it convenes virtually in February 2021. In the closing words of the ENB analysis, “COVID-19 has rattled many long-held truths, but even it cannot rattle the interminable nature of plastics and all that comes with it.”